A Different Mix Makes Music More Accessible After Hearing Loss – Forbes

People with hearing loss often have difficulty hearing the vocal tracks in songs, especially in recently produced music in which the vocals are already at a relatively low volume compared to the rest of the track. A recent study showed that increasing the vocal levels can make music more accessible to people with hearing loss.

Professional recording studios will record separate tracks for each instrument. Sound engineers then adjust the levels of each track individually to produce the final mix for distribution.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Oldenburg in Germany analyzed music from the past few decades and discovered that the lead vocal track has gradually been getting less loud in comparison to the other tracks. It depends on the genre as well, with vocals being less easy to hear in rock and metal than they are in country, rap and pop.

That study used a measurement of “lead vocal to accompaniment ratio” (LAR) to express how easy it was to hear the vocals in different songs.

“Our analysis showed a significant downward trend in the LAR from about 5 decibels in 1946 to approximately 1 decibel in 1975, after which time the LAR remained constant,” Karsten Gerdes told the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in April.

The change in mixing levels over time could partly explain why you might hear older people mention that they can’t hear the vocals over the bass in recently produced songs. However, there’s something else going on as well. Age-related hearing loss also makes it harder to distinguish the vocal track.

The same research group, led by Kai Siedenburg, has now published a new study, in which they show that people with hearing loss prefer songs with louder vocal tracks or higher pitches. Hearing aids aren’t really developed with music appreciation in mind, but a solution might be to remix tracks so that the vocals are more pronounced.

In their study, the researchers played music with different levels of vocal and instrumental tracks to volunteers. They found that people with hearing loss overall preferred a different mix than people who did not have impaired hearing.

“Generally, hard-of-hearing listeners have reduced frequency selectivity and impaired level perception,” Aravindan Benjamin told the AIP. “They tend to prefer louder levels of lead vocals compared to normal listeners.”

To some extent, listeners can adjust the level of different tracks using their sound system. But another option could be for music producers to offer special mixes for people with hearing loss using the original recorded tracks.

“One approach could be to offer a couple of different mixes, one for the general public and one for people who are moderately hard of hearing,” said Siedenburg. “Certain adjustments to the mix might help to cater to the needs of this group of people in a better way.”

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