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Hyper-Compression in Music Production: Testing the "Louder Is Better" Paradigm

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Within the scope of the literature surrounding the Loudness War, the “louder is better” paradigm plays a cornerstone role in the motivation and also presumed justification for the continued use of hyper-compression. At the core of this assumption is the non-linearity of frequency response of the human auditory system first identified by Fletcher and Munson [11]. Previous research into listener preferences concerning hyper-compression has attempted to rationalize this production practice with audience expectations. The stimuli used in these studies have invariably been loudness normalized to remove loudness bias in audition so that only the perceptual cues of dynamic range compression (DRC) are under examination. The results of these studies have proven less than conclusive and varied. The research study presented herein examines the extent of influence the “louder is better” paradigm has on listener preferences via a direct comparison between listener preference tasks that present music that is loudness normalized and music that retains the level differentiation which is a by-product of the hyper-compression process. It was found that a level differential of 10 dB had a significant influence of listener preferences as opposed to the arguably weak perceptual cues of DRC.

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