A prolonged study suggests that iPods and MP3 players have affected how people, the young especially, respond to music's fidelity range.

Jonathan Berger, Professor of Music at Stanford University, California, has conducted an eight-year study in which students have rated various audio formats while listening to the same song.

Professor Berger is an accomplished composer and musician, with works available on Sony, Neuma, CRI and Harmonia Mundi record labels.

In addition to composition the Professor is an active researcher with over 60 publications in a wide range of fields relating to music, science and technology including the eight-year music study.

The Professor found over time the preference was for MP3 encoded songs, with those listening failing to establish any loss in audio quality normally associated with compressed digital music.

“I found not only that MP3s were not thought of as low quality, but over time there was a rise in preference for MP3s,” said the Professor who suggests the digitising process leaves music with a 'sizzle' or a metallic sound.

As with a previous generation's debate over the pros and cons of vinyl and CD, the study suggests young ears at least prefer the tinnier and flatter sound of some digital music over CDs and vinyl.

The choice suggests the Professor is comparable to those who still prefer vinyl in preference to CD or MP3.

“Some people prefer that needle noise, the noise of little dust particles that create noise in the grooves, I think there’s a sense of warmth and comfort in that,” the Professor told The Times.

Listening to streaming audio online, on Web sites such as MySpace and Spotify, as well as computers with small or inferior speakers have also played a role in how music is heard and perceived.

Stanford University's Jonathan Berger recordings are available as MP3s on iTunes.

The preference for MP3 sounding music has meant some producers have actively sought to mix music specifically to be heard on iPods and mobile phones.

Acclaimed dance music producer Rennie Pilgrem is one who admits to mixing music on an iPod, although he is not a fan the sonic results. "To my ears iPods are not even as good quality as cassette tape," he said. "But once someone gets used to that sound then they feel comfortable with it."

Some producers have also tried to cater for the MP3 generation by making music as loud as possible, which can mean a loss of musical range and detail.

"What you are hearing is that everything is being squared off and is losing that level of depth and clarity," said producer Stephen Street, the man behind hits from The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur and Kaiser Chiefs. "I’d hate to think that anything I’d slaved over in the studio is only going to be listened to on a bloody iPod."

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