The mixing engineer and the reproduction system both influence the perception of a song by a listener. For unfamiliar music, the mix can significantly influence listener preferences. The goal of this research was to investigate the influence of the reproduction systems and mixing parameters by asking listeners for preference ratings in a paired comparison test. The study generated mixes of four different popular music recordings and introduced systematic changes to the wave field synthesis mix for one song. The mixing parameters were EQ, compression, reverb, and spatial positioning. Listeners rated their preference by comparing two channels with five channel stereophony and wave field synthesis using a circular array of 56 loudspeakers. Even when introducing relatively strong changes to the wave field synthesis mix, listeners still preferred that system most of the time. This preference was dependent on the actual content and might vary between different songs, or even song excerpts. The mixing condition disliked the most by listeners was a very wide arrangement of the foreground elements of popular music, such as vocals, snare and bass drum, and guitars. Overall, using a high number of loudspeakers is preferred by most listeners, and the differences between reproduction methods can have a larger influence than strong variations of single mixing parameters.
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