Great news this week for that friend of yours who is always harping on you for downloading albums rather than buying them on vinyl. If you thought he (and we’re fairly comfortable saying it’s a he) was overbearing before, that guy will be absolutely excruciating now, thanks to a new study from the Audio Engineering Library. According to the research, the lower quality audio compression of MP3s and other similar digital formats weaken the positive emotional effects of listening to music. Though he couldn’t be reached for comment, we’re assuming Neil Young is prepping an absolutely monster-sized “told you so.”
Titled “The Effects of MP3 Compression on Perceived Emotional Characteristics in Musical Instruments,” the study used listening tests to look at eight sustained instrument sounds in which a compressed and uncompressed version of the music sample was evaluated across a spectrum of 10 emotional categories. Positive emotional characteristics from the music were weakened by the standard digital compression rate, such as ”happy,” “romantic,” “calm,” “comic,” and that old scientific yardstick, “heroic.” Conversely, neutral and negative emotional characteristic like “scary,” “sad,” “mysterious,” and “shy” were actually strengthened by the lesser format, meaning that while people who enjoy being in a good mood are screwed over by MP3s, fans of The Cure are just so, so morosely comforted by this gloomy testament to the world’s cruel existence.
Different instruments, interestingly enough, were affected to greater and lesser degrees by the application of compression. Trumpets were the most affected by compression, meaning you may as well delete Bitches Brew from your iTunes library, because it’s never going to make you happy, while the French horn was the least affected. (Take that, everyone who shot spitballs at the kid playing French horn in middle school band because it was such an uncool instrument.) This isn’t to say you can’t still derive enjoyment from listening to “Shake It Off” on your computer: Most pop music these days is mastered digitally to suffer minimal loss to the MP3 compression bitrate, meaning it basically comes already primed to deliver a subpar emotional response. So cranky old grouches like Young who complain that music just doesn’t sound as good these days are technically right; millennials can now look forward to being lectured about how, thanks to a small-minded dedication to technological change, the world they’ve built has lost another positive aspect—or as millennials call that, ”any day that ends in a ‘y’.”
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