Changing Tune: Preferences of Hard-of-Hearing Music Enthusiasts Differ

music preferences with hearing loss
August 23, 2023

WASHINGTON — In a world where modern music is a ubiquitous part of daily life, millions of individuals worldwide grapple with hearing loss, experiencing its profound impacts on health and overall quality of life.

Although treatments like hearing aids and cochlear implants offer support, they fall short of fully restoring natural hearing capabilities and remain inaccessible to most. The nuances of auditory experiences, including speech and music, are notably affected.

Published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA), and facilitated by AIP Publishing on behalf of the Acoustical Society of America, a study by University of Oldenburg researchers delves into how hearing loss influences individuals’ enjoyment of different music mixes.

Influence of Hearing Loss on Music Enjoyment

Modern music, often composed of distinct vocal, instrumental, and synthesized tracks recorded separately, undergoes intricate mixing to craft the final musical masterpiece. This mixing process may involve adjusting track volumes or emphasizing high- or low-frequency sounds based on listeners’ preferences.

“Mixing is tailored to suit the needs of normal-hearing listeners. We wanted to explore whether there are actually differences in mixing preferences between normal-hearing and hard-of-hearing listeners.”

–Kai Siedenburg, study author

To investigate, researchers presented various music mixes to individuals both with and without hearing loss. Their findings revealed that individuals with hearing loss showed a preference for louder lead vocals, higher frequencies, and sparser mixes with fewer frequencies overall.

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

Listeners with hearing loss can struggle to make out vocals and certain frequencies in modern music. Credit: Aravindan Joseph Benjamin

Interestingly, prior research by the same group indicated that music progressively shifted towards quieter vocals and louder instrumentals until 1975, a trend that has since persisted. This suggests that contemporary music may be less accessible to individuals with hearing loss.

Improving Music Quality for People with Hearing Loss

Use of hearing aids can remedy these issues to a degree, but they are not available to many people with hearing loss and come with their own set of problems. Some users might prefer to adjust their music with software rather than listen to the default mix through hearing aids.

Siedenburg suggested an alternative approach:

“Investing in high-quality headphones, for instance, and fine-tuning equalization might offer a better solution than attempting to channel everything through hearing aid hardware.”

Ultimately, the most substantial impact rests with music production. Sound engineers with access to individual tracks have the power to create a significant difference by enhancing accessibility for millions of listeners.

Siedenburg proposed, “One approach could involve offering different mixes, catering to both the general public and individuals with moderate hearing impairments. Specific adjustments to the mix might effectively address the needs of this particular group.”


  • Aravindan Joseph BenjaminKai Siedenburg; Exploring level- and spectrum-based music mixing transforms for hearing-impaired listeners. J Acoust Soc Am 1 August 2023; 154 (2): 1048–1061.


About the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
Since 1929, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA) has been the leading source of theoretical and experimental research results in the broad interdisciplinary subject of sound.


Source: JASA, AIP

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