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Music Media

Young People Prefer "Sizzle Sounds" of MP3 Format 743

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the get-off-my-lawn dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, tests his incoming students each year by having them listen to a variety of recordings which use different formats from MP3 to ones of much higher quality, and he reports that each year the preference for music in MP3 format rises. Berger says that young people seemed to prefer 'sizzle sounds' that MP3s bring to music because it is a sound they are familiar with. 'The music examples included both orchestral, jazz and rock music. When I first did this I was expecting to hear preferences for uncompressed audio and expecting to see MP3 (at 128, 160 and 192 bit rates) well below other methods (including a proprietary wavelet-based approach and AAC),' writes Berger. 'To my surprise, in the rock examples the MP3 at 128 was preferred. I repeated the experiment over 6 years and found the preference for MP3 — particularly in music with high energy (cymbal crashes, brass hits, etc) rising over time.' Dale Dougherty writes that the context of the music changes our perception of the sound, particularly when it's so obviously and immediately shared by others. 'All that sizzle is a cultural artifact and a tie that binds us. It's mostly invisible to us but it is something future generations looking back might find curious because these preferences won't be obvious to them.'"
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Young People Prefer "Sizzle Sounds" of MP3 Format

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  • by rbanzai (596355) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:50AM (#27151525)

    People have really weird internal processes that shape their preferences. Preferring shitty, hissy sounding music is just one of those odd results. I would not equate it with the perceived "warmth" of vinyl when compared to CDs. The warmth is not the snaps and crackles, but a different quality that I can't imagine anyone would think as a loss of quality. Just a change of tone.

    The hissy music on the other hand is primarily as a result of poor or excessive compression that reflects a lost of information, not just a change in tone. And it just so happens that like in every other arena of human opinion most people prefer crap. :)

    P.S. I am not an audiophile but I love clear, full range sound when it comes to music. I prefer digital over vinyl because I can't stand all the defects that come with vinyl, even though I grew up with them.

  • by Mprx (82435) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @11:10AM (#27151937)
    CD quality is already overkill: []
  • by Ninnle Labs, LLC (1486095) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @11:13AM (#27152013)
    Yes, let's go back to the glorious days of dot crawls, rainbowing, and analog noise. Oh wait, let's not because those analog artifacts were horrible looking.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @11:28AM (#27152365)

    Low quality mp3s sound more like you're listening to music with cotton in your ears.

    That is the case for music which has been decimated with a low-pass filter (i.e. the high frequencies are not "passed" through). But there are other artifacts like pre-echo (before a sharp attack like from a cymbal or castanet there is kind of a echo or "smear" added to to the music).

    If you dare, check out this page in order to train your ears to be more sensitive to lossy compression artifacts: []

  • Re:What sizzle? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @11:32AM (#27152449)

    That was the case back when blade and 8hz were the MP3 encoders of choice. For years now, though, lame has been able to produce extremely high quality MP3s. Try to ABX lame at -V2. If you have trouble with that (which I suspect you will), give 3, 4, even 5 a shot. If you're willing to admit that your distaste for MP3s is *potentially* a placebo effect, you might be surprised.

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @11:36AM (#27152517) Journal

    Personally, I have no idea what he's talking about in the first place. Unless it's an abysmally low-quality rip, MP3 sounds just like any other format. No sizzle, nothing.

    Most people don't notice it consciously. That's why MP3s are such a great invention. However, certain sounds, most notably cymbals, sound distinctly different on an MP3.

    I first noticed this back in the Napster days when I would accidentally download multiple copies of the same song at different bit rates. I would say the difference between 96 kbit/s to 128 kbit/s is more noticeable than 128 kbit/s to 192 kbit/s. However, a 320 kbit/s file sounds far superior to a 128 kbit/s file. In other words, the relationship between the way the file sounds and the bit rate is not linear.

    I have a friend who is a percussionist and the sizzle sounds of MP3 files drives him nuts.

  • Pop radio. (Score:2, Informative)

    by brackishboy (1432215) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:00PM (#27153027)
    It might also have something to do with the way music is broadcast on FM radio- massively compressed. For the most part I listen to BBC Radio 4, and if I skip to Radio One or Radio Two the level of compression causes a massive leap in volume. An unfortunate side-effect seems to be a tangible loss in a song's dynamics, particularly prevalent in rock music.
  • by DisKurzion (662299) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:19PM (#27153431)

    Fuck that, any european barista knows their shit way better than any of us non euros could wish for. Turkish coffee is easily the worlds best though, preferably right next to Cuban cigars.

    Actually, Cuban cigars are crap now. Lack of proper farming techniques have rendered their crops crap. The only reason they still sell is on reputation alone. Dominican cigars are now top of the line, fwiw.

  • by mcgrew (92797) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:26PM (#27153573) Homepage Journal

    I remember as a kid arguing with my dad who thought 8-track was much better than casette tapes.

    In theory they should have been better - they had double the transport speed, and should have had nearly double the frequency response. In practice, however, they weren't. The reason was that they were illogically fated for cars and their bad acoustics (worse than today's cars) and the labels didn't bother with fidelity.

    The thing I hated about eight tracks was they would interrupt a song in the middle of the tape for a track change.

    I mentioned eight track tapes a few years ago in Good Riddance to Bad Tech [], where I go into more detail about why these pieces of crap sucked.

    "In my line of work, disability comes down to two things: memory loss and, I forget what." -Garrison Keillor

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:58PM (#27154139)
    Why would people prefer the distorted sound produced my MP3-128??? As I just said - it's distorted.

    I am continually fascinated by the number of "pedals" and "effects" that electronic guitar players apply to the output of their instrument. Why would people prefer that distorted sound?

    There are different levels of distortion. There are different kinds. The ability to detect distortion is a skill, in many cases, and in many cases 'distortion' is part of the desired sound. (Why do trombone players stuff a cone in the bell of their instrument, it's DISTORTION!?)

    I prefer the uncompressed FLAC or CD because it's as close to live as one can get.

    When I first read that, I assumed you meant the "made smaller" meaning of compressed, since you were talking about MP3's and a major factor in MP3 production is the "make smaller" compression. I was going to point out that very few CDs come without the "remove level excursions" kind of compression, and that this compression is hardly as close to live as you can get.

    Even so, many CDs don't come out without multi-track mastering and postprocessing to include reverb and flanging and all kinds of other "effects" being added to the sound. None of those effects are what you would hear live, and some of them are digital attempts at making a studio recording sound more like live.

    I can only conclude the college students are nuts to prefer the "buzz" of digital artifacts. I can tolerate digital artifacts, but I definitely do Not like them.

    Many people don't hear them (either because they aren't trained to hear them or are using less-than-gold equipment like ear-buds). They don't spend hours listening to live music in sonically pure environments so they could learn what a pure sound is. (Hearing a guitar amplified to 120dB is NOT hearing a pure sound, it's hearing your eardrums, and every loose object in the room, rattle.) What they hear on the MP3 is what they learn to expect, and if the sound is "odd" then it's a distraction.

  • Re:Deaf? (Score:3, Informative)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:37PM (#27154847)

    8. Invest in companies making hearing aids. I foresee the iPod generation needing these as they get older.

    9. Forget investing in hearing aid companies, because adults my age who all had Sony Walkmans as children didn't turn out needing hearing aids by age 40.

  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:43PM (#27154953) Homepage Journal

    French press preparation is actually one of the least expensive and least time-consuming brewing methods. Compare the cost of a French press to a pump-driven espresso machine or even quality drip-coffee.

    For French press, all you need is the plunger pot itself ($20-30), plus a good blade grinder (~$50). You can use a burr grinder to get somewhat more consistent results, but it's not really necessary at all, especially if your blade grinder has a timer.

    Now for espresso, the absolute cheapest cost of entry is $75-$100 for a cheap thermoblock pump machine and $100-$150 for the cheapest Chinese conical burr grinders on the market (Breville and Capresso). (Forget pods, they suck. Steam machines and blade grinders simply won't do the job)

    That means $175-$250 is about the least amount of money you can get away with. And that's only been in the last couple of years or so with the advent of really cheap equipment. Before that, you needed $200 for the grinder and about $250-300 for a pump-driven espresso machine.

    Even a good quality drip pot will cost over $100.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @02:13PM (#27155409)
    The Stravinsky segment of the show is nonsense. When "The Rite of Spring" (not "Rites") debuted, there was a riot. That is true. However, there is a lot of evidence that this riot had less to do with the music than with all sorts of other factors -- there was a group of people (somewhat politically motivated) who already planned to stage a riot, the choreography was perceived as complete nonsense, and besides, most accounts say that people had already started shouting so much when the curtain went up that no one could hear any music after the very beginning.

    Notably, the were a half dozen more performances in the initial run without further disruption.

    The myth that the novel music was the cause of the riot was something propagated by Stravinsky starting about a decade later, when he actively started trying to shape his public persona. His autobiographical information is notoriously suspect among 20th century composers, further shaped through the supposed "conversations" he had with Robert Craft, who ghostwrote most of his later books.

    Richard Taruskin (perhaps the world's foremost expert on Stravinsky) has detailed the reasons why this myth came to be, and this information has been around for at least a couple decades, though it was effectively summarized in his article: "A Myth of the Twentieth Century: The Rite of Spring, the Tradition of the New, and 'The Music Itself'" (Modernism/modernity - Volume 2, Number 1, January 1995, pp. 1-26).

    Anyhow, I love Radio Lab in general. But that particular show had a lot of bogus claims, and this was probably the biggest.
  • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @05:53PM (#27158701) Homepage

    That's quite true. The simplest mp3 encoder implementation -- a route taken by many -- was just to throw away the weakest DCT signals. But there are two big improvements you can do on that: 1) throw away the weakest DCT signals weighted by average human sensitivity, and to combine remaining signals that are close together. There's no use keeping a spike at 2031Hz and 2032Hz; nobody's going to be able to tell the difference, so you might as well just combine them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @07:27PM (#27160031)

    you forget that the people putting on the concert don't care about scalping. someone had to buy that ticket first before they can sell it at an increase of cost. a sale is a sale and if scalpers buy all the tickets but only sell 3/4 of them its still a sold out show to the ticket sales people.

Know Thy User.