Venturous Views on Virtual Vienna – a preview of AES 148


We try to write a preview of the technical track for almost all recent Audio Engineering Society (AES) Conventions, see our entries on the 142nd, 143rd, 144th, 145th and 147th Conventions. But this 148th Convention is very different.

It is, of course, an online event. The Convention planning committee have put huge effort into putting it all online and making it a really engaging and exciting experience (and in massively reducing costs). There will be a mix of live-streams, break out sessions, interactive chat rooms and so on. But the technical papers will mostly be on-demand viewing, with Q&A and online dialog with the authors. This is great in the sense that you can view it and interact with authors any time, but it means that its easy to overlook really interesting work.

So we’ve gathered together some information about a lot of the presented research that caught our eye as being unusual, exceptionally high quality, or just worth mentioning. And every paper mentioned here will appear soon in the AES E-Library, by the way. Currently though, you can browse all the abstracts by searching the full papers and engineering briefs on the Convention website.

Deep learning and neural networks are all the rage in machine learning nowadays. A few contributions to the field will be presented by Eugenio Donati with ‘Prediction of hearing loss through application of Deep Neural Network’, Simon Plain with ‘Pruning of an Audio Enhancing Deep Generative Neural Network’, Giovanni Pepe’s presentation of ‘Generative Adversarial Networks for Audio Equalization: an evaluation study’, Yiwen Wang presenting ‘Direction of arrival estimation based on transfer function learning using autoencoder network’, and the author of this post, Josh Reiss will present work done mainly by sound designer/researcher Guillermo Peters, ‘A deep learning approach to sound classification for film audio post-production’. Related to this, check out the Workshop on ‘Deep Learning for Audio Applications – Engineering Best Practices for Data’, run by Gabriele Bunkheila of MathWorks (Matlab), which will be live-streamed  on Friday.

There’s enough work being presented on spatial audio that there could be a whole conference on the subject within the convention. A lot of that is in Keynotes, Workshops, Tutorials, and the Heyser Memorial Lecture by Francis Rumsey. But a few papers in the area really stood out for me. Toru Kamekawa’s investigated a big question with ‘Are full-range loudspeakers necessary for the top layer of 3D audio?’ Marcel Nophut’s ‘Multichannel Acoustic Echo Cancellation for Ambisonics-based Immersive Distributed Performances’ has me intrigued because I know a bit about echo cancellation and a bit about ambisonics, but have no idea how to do the former for the latter.

And I’m intrigued by ‘Creating virtual height loudspeakers using VHAP’, presented by Kacper Borzym. I’ve never heard of VHAP, but the original VBAP paper is the most highly cited paper in the Journal of the AES (1367 citations at the time of writing this).

How good are you at understanding speech from native speakers? How about when there’s a lot of noise in the background? Do you think you’re as good as a computer? Gain some insight into related research when viewing the presentation by Eugenio Donati on ‘Comparing speech identification under degraded acoustic conditions between native and non-native English speakers’.

There’s a few papers exploring creative works, all of which look interesting and have great titles. David Poirier-Quinot will present ‘Emily’s World: behind the scenes of a binaural synthesis production’. Music technology has a fascinating history. Michael J. Murphy will explore the beginning of a revolution with ‘Reimagining Robb: The Sound of the World’s First Sample-based Electronic Musical Instrument circa 1927’. And if you’re into Scandinavian instrumental rock music (and who isn’t?), Zachary Bresler’s presentation of ‘Music and Space: A case of live immersive music performance with the Norwegian post-rock band Spurv’ is a must.


Frank Morse Robb, inventor of the first sample-based electronic musical instrument.

But sound creation comes first, and new technologies are emerging to do it. Damian T. Dziwis will present ‘Body-controlled sound field manipulation as a performance practice’. And particularly relevant given the worldwide isolation going on is ‘Quality of Musicians’ Experience in Network Music Performance: A Subjective Evaluation,’ presented by Konstantinos Tsioutas.

Portraiture looks at how to represent or capture the essence and rich details of a person. Maree Sheehan explores how this is achieved sonically, focusing on Maori women, in an intriguing presentation on ‘Audio portraiture sound design- the development and creation of audio portraiture within immersive and binaural audio environments.’

We talked about exciting research on metamaterials for headphones and loudspeakers when giving previews of previous AES Conventions, and there’s another development in this area presented by Sebastien Degraeve in ‘Metamaterial Absorber for Loudspeaker Enclosures’

Paul Ferguson and colleagues look set to break some speed records, but any such feats require careful testing first, as in ‘Trans-Europe Express Audio: testing 1000 mile low-latency uncompressed audio between Edinburgh and Berlin using GPS-derived word clock’

Our own research has focused a lot on intelligent music production, and especially automatic mixing. A novel contribution to the field, and a fresh perspective, is given in Nyssim Lefford’s presentation of ‘Mixing with Intelligent Mixing Systems: Evolving Practices and Lessons from Computer Assisted Design’.

Subjective evaluation, usually in the form of listening tests, is the primary form of testing audio engineering theory and technology. As Feynman said, ‘if it disagrees with experiment, its wrong!’

And thus, there are quite a few top-notch research presentations focused on experiments with listeners. Minh Voong looks at an interesting aspect of bone conduction with ‘Influence of individual HRTF preference on localization accuracy – a comparison between regular and bone conducting headphones. Realistic reverb in games is incredibly challenging because characters are always moving, so Zoran Cvetkovic tackles this with ‘Perceptual Evaluation of Artificial Reverberation Methods for Computer Games.’ The abstract for Lawrence Pardoe’s ‘Investigating user interface preferences for controlling background-foreground balance on connected TVs’ suggests that there’s more than one answer to that preference question. That highlights the need for looking deep into any data, and not just considering the mean and standard deviation, which often leads to Simpson’s Paradox. And finally, Peter Critchell will present ‘A new approach to predicting listener’s preference based on acoustical parameters,’ which addresses the need to accurately simulate and understand listening test results.

There are some talks about really rigorous signal processing approaches. Jens Ahren will present ‘Tutorial on Scaling of the Discrete Fourier Transform and the Implied Physical Units of the Spectra of Time-Discrete Signals.’ I’m excited about this because it may shed some light on a possible explanation for why we hear a difference between CD quality and very high sample rate audio formats.

The Constant-Q Transform represents a signal in frequency domain, but with logarithmically spaced bins. So potentially very useful for audio. The last decade has seen a couple of breakthroughs that may make it far more practical.  I was sitting next to Gino Velasco when he won the “best student paper” award for Velasco et al.’s “Constructing an invertible constant-Q transform with nonstationary Gabor frames.” Schörkhuber and Klapuri also made excellent contributions, mainly around implementing a fast version of the transform, culminating in a JAES paper. and the teams collaborated together on a popular Matlab toolbox. Now there’s another advance with Felix Holzmüller presenting ‘Computational efficient real-time capable constant-Q spectrum analyzer’.

The abstract for Dan Turner’s ‘Content matching for sound generating objects within a visual scene using a computer vision approach’ suggests that it has implications for selection of sound effect samples in immersive sound design. But I’m a big fan of procedural audio, and think this could have even higher potential for sound synthesis and generative audio systems.

And finally, there’s some really interesting talks about innovative ways to conduct audio research based on practical challenges. Nils Meyer-Kahlen presents ‘DIY Modifications for Acoustically Transparent Headphones’. The abstract for Valerian Drack’s ‘A personal, 3D printable compact spherical loudspeaker array’, also mentions its use in a DIY approach. Joan La Roda’s own experience of festival shows led to his presentation of ‘Barrier Effect at Open-air Concerts, Part 1’. Another presentation with deep insights derived from personal experience is Fabio Kaiser’s ‘Working with room acoustics as a sound engineer using active acoustics.’ And the lecturers amongst us will be very interested in Sebastian Duran’s ‘Impact of room acoustics on perceived vocal fatigue of staff-members in Higher-education environments: a pilot study.’

Remember to check the AES E-Library which will soon have all the full papers for all the presentations mentioned here, including listing all authors not just presenters. And feel free to get in touch with us. Josh Reiss (author of this blog entry), J. T. Colonel, and Angeliki Mourgela from the Audio Engineering research team within the Centre for Digital Music, will all be (virtually) there.

Awesome student projects in sound design and audio effects

I teach classes in Sound Design and Digital Audio Effects. In both classes, the final assignment involves creating an original work that involves audio programming and using concepts taught in class. But the students also have a lot of free reign to experiment and explore their own ideas. The results are always great. Lots of really cool ideas, many of which could lead to a publication, or would be great to listen to regardless of the fact that it was an assignment.

The last couple of years, I posted about it here and here.  Here’s a few of the projects this year.

From the Sound Design class;

  • A procedural audio model of a waterfall. The code was small, involving some filtered noise sources with random gain changes, but the result was great.waterfall2
  • An interactive animation of a girl writing at a desk during a storm. There were some really neat tricks to get a realistic thunder sound.
  • A procedurally generated sound scene for a walk through the countryside. The student found lots of clever ways to generate the sounds of birds, bees, a river and the whoosh of a passing car.
  • New sound design replacing the audio track in a film scene. Check it out.

And from the Digital Audio Effects class;

  • I don’t need to mention anything about the next one. Just read the student’s tweet.


  • Rainmaker, a VST plugin that takes an incoming signal and transforms it into a ‘rain’ like sound, starting above the listener and then floating down below.

  • A plugin implementation of the Karplus-Strong algorithm, except an audio sample is used to excite the string instead of a noise burst. It gives really interesting timbral qualities.

  • Stormify, an audio plugin that enables users to add varying levels of rain and wind to the background of their audio, making it appear that the recording took place in inclement weather.
  • An all-in-one plugin for synthesising and sculpting drum-like sounds.
  • The Binaural Phase Vocoder, a VST/AU plugin whereby users can position a virtual sound source in a 3D space and process the sound through an overlap-add phase vocoder.
  • A multiband multi-effect consisting of three frequency bands and three effects on each band: delay, distortion, and tremolo. Despite the seeming complexity, the interface was straightforward and easy to use.


There were many other interesting assignments, including several sonifications of images. But this selection really shows both the talent of the students and the possibilities to create new and interesting sounds.