Are we starting to prefer MP3s?

March 17, 2009

ipodnano1According to Stanford University music professor Jonathan Berger, the number of people who prefer MP3s to higher fidelity formats is rising every year. Every fall, he asks his incoming students to listen to music in a variety of formats and rate which ones they prefer. Apparently, there is a steadily-increasing fraction of students who actually prefer the overly-compressed sounds of low-bitrate MP3s, at least for rock music. (I say ‘apparently’ because a quick search in Google Scholar failed to turn up published data – if you can find it, let me know.) This reminds me of the debate about what tastes better, tap water or spring water. The Ontario Science Centre had an exhibit that showed that your preference just depended on what you normally drank. It looks like MP3s are the same way – people prefer what they are used to, even if other formats are objectively better.

Predictably, audiophiles are freaking out. However, as the price of storage and bandwidth drops, there’s no reason to think that higher fidelity formats won’t become the norm. I’m sure there were lots of people who preferred the sound of cassette tapes, or AM radio.

Interested in whether you prefer 192 or 320 kbps MP3s? Check out an earlier z=z post here.

[via O’Reilly Radar]


  1. If we’re talking digital, I’d much prefer a lossless form like FLAC. But I have waaaay too much shit to keep everything in FLAC format, not to mention iTunes and my iPod would have none of it. Maybe, like you said, once storage drops to almost nothing, that might not be a problem anymore.

    But it also depends on what I’m listening to. Sometimes I’ll prefer an analog tape or vinyl. Sometimes the album just sounds more appropriate that way.

  2. […] of getting) a pair of these babies, you damn well better be able to tell the difference between MP3 bitrates and you’d better prefer higher-fidelity music. Otherwise, me and a crack team of my […]

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