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The Perception of Hyper-Compression by Mastering Engineers

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Hyper-compressed popular music is associated with the overuse of dynamic range processing in an effort to gain a competitive advantage in music production. This behavior should be unnecessary given the availability of loudness normalization algorithms across the industry; the practice has been denounced by mastering engineers as generating audible artefacts. However, the audibility of these artefacts to mastering engineers has not been examined. This study probes this question using an ABX listening experiment with 20 mastering engineers. On average, mastering engineers correctly discriminated 17 out of 24 conditions, suggesting that the sound quality artefacts generated by hyper-compression are difficult to perceive. The findings in the study suggest that audibility depends on the crest factor (CF) of the music rather than the amount of CF reduction, thus proposing the existence of a threshold of audibility.

JAES Volume 65 Issue 7/8 pp. 613-621; July 2017
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AES - Audio Engineering Society