French-Austrian bilateral research project funded by the French National Agency of Research (ANR) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, project no. I 1362-N30). The project involves two academic partners, namely the Laboratory of Mechanics and Acoustics (LMA - CNRS UPR 7051, France) and the Acoustics Research Institute. At the ARI, two research groups are involved in the project: the Mathematics and Signal Processing in Acoustics and the Psychoacoustics and Experimental Audiology groups.

Principal investigators: Thibaud Necciari (ARI), Piotr Majdak (ARI) and Olivier Derrien (LMA).

Running period: 2014-2017 (project started on March 1, 2014).


One of the greatest challenges in signal processing is to develop efficient signal representations. An efficient representation extracts relevant information and describes it with a minimal amount of data. In the specific context of sound processing, and especially in audio coding, where the goal is to minimize the size of binary data required for storage or transmission, it is desirable that the representation takes into account human auditory perception and allows reconstruction with a controlled amount of perceived distortion. Over the last decades, many psychoacoustical studies investigated auditory masking, an important property of auditory perception. Masking refers to the degradation of the detection threshold of a sound in presence of another sound. The results were used to develop models of either spectral or temporal masking. Attempts were made to simply combine these models to account for time-frequency (t-f) masking effects in perceptual audio codecs. We recently conducted psychoacoustical studies on t-f masking. They revealed the inaccuracy of those models which revealed the inaccuracy of such simple models. These new data on t-f masking represent a crucial basis to account for masking effects in t-f representations of sounds. Although t-f representations are standard tools in audio processing, the development of a t-f representation of audio signals that is mathematically-founded, perception-based, perfectly invertible, and possibly with a minimum amount of redundancy, remains a challenge. POTION thus addresses the following questions:

  1. To what extent is it possible to obtain a perception-based (i.e., as close as possible to “what we see is what we hear”), perfectly invertible, and possibly minimally redundant t-f representation of sound signals? Such a representation is essential for modeling complex masking interactions in the t-f domain and is expected to improve our understanding of auditory processing of real-world sounds. Moreover, it is of fundamental interest for many audio applications involving sound analysis-synthesis.
  2. Is it possible to improve current perceptual audio codecs by considering a joint t-f approach? To reduce the size of digital audio files, perceptual audio codecs like MP3 decompose sounds into variable-length time segments, apply a frequency transform, and use masking models to control the sub-quantization of transform coefficients within each segment. Thus, current codecs follow mainly a spectral approach, although temporal masking effects are taken into account in some implementations. By combining an efficient perception-based t-f transform with a joint t-f masking model in an audio codec, we expect to achieve significant performance improvements.

Working program:

POTION is structured in three main tasks:

  1. Perception-based t-f representation of audio signals with perfect reconstruction: A linear and perfectly invertible t-f representation will be created by exploiting the recently developed non-stationary Gabor theory as a mathematical background. The transform will be designed so that t-f resolution mimics the t-f analysis properties by the auditory system and possibly no redundancy is introduced to maximize the coding efficiency.
  2. Development and implementation of a t-f masking model: Based on psychoacoustical data on t-f masking collected by the partners in previous projects and on literature data, a new, complex model of t-f masking will be developed and implemented in the computationally efficient representation built in task 1. Additional psychoacoustical data required for the development of the model, involving frequency, level, and duration effects in masking for either single or multiple maskers will be collected. The resulting signal processing algorithm should represent and re-synthesize only the perceptually relevant components of the signal. It will be calibrated and validated by conducting listening tests with synthetic and real-world sounds.
  3. Optimization of perceptual audio codecs: This task represents the main application of POTION. It will consist in combining the new efficient representation built in task 1 with the new t-f masking model built in task 2 for implementation in a perceptual audio codec.

More information on the project can be found on the POTION web page.


  • Chardon, G., Necciari, Th., Balazs, P. (2014): Perceptual matching pursuit with Gabor dictionaries and time-frequency masking, in: Proceedings of the 39th International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP 2014). Florence, Italy, 3126-3130. (proceedings) ICASSP 2014: Perceptual matching pursuit results

Related topics investigated at the ARI: