How casual listeners perceive compression (or rather don't)

We’ve been discussing loudness, compression and limiting a lot lately, and I’m the first one to jump into these nerdy debates but I’ve come across this study recently and I think it is a good reminder that we’re sometimes overthinking it.

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Ha, we’re overthinking it, but the researchers published a10-page PDF on it. :wink:

I guess you could say we’re overthinking it in terms of applying our own experience and knowledge to “extrapolating the beliefs of expert listeners to the general public on matters of slight sound quality differences.” Per the PDF Conclusion below.

In this experiment, up to 12dB of compression limiting was not discriminated by untrained listeners above chance levels. However, the musical engagement sub-scale factors of ‘daily’ and ‘emotion’ showed a significant negative correlation with total correct answers. Based on the experimental findings, previous inconclusive results from preference experiments on DRC and hyper-compression may be due the inability of untrained listeners to discriminate hyper-compression. The experimental results further demonstrate that caution should be exercised when extrapolating the beliefs of expert listeners to the general public on matters of slight sound quality differences. Without training, these differences may be unperceivable.

At the risk of extrapolating, IMO the average listener (general public) may not even know what audio compression is … much less be able to recognize it. Likely, they don’t care. Many people who enjoy music simply like listening or singing along, and the old adage “if it sounds good, it is good” is enough for them. I have attempted quite enough conversations with average listeners to discover their lack of knowledge (or concern) as their eyes start to glaze over while I’m describing things we think about every day.

If anything, I think some in-depth study of how average listeners react to sounds would be as or more valuable than our jibber-jabber about technical geekery (though that’s fun too). Though the problem seems to arise in the language element. Actually describing what a sound (or many of them) sounds like. Audio engineers even get lost in this at times, trying to figure out what someone means by “warm”, “crisp”, “shimmery”, or whatever.

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I think it is safe to assume that on some level, casual listeners will favor better audio quality without being able to tell why they do so, let alone put technical words on the details. The question is to what extent is this true? A study on this would be hugely interesting, but probably impossible to carry out unless we can get into their brains, thoughts and feelings.

This is also genre specific too. Certain styles of music just have to sound a certain way for the unwashed masses to be into it. Heavily compressed and loud is to be expected from some genres or it just won’t sound “right”. I know for me personally, growing up with punk rock I never cared about audio “quality”. The majority of the stuff I listened to was done in cheap studios with no budgets. The first Descendents album “Milo Goes to College”, while absolutely being a legendary classic staple of the genre, does not technically sound good by modern standards…or any standards. But goddamn that’s a great album. Misfits, Johnny Thunders, The Stooges, Velvet Underground, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys…none of their early albums had great production. What they had was great songs and that’s why we still know their names. Only the really big boys like Ramones, The Clash, and even the lone Sex Pistols record, got big-budget pro-studio treatment. And to add to that, we often listened to cassette copies of cassette copies handed down from older brothers and friends’ cousins. We were happy to have a copy of a copy of the first Adolescents album. Those passed around tapes never sounded good, but so what? The songs were there.

And no one - not a single person - cared about “loudness” until dipshits on internet forums started complaining about it. What was that Metallica album that everyone complained about in like 2002 or something? I remember people whining about how “loud” it was…a Metallica album…too loud. LOL.

Death Magnetic but it’s not even loud compared to that:

I don’t know what that is. I don’t have a spotify account.

Try this then:

That sounds like on old dial-up modem.

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