The belief that the use of dynamic range compression in music mastering deteriorates sound quality needs to be formally tested. In this study normal hearing listeners were asked to evaluate popular music recordings in original versions and in remastered versions with higher levels of dynamic range compression. Surprisingly, the results failed to reveal any evidence of the effects of dynamic range compression on subjective preference or perceived depth cues. Perceptual data suggest that listeners are less sensitive than commonly believed to even high levels of compression. As measured in terms of differences in the peak-to-average ratio, compression has little perceptual effect other than increased loudness or clipping effects that only occur at high levels of compression. One explanation for the inconsistency between data and belief might result from the fact that compression is frequently accompanied by additional processing such as equalization and stereo enhancement.
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