Do you like your music flat?

432 vs 440 Hz

Henric Mattsson, one of the technicians at Salford Acoustics asked me about a set of YouTube videos which have been re-tuned so the music is at a lower frequency. Here an example for Sadie’s Cherish the Day, one is the original, the other has been flattened.



Normally musicians tune to 440Hz, but the second video has been altered (presumably using a pitch shifter) so the frequency of the tuning A is lowered by 8 Hz to 432Hz. The YouTube description for these flattened videos make some curious claims:

“Listen to the how the opening guitar part comes at you compared to the original recording … The sound feels very centered to me and it has a relaxed, spacious, organic “real” quality … Every single note of the C-major scale becomes a whole frequency, unlike the fractions of frequencies it is with A-440.”

Has anyone tested this scientifically? Well there is one acoustician, Hugo Fastl, who has compared classical music tuned at 432 Hz to music at 440 Hz using proper psychoacoustic methods. He presented the work at the recent ICA conference in Montreal. [1]

Much classical music was composed with a lower tuning frequency of 432 Hz, so maybe old music sounds better at a lower frequency? This is what Fastl tested. He used a Welte-Steinway grand piano driven by punched paper which had captured the performances of famous pianists such as Claude Debussey. The piano was tuned to 440 Hz and recordings made. And then re-tuned to 432 Hz and new recordings made. Listening tests then got subjects to compare and rate the recordings. No preference was found for 432 Hz, if anything there was a slight preference for 440 Hz.

This could just be a learnt preference for 440 Hz, after all that is what we’re used to hearing nowadays. If it a learnt preference, then the original Sadie video should sound better than the flattened on. Which video did you prefer, the original or 432 Hz? Please comment below


 [1]  Basics and applications of psychoacoustics POMA Volume 19, pp. 032002 (June 2013); (23 pages) Hugo Fastl

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0 responses to “Do you like your music flat?”

  1. Thank you Dr Cox for sharing this article.
    I always asked if there was any serious study of this question. Now I know Fastl made an approach. I will share this with my friends and colleges.

  2. Interesting post, I prefer the 2nd recording, I think for the tonal quality, but much more importantly I get the impression the 1st recording has been more severely compressed (lossy data compression), so I don’t think it is is really fair to focus too much on the details on this example.

  3. I would be interested to learn which version was played first to the subject.
    The old trick of varispeeding tracks to make them sound more dynamic tends to work provided that the previous track was similarly pitched. I.e. track 1 is in A and track track 2 is in Bflat then there is no problem but if track 2 is somewhere between A & Bflat then it can ‘hurt’.
    Tip: always varispeed by complete semitones and not parts of a semitone.

  4. The lower pitch sounds more rounded to me. I get this experience when my bampot of a neighbour upstairs plays his high BPM music and it really gets on my nipples but when my down stairs neighbour plays slower music with a more rolling bass it doesn’t really bother me too much. I think that by the time the music has traveled up it has possibly lost some of it’s pitch and is flatter and less intrusive. Having listened to the 432 Hz, I prefer the flatter effect, even though definition has defo been lost and now I feel I am awake to the sharpness of 440 Mz and its subtle intrusiveness. Each to their own but it is interesting non the less.

  5. I prefer the 432hz. Though hyper-sensitive to sound, I don’t know acoustic terms/labels, or really much of anything about music other than how sounds make me feel, or rather my physical reaction to them. The 440hz sounded dirty, like a recording of a recording, or someone talking through a window; whereas the 432hz felt real/rounded, I saw her singing…”The sound feels very centered to me and it has a relaxed, spacious, organic “real” quality”.
    I think you have something with the learnt preference. Some genres I prefer a certain way…for instance, I prefer listening to a particular genre on AM radio because that’s how I associate it from childhood, so on FM I don’t feel that same ‘character’.
    Interestingly, over last year or so I’ve mostly only listened to both an FM classical station and FM oldies station, but just recently I started listening to a few classic rock stations again too and have noticed how flat the rock stations sound. I discern a difference between the ‘fullness’ of the classical annd oldies stations, but the rock stations sound absolutely horrible. I was thinking maybe my car speakers were worn, but maybe it’s the hertz(?).

  6. This is just the most recent example that I have been exposed to, and without fail, all of the 432 recordings I have listened to not only sound markedly better, they feel better – literally. The body becomes part of the sound experience. I know I am risking hyperbole here, but there is something about 432 that resonates with the body as well as the ears (actually brain). Its fascinating. My first experience of 432 was Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’, which I know like the back of my hand, and I was quietly stunned within the first five seconds of the difference in the musical dynamics of the first cut. I hope this revolution is not scoffed at. What a find.

  7. I’m not sure what exactly you mean when you ask “Has anyone tested this scientifically?” but I presume some sort of controlled, clinical trial resulting in some sort of quantification of experience.
    If this were a question of acoustic biomechanics, i.e. “what can a human ear hear?” perhaps it would result in some good data. But since we’re talking about the subjective experience of music, we can’t come close to ‘scientific’ because we’re simply unable to standardize anything prior to the experiment. Each person has a huge matrix of prior history that serves as the basis for their opinion. You’d be hard pressed to find any ‘fact’ one way or another.
    However, I would like to say that I find 432 more satisfying because I appreciate math and enjoy the neat divisibility of 432 (=27*16 = 3^3*2^4). Knowing that a song is in 432 may have the effect of making me pay more attention to how the notes sound, and that is why I prefer it. This would be impossible to measure, but interesting nonetheless. Cheers!

  8. As a guitar player i can say that the original guitar intro was played using very out of tune guitar bending (btw: “in tune” has no meaning for a guitar player, even playing open strings 😉 …).
    The slightly lower pitch of the second video makes the guitar sounding more “in tune” just because of the lesser relative deviation of guitar part playing against the other fixed pitch instruments parts.
    Overbending vs underpitching … sounds interesting.

  9. Sorry for “overposting” but Peter Peterson’s post has pushed me to do some mathematics against 440, and the winner is …
    2 * 2 * 2 * 5 * 11 = 440
    2^3 * 5 * 11 = 440
    8 * 5 * 11 = 440 !!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Nice divisors sequence too:
    Cheers & … good vibrations to anyone 😉

  10. the study present a sesgo.. that it’s the fact that we all are used to.. have a predisposition for the normalize pitch! and in fact it say a lot more that in the results the second higher values are for the 432 hz pitch!

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