journal audio engineering society mp3 sad

Study finds that MP3s are making you sad

A recent study by the Audio Engineering Society says low bitrate music strengthened neutral and negative emotional characteristics and weakened positive ones.

- Dec 6, 2016

Here's one for the "kids these days don't know real music" file.

A study published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society (snipped from a publication called What Hi-Fi?, so make of that what you will) called "The Effects of MP3 Compression on Perceived Emotional Characteristics in Musical Instruments" examined how low-res compression formats affect listeners emotional response to musical stimuli. Not well, as it turns out.


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Listeners were played music in various bitrates — 32 kbps, 56 kbps, and 112 kbps — and asked to score the samples over 10 emotional characteristics: Happy, Heroic, Romantic, Comic, Calm, Mysterious, Shy, Angry, Scared, and Sad.

The results showed that lower compression formats, like basic 32 kbps MP3s, increased the perception of neutral and negative emotional characteristics (Shy, Scary, Sad) and lessened positive ones (Happy, Romantic, Calm). The Anger characteristic, however, was relatively unaffected. The study suggested that perhaps the negative trend owed to MP3's characteristic background "growl."

Particular instruments were also found more heavily affected by low-quality compression; the trumpet being the instrument most susceptible to perceptual changes.

Most streaming services operate at at least 96 kbps, so our ears (and emotions) are rarely exposed to such low-res, apparently saddening recordings. But if we can extrapolate a little, it turns out vinyl geeks, TIDAL premium subscribers, and other hi-fi wonks might actually, literally have something to be so happy about.


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