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Introduction What is Auralization? History Basics principles Applications Conclusions References

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All through the history, the design of buildings in whose purpose the sound is highly involved, such as concert halls or conference rooms, has followed in general terms the this workflow: design, build, find sound problems, correct them. Acoustical engineering usually came into play when errors had to be corrected, applying vibration control and acoustical isolation methods. Nowadays, thanks to researchers studying the field since the 1930s, it is possible to turn the previous workflow into: design, find problems, correct them, build. The method that allows this change is called Auralization. It virtually recreates a particular listening environment, expressing the sound field as audible data, in a way that one can wear headphones and listen to a sound file exactly as it would be heard at any chosen point of the planned space. In other words, Auralization tries to simulate the effect that rooms have on sounds [1,35]. As this technique requires a computer 3D model of the building, topic taught in Media Engineering and is interesting and relatively unknown, we decided to give a brief overview and the necessary explanations to understand its fundamentals. Throughout this report, a short introduction to Auralization will be provided, including its definition, abridged history, and explaining the basic principles it is based on. The last part of the document consists of a series of examples of the most significant current applications.

What is Auralization?

One of the parents of modern Auralization, the Swedish doctor in Building Acoustics Mendel Kleiner, gave, together with Bengt-Ingle Dalenbck and Peter Svensson, the following definition of the method: Auralization is the process of rendering audible, by physical or mathematical modelling, the sound field of a source in a space, in such a way as to simulate the binaural listening experience at a given position in the modelled space. [2]. Expressed in a different way, Auralization is a method performed by a computer that combines acoustical, mathematic and physical properties and theorems in order to modify a sound file in a way that, given a 3D environment and its characteristics, it will sound as it would in the actual room. 2.1 History

Its origin dates back 1935, when Friedrich Spandock began to experiment with scale models of buildings; although the term Auralization hadnt been coined yet, the motivation was the same, that is to say being able to know how the response of a building is without having to be actually inside it. This direction of research continued until the 1970s, when a group of researchers from the University of Gttingen used for the first time a digital system which, although overcame the problems of using physical models, was very limited due to the small processing power available. In 1980, Mendel Kleiner obtained decent results comparing the speech intelligibility of a real auditorium with the one obtained auralizing it. In 1991, the first formal definition (on the previous section) of Auralization was stated during the 91st Convention of the Audio Engineering Society. During the last decades, thanks to the constant advances in computers processors, and the refinements in the technique, the obtained results have been greatly improved, giving the possibility of perfectly auralizing complex rooms with complex audio sources like chamber music or orchestras.

5 Lately, Auralization has gone one step beyond in recreating more accurate virtual spaces. Created audio files are not only used to produce the sensation of being inside a specific room, but any person can now submerge into a three-dimensional space with virtual images of the acoustical environment, and an advanced sound system performs Auralization in real time, while the subject walks or moves objects. This technique is known as Acoustical Virtual Reality developed by Dr. Michael Vrlander, professor of the Institute of Technical Acoustics at Aachen University.


Basics principles

The Auralization process consists of two parts: In the first one, performed by acoustical analysis software, several parameters that affect acoustic signals are calculated (reverberation, absorption, intelligibility among others), basing on the inputted data and on acoustical theories. In the second part, the specific auralization software modifies the signal under study (to be auralized) considering the previously calculated data. This signal must be an anechoic recording, meaning it was recorded in an anechoic environment, where sound waves are not reflected. Consequently, it will not have any characteristic related to the room where it was recorded. Roughly speaking, the acoustical analysis software performs these operations: Taking into account the provided rooms 3D model and characteristics of the materials used, general parameters of the space such as reverberation time, absorption coefficient and impulse response are calculated. As different materials have different effects on sound, it is crucial to provide all their characteristics Considering source(s) specifications, the path that each ray coming out from them would follow is calculated, considering the collisions (reflections) with obstacles, such as walls or objects. The number of rays and reflections calculated will determine the accuracy of the simulation. From all the rays calculated, only those that cross the point where the virtual listener is are considered. The intensity of each one at the moment they arrive and the distance they have covered since they were originated determine the properties of the sound field at precise that point. Then, the auralization part comes into play, following in a general way these steps:

6 With all the available data, a series of FIR (Finite Impulse Response) filters are designed. They work in a similar way as the ones used when sound is equalized in common Hi-Fi stereo systems, and represent the effect the room has on sound, so their precision will be decisive in order to produce a realistic simulation. DSP tools perform a convolution operation between the anechoic recording and the transfer function of the filters. The samples (each different piece of sound that compounds a digital audio file) of the original signal are treated in order to add to them the effect of being played in that particular space. Finally, HRTF (Head Related Transfer Functions) filters are applied in the same way, in order to add both the effects of the human body (which also reflects and absorbs sound) and the differences between the signals that arrive at each ear (that help us identifying the direction from where a sound is coming). In other words, by applying these filters, a mono signal is transformed into binaural. Although this operation can be personalized with specific parameters from each person, common features of typical human population are used. [1,37;4.] Figure 1 represents the workflow of an auralization system, and the process followed during its development in order to test the reached accuracy, that is, auralizing an actual building and comparing the results with a real binaural recording (two microphones located where the ears would) from the same exact point.

Figure 1.

Auralization and accuracy test workflow [5,2].

It should be noticed that headphones are usually needed to listen to Auralizations results correctly. As HRTF filters are based on head parameters, if the Auralization is heard through headphones the result will better match the parameters previously configured in the filters. However, new techniques are using professional sound systems that include at least 10 loudspeakers to reproduce each frequency band properly, although there is still the shortcoming of having to place them in anechoic rooms, so that the actual listening environment does not influence the perception.


The largest and most important field where Auralization is applied is the design of concerts halls or auditoriums. Using this technique an audio engineer and an architect can work together to find wrong structural designs that damage the natural acoustics of a building, or the section of the space that provides richer sound experiences. The growth of this method has meant the change from correcting fails after the construction (using isolation, noise controlling or noise impact methods) to prevent them before, with the consequent economical impact. Other very important application in this field is the possibility of showing the progress and future results of the project to the client, without requiring explanations on technical tools and terms. This is particularly helpful when it comes to making important decisions, with lots of money at stake. Auralization is also used to create 3D and virtual sound plots of means of transport. For example, while designing a bus for public transportation, the noise that any passenger travelling on it hears can be simulated, whether its coming from the engine, tyres or the outside. Then, the design can be modified if there are zones with annoying or non regulation-complying sounds. Nowadays, due to the massive growth of modern cityscapes, noise pollution is an important and rising problem, affecting populations health and possibilities of recreation. Again, its difficult to explain the technical aspects of the soundscapes to people who make decisions, as there is a lack of a common channel of communication with them, since the common instruments used by experts (noise maps) are difficult to understand without proper preparation. Auralization is the adequate tool to overcome this handicap, since the whole traffic flow and many listener positions can be simulated, giving then anyone the possibility of virtually being in different places and situations. [6.]

A wide range of other applications already exists, like reconstructing old and no longer existing buildings to learn from their acoustic properties, or experimenting with new orchestra spatial configurations, and many other are still to be developed.

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Auralization is a relatively new tool in the field of acoustics, with many useful and interesting applications, many of them still being investigated and developed. Although they differ in fields and topics, the purpose of the method is always to offer an audible result of theoretical calculations, and in that way ease communication and understanding between researchers and, generally speaking, people who hires them. Its implications are already important, and will keep increasing, given its influence in the budget of new buildings projects. At the same time, it can be affirmed that this is the main reason why the investments in investigating this field have heavily grown in the last years. Coming back to the reason why the topic was chosen for this report, which was introducing Auralization to Metropolia students involved in 3D modelling and simulation, we consider that this field of the science will be a good and useful career opportunity, encouraging them to read more about the technique and get interested. Who knows if, thanks to this powerful method, in the coming years one will be listening to La Bohme at Albert Royal Hall while lounging on the couch at home.


1 2 Vrlander M. Auralization of spaces. Physics Today June 2009;62(6):35-40. Kleiner M, Dalenbck I, Svensson P. Auralization-An overview. Journal Audio Engineering Society November 1993;41(11):861-875. 3 Kleiner M. Speech intelligibility in real and simulated sound fields. Acustica1980;47(1):55-71. 4 Torres Julio Cesar B, Petraglia Mariane R, Tenenbaum Roberto A. HRTF modelling for efficient auralization [pdf format]. URL: Accessed 11 April 2012. 5 Lokki T, Savioja L. State-of-the-art in auralization of concert hall models What is still missing? Joint Baltic-Nordic acoustics meeting August 2008: 1-7. 6 Interactive Institute. Listen Auralization of urban soundscapes [online]. URL: Accessed 11 April 2012.