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Revolution in Sound Recording?
August 29, 2014   
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A group of Polish researchers and engineers in the western city of Poznań are working to build a new wireless sound recording system that will give the listener the impression of being able to move around a concert or conference venue and home in on what they most want to hear.

The project, called AudioSense for short, has been co-financed by the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR), a Warsaw-based government agency tasked with subsidizing scientific research in Poland, to the tune of zl.1 million under its Lider program.

The full name of the project is “The development of a prototype system for the reconstruction of a virtual sound stage using wireless sensor networks.”

Picture this: You are listening to the broadcast of a music concert in your home. You want to hear your favorite instrumentalist better. So you virtually move closer to him. Then you move to where there the singer’s voice is coming from.

Giving a listener the opportunity to navigate at will around the sonic landscape will offer new possibilities in terms of watching films and documentaries, but also in organizing teleconferences.

Further research and going commercial with the results of the project are expected to take three years.

Today, sound engineers use a variety of microphones to separate the voices of various people. This, however, involves working in a tangle of cables. This is why the Poznań team has decided to build a wireless system. It will be able to process the sound in such a way that a listener at home, in a movie theater or at work will have the impression that they are actually where the recording is being carried out. What’s more, the system will enable free movement around this sonic space, or “sound stage,” and the listener will even be able to move the stage.

Until recently the home theater was a similar technological breakthrough. However, in a home theater the quality of the sound depends on where you sit. The future belongs to what is known as the sound space.

A teleconference using the new technology will make it possible to correctly identify who's speaking and conduct conversations in a similar way to face-to-face discussions.

The manager of the project, Tomasz Żernicki, D.Sc., CEO of the Zylia company based in Poznań, says, “We'll hear the voice of an actor, a solo piece played by a musician or words uttered by a conference participant where the person was actually positioned in the recording venue, and not where we place our speaker.”

In conventional sound recording systems, you need to spread around a number of microphones.

But you cannot accurately separate individual signals, lines uttered or sounds made. Each microphone records a mix of sounds. Engineers from the Zylia company also want to spread around the microphones, but end up with an output of individual sound sources.

“This gives us the ability to manipulate sound sources,” says Żernicki. It is possible to isolate a specific person speaking and then place their voice anywhere in space. This will make the work of sound engineers much easier.

The new system will also make life easier for teleconference participants and video game players. It will also help television and radio stations as well as film producers.

“We’re trying to comply with the current mpeg 3D audio surround sound compression standard,” says Żernicki. “This will allow the recordings to be played on all kinds of devices that will soon appear on the market. We will provide customers with a computer system that will make it possible to innovatively play back sound, while being compatible with the most commonly used solutions.”

A pilot system is being tested by teleconferencing companies. It has also attracted the interest of sound engineers working at music concerts. The prototype is also suitable for use in productions where material is broadcast live.

Talks are in progress with manufacturers of teleconferencing systems. Money from the NCBiR has been used to purchase research equipment and for salaries, which enabled the creation of the prototype. These funds, however, are insufficient to go commercial with the research results, according to the researchers, and the project requires an investor from industry. If such an investor materializes, sales of the product could begin at the end of 2016.

Karolina Olszewska
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