Geoffrey Morrison, an audio writer at CNET and Sound & Vision has posted a nice summary of my latest AES paper "Some New Evidence that Teenager and College Students May Prefer Accurate Sound Reproduction" presented at the recent 132nd AES Convention in Budapest, Hungary.
The paper is available for download here at the AES E-library, and I have provided a YouTube video and a PDF of my presentation slides that summarize the main points of the research.
The abstract of the paper reads as follows:
A group of 58 high school and college students with different expertise in sound evaluation participated in two separate controlled listening tests that measured their preference choices between music reproduced in (1) MP3 (128 kbp/s) and lossless CD-quality file formats, and (2) music reproduced through four different consumer loudspeakers. As a group, the students preferred the CD-quality reproduction in 70% of the trials and preferred music reproduced through the most accurate, neutral loudspeaker. Critical listening experience was a significant factor in the listeners’ performance and preferences. Together, these tests provide some new evidence that both teenagers and college students can discern and appreciate a better quality of reproduced sound when given the opportunity to directly compare it against lower quality options.
The effects of culture and trained versus untrained listeners on loudspeaker preference are topics that have been discussed in previous postings on Audio Musings. To further shed some light on this topic, I also ran 149 native speaking Japanese college students through the same loudspeaker preference test along with 12 Harman trained listeners. The graph below shows the mean loudspeaker preference ratings for these two groups of listeners along with the four different groups of high school and college students from Los Angeles.
Not surprising, (at least to me) I found that the Japanese college students on average preferred the same accurate loudspeaker (A) as did the 58 Los Angeles students, and the trained Harman listening panel. The main differences among the different listening groups were related to the effect of prior critical listening experience: the more trained listeners simply rated the loudspeakers lower on the preference scale, and were more discriminating and consistent in their responses. This result is consistent with previous studies. The least preferred and least accurate loudspeaker (Loudspeaker D) generated the most variance in ratings among the different listening groups. This was explained by its highly directional behavior combined with its inconsistent frequency response as you move from on-axis to off-axis seating positions. This meant that listeners sitting off-axis heard a much different (and apparently better quality) sound than those listeners sitting on-axis.
While the small sample size of listeners doesn't allow us to make generalizations to larger populations, nonetheless it is reassuring to find that both the American and Japanese students, regardless of their critical listening experience, recognized good sound when they heard it, and preferred it to the lower quality options.
It would appear that the reason kids don't own better sounding audio solutions has nothing to do with their supposed "deviant" tastes in sound quality, but more do with other factors (e.g. price, convenience, portability, marketing, fashion) that have nothing to do with sound quality. Music and audio companies should take notice that kids can indeed discriminate between good and bad sound, and prefer accurate sound, despite what the media has been falsely reporting for the last few years. With that out of the way, we should focus on figuring out how to sell sound quality to kids at affordable prices and form factors they desire to own.
The research suggests that if we cannot figure out how to sell better sound to kids, we have no one to blame but ourselves.