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Scientists go wild for Sonnox Pro-Codec

Researchers at Cornell University are using the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec to determine appropriate and inappropriate uses for lossy encoding for natural sounds.

The Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec was designed with the process of mastering audio for online distribution in mind. However, scientists at The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library have embraced the plugin for research involving their vast collection of over 195,000 biodiversity sound recordings. Curator of audio, Greg Budney (pictured, left) and supervising audio engineer Bill McQuay (pictured, right) first learned of the Pro-Codec while attending last year’s Audio Engineering Society convention in NYC. “I spoke to the Fraunhover folks about our need to demonstrate appropriate and inappropriate uses of MP3 sound files to the scientific research community, and they directed us to the Sonnox booth,” McQuay said. “We are trying to demonstrate to the scientific community that there may be appropriate and inappropriate uses for a lossy codec like MP3, which is based on human perception, but is not necessarily the perception of other species. In many cases we don’t know the perceptual limitations of these species – what frequencies they do and do not find important or encoded with meaningful information. We want to demonstrate that MP3 may be valuable for applications such as auditioning sounds, but may not be for serious sound analysis. The Pro-Codec provides a simple interface that allows us to consider what information in the frequency and time domains are being eliminated by the lossy MP3 codec,” McQuay added. The Pro-Codec plugin enables audio engineers to audition codecs in real time, eliminating the need to encode a mix in order to audition a codec. As an added draw for scientists (and engineers!), the plugin contains a large FFT display containing the spectral content of the audio signal. “Scientists are really hip to spectrograms, they love those things,” McQuay said. “The Pro-codec’s real time FFT display graphically illustrates exactly what is happening to sound being processed by the MP3 or another lossy codec. And, the Pro-codec’s ability to make the sounds being eliminated audible helps to reinforce its lossy nature. Our hypothesis is that for serious sound analysis, the use of MP3 or other lossy formats may not be the appropriate choice.” “We’re a resource for scientists studying evolutionary relationships between animals,” Budney explained. “Many species have genetically based sounds. By examining the vocalizations of a group of animals, their sounds can provide a window into their evolutionary relationships. Motion picture producers also use our collection,” he added. “Skywalker Sound routinely contacts the Library for creative fodder, sometimes for sounds to build upon, sometimes for accurate natural world sounds.” Research currently underway at the Macaulay Library will eventually be published in a scientific journal, pending the outcome of McQuay’s analysis. Budney points to the Library’s webpages, which provide technical support to researchers across a broad range of disciplines. “They might be marine mammalogists, ornithologists, or individuals studying animal behavior or bioacoustic phenomenon,” he says. “The library is recognized as a source of solid technical information by researchers around the globe. We’ll also be posting this information on our own webpages soon.”