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Hyper-Compression in Music Production: Listener Preferences on Dynamic Range Reduction

Achieving “loud” recordings as a result of hyper-compression is a prevailing expectation within the creative system of music production, sustaining a myth that has been developing since the mid-twentieth century as a consequence of the “louder is better” paradigm. The study reported here investigated whether the amounts of hyper-compression typical of current audio practice produce results that listeners prefer. The experimental approach taken in this study was to conduct a subjective preference test requiring listeners to make a forced choice between seven levels of compression for each of five musical programs that differed in musical genre. The presented seven versions of each musical program were carefully matched in loudness as the versions were varied in compression level, and so differences in loudness per se cannot account for the differences in preferences choices observed between musical programs. In addition, it was found that subject factors such as age group, and speculatively the amount of exposure to different genres, were of considerable influence on listener preferences.

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