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The Effects of MP3 Compression on Perceived Emotional Characteristics in Musical Instruments

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Musical instrument sounds have distinct timbral and emotional characteristics that can change when audio processing is applied. This paper investigates the effects of MP3 compression on the emotional characteristics of eight sustained instrument sounds using listening tests. The experimental paradigm involved a pairwise comparison of compressed and uncompressed samples at several bit rates over ten emotional categories. The results showed that MP3 compression strengthened neutral and negative emotional characteristics such as Mysterious, Shy, Scary, and Sad, and weakened positive emotional characteristics such as Happy, Heroic, Romantic, Comic, and Calm. Angry was relatively unaffected by MP3 compression, probably because the background “growl” artifacts added by MP3 compression decreased positive emotional characteristics and increased negative characteristics such as Mysterious and Scary. Compression effected some instruments more and others less; trumpet was the most effected and the horn the least.

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JAES Volume 64 Issue 11 pp. 858-867; November 2016
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Paul Jessop

Comment posted December 22, 2016 @ 16:55:23 UTC (Comment permalink)

For this report of experimental findings to be useful, it would be necessary to know whether the quoted data rates are per channel or for a stereo signal (it would also be important to know how the encoder was configured: constant or variable bit rate). 

According to the Wikipedia (and my understanding which is why I checked), Spotify does not use MP3 coding as the paper states. It uses Ogg Vorbis.

It is not clear to me that an extrapolation from single instrument to real world music is justified. Although John Coltrane's music does indeed feature a prominent saxophone, the encoder is not encoding the saxophone notes in a vacuum - it has to encode all the other instruments as well and the artefacts imposed on the saxophone sounds will be affected by the other sounds to be encoded.

Perhaps a further study using real music, with a modern codec and realistic data rates would be useful.

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Andrew Horner

Comment posted December 30, 2016 @ 21:15:51 UTC (Comment permalink)

Thank you very much for your comments. Constant bit rates were used in our study. Since all instrument sounds were in mono, the bit rates we picked were per channel.


We agree that a better wording would be that "music providers such as Spotify use MP3 or related compression algorithms".


Apparently, a saxophone solo in the middle of a piece also contains some other instruments like the rhythm section. It is not clear how mp3 compression changes the perceived emotion of real world music. However, our results give an insight into how MP3 compression may change the emotional characteristics of a music piece. We also agree that testing MP3 compression on musical excerpts is a very promising area for further work.


Thank you so much for your suggestions.

Ron Mo and Andrew Horner

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