Older hearing aids amplified all sounds. They made your dinner partner's voice louder and easier to hear, but they they also enhanced the clatter of dishes and forks and background noise. But they were very helpful for those with hearing loss, even if the sudden ringing of a cell phone could become excruciating.

The auditory experience of an entire musical composition is turned inside out.

Today's more advanced hearing aids do a better job of making it easier to listen to conversation, but they can distort music and take all the pleasure out of listening to it. The best solution to the problem is to either use an older type of hearing aid while listening to music or simply listen to music without any hearing aid, a new study suggests.

New high-tech hearing aids amplify soft sounds while leaving loud sounds unchanged. This is great for hearing people who speak softly or when you're in a crowd. It is terrible for listening to music, since the loud, exciting parts are hushed by the processor in the device, while the quiet passages are amplified. The auditory experience of an entire musical composition is turned inside out.

This newer type of processing is known as wide dynamic range compression (WDRC). Recorded music itself has already undergone some processing, called compression limiting (CL), which makes louder sounds softer and softer sounds louder. Too much of that can annoy even listeners who have no hearing problems. Add in the distortion of a modern hearing aid, and listening to music can become as unappealing as eating processed American cheese.

Colorado University researchers took 18 experienced hearing aid wearers into the laboratory and tried to sort out how different types of hearing aids and ways of recording music affected the listeners' enjoyment. They used simulated hearing aids rather than real ones because it made it much easier to test sound processing.

They also included some music that had been recorded differently from conventional CDs — with very little or no compression — to see how that affected the listening experience. Listeners were tested with both classical and rock music.

Hearing aids with the simplest processing — essentially devices that just boost the volume — were preferred for listening to both types of music. Music that was recorded with less processing was also preferred, but this was not as important to the listeners as the type of hearing aid they used.

Despite general agreement that less processing meant better-sounding music, there was some individual variation in what people thought sounded best. Which is what you might expect if you've ever had a “Turn that noise down,” “No, make it louder!” moment with parents, children or loved ones. When it comes to music, disagreement is often the norm.

The study appears in Ear & Hearing.