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Meeting held April 17, 2013 at Shoreline Community College

AES PNW Section Meeting Report
Audio, Radio and Acoustics, and Signal Processing
the Way Forward
with JJ Johnston

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The audience is listening.
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PNW Committee member and presenter JJ Johnston
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Listening to the 5-channel surround demo.
Recordings of the meeting:
128k mp3 64k mp3
128k mp3 (47Mb) 
64k mp3 (24Mb) 
Powerpoint deck (1.3Mb) 

Photos of JJ and listeners by Gary Louie. Panorama of audience by boB Gudgel. Audio Recording by Rick Chinn. Videography by Dr. Michael Matesky.

The meeting was held in Room 818 at Shoreline Community College. Total attendance was about 55, with 23 AES members.

For the April PNW meeting, James D. (JJ) Johnston gave a reprise of his AES 133rd Convention Richard Heyser Memorial Lecture on " Audio, Radio, Acoustics and Signal Processing - the Way Forward," plus a 5 channel recording demo. Attendance was about 23 AES members and 55 total.

Throughout his career, JJ noted that he was discouraged from studying audio, as it was "full of nonsense, and we didn't understand things very well." Fortunately, at Bell Labs, there was work in hearing and audio.

Referring to the masking work of Harvey Fletcher, JJ stressed that signal to noise ratio in and of itself is usually pointless, in deference to frequency selectivity of human hearing. He played some audio examples to demonstrate this. Even today, arguments about S/N and THD abound.

Preference (what you like to hear) is inviolate, he proclaimed, not what measures more accurately. He gave a modern view of human perception, with lots of feedback and loss of data as humans interpret things. Ergo, the need for double blind testing (DBT). He gave an anecdote about a faux "tube vs transistor" amplifier comparison test he tried in college, with a fake switch and only the transistor amp functioning. Some groups still showed a high preference for the "tube" amp.

So, your preference is not my preference. But under certain circumstances, preference is bad - when examining JUST the auditory system; when systems are so flexible that only with a falsifiable result lets you proceed with an investigation; and just anecdotes. One must be able to do a scientific study.

Thus, another cause of the divide/hostility between engineers and artists:

Next he spoke about Bell Labs, Audio research and MP3. Although discouraged from working on audio, some Bell researchers helped him around the barriers, eventually leading to his work on modern perceptual coders like MP3 and AAC.

He had inspiration from many of the minds at Bell Labs, and by 1979, he got his first perceptual codec lesson on "upward spread of masking" where lows mask highs, but highs don't mask lows. This was evident on solo female voice, and meant more work on perceptual coding.

In the meantime, work progressed on array microphones and a digital earphone, and computers were just becoming powerful enough now to do coding models in real time.

JJ played "The 13dB Miracle" where an example of music with a mere 13dB S/N with shaped noise sounded good despite the low S/N. And so:

and Finally, he made some requests:

Door prizes were given after the cookie break.

After the break, 5 channel demo recordings by Dr. Michael Matesky, Paul Hubert and JJ were played, made with an array of 5 equiangular hypercardioids. This showed a method of recording and conveying perceptual cues for the room, although accuracy not always equal to preference, as the same recording with some processing made a more "normal" recording.

A 5 speaker listening area was set up in the room, and people could try the seats in the sweet area.

Reported by Gary Louie, PNW Section Secretary

Last Modified 1/15/2021 (rc)