New technique for sound transmission makes sweet music on Internet

May 13, 2001

A new technology for transmitting audio that taps into the subtleties of human sound recognition could make listening to your favorite song on the Internet as clear and uninterrupted as tuning in on a radio - even if your computer is a 90-pound weakling in the bandwidth department.

The technology, fine-grain scalable audio encoding, also has potential for audio fingerprinting, currently a hot issue in the recording industry, according to Les Atlas, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington. He developed the technique with graduate student Mark Vinton and presented the pair's findings last week in Salt Lake City at the annual International Conference of Acoustic, Speech and Signal Processing. The two recently filed for a provisional patent. Atlas said the technology could help computer users in a couple of ways.

"If you're listening to music on your computer and all you have to plug into is a phone line, then this will make it sound quite a bit better, without interruptions," he said. "And if you have something with more bandwidth, like a DSL line, this would allow you to instantly access stations, much like the push buttons on your FM radio, without waiting for a buffer. It may not sound quite as good for the first few seconds, but would be easily recognizable and in a few seconds would sound as good as a CD."

Fine-grain scalable works by prioritizing the signal according to what's most important for recognition by the human auditory system. As bandwidth gets pinched, less important information is shed. The signal drops slightly in quality, but the drop is gradual.

"For a typical person, the change would be almost unnoticeable," Atlas said. "If you're a musician, you might note a difference, but it wouldn't be a grating change." And the audio wouldn't cut out, as is often the case with such popular all-or-nothing tools as MP3.

The technology is designed to take advantage of a little-explored aspect of the human auditory system. "What we've confirmed is there appears to be a second dimension in the auditory system," Atlas explained. That dimension appears to prioritize sounds according to duration - the longer, slower aspects of a sound appear to be more critical to recognition. The algorithms that make fine-grain scalable work select and prioritize those aspects.

"It's not standard frequency that's critical - it's modulation, or duration," Atlas said. "This is the first time we've been able to code in that dimension." The technology also has promising applications for audio fingerprinting, or the determination of unique identifiers within songs. The fingerprints can be used for copyright management and fraud detection, and have been a hot topic in the music industry as companies and artists scramble to find ways to protect their work in today's digital free-for-all market. Atlas and Vinton said they're experimenting to see if the technique will work with video as well. And they'll continue to push the audio applications to make tuning in your favorite radio station on your computer a viable option. "We're reaching the point where we shouldn't have to have FM radios on the shelves in our office," Atlas said. "Why not get there?"
-end-
For further information, contact Atlas at atlas@ee.washington.edu or 206-685-1315.

University of Washington

Related Music Articles from Brightsurf:

Seeing chemical reactions with music
Audible sound enables chemical coloring and the coexistence of different chemical reactions in a solution.

Music on the brain
A new study looks at differences between the brains of Japanese classical musicians, Western classical musicians and nonmusicians.

We feel connected when we move together in time with music
Go dancing! A new study conduted at Center for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University, Denmark, suggest that then moving together with music, synchronous movements between individuals increase social closeness.

The 'purrfect' music for calming cats
Taking a cat to the vets can be a stressful experience, both for cat and owner.

Young people putting music to the crisis: the role of music as a political expression
On February 1, 2020, the journal Young is publishing a special issue on youth, music and crisis involving Mònica Figueras, José Sánchez-García and Carlos Feixa, researchers from the Youth, Society and Communication Research Group (JOVIS.com) at the Department of Communication.

Music is universal
Exactly what about music is universal, and what varies? Harvard researchers have demonstrated that across cultures, people share psychological mechanisms that make certain songs sound 'right' in specific social and emotional contexts.

Why music makes us feel, according to AI
In a new study, a team of USC researchers, with the help of artificial intelligence, investigated how music affects listeners' brains, bodies and emotions.

The brain's favorite type of music
People prefer songs with only a moderate amount of uncertainty and unpredictability, according to research recently published in JNeurosci.

Watching music move through the brain
Scientists have observed how the human brain represents a familiar piece of music, according to research published in JNeurosci.

Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.

Read More: Music News and Music Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.