Many people complain that pop music was better in the good old days. Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen are poor substitutes for the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the argument goes.

Older fans also insist that songs heard through iPods just don't rock as they used to, compared with the clarity of CDs and the crackling charm of vinyl.

Research has shown, however, that today's iPod generation prefers the tinnier and flatter sound of digital music, just as previous generations preferred the grainier sounds of vinyl. Computers have made music so easy to obtain that the young no longer appreciate high fidelity, it seems.

The theory has been developed by Jonathan Berger, professor of music at Stanford University in northern California. For the past eight years, his students have taken part in an experiment in which they listen to songs in a variety of different forms, including MP3s, a standard format for 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,"Berger said.

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