Avaya Audio Quality Terminology User manual

Avaya Audio Quality Terminology User manual
Audio Quality Terminology
The terms described herein relate to audio quality artifacts. The intent of this document is to
ensure Avaya customers, business partners and services teams engage in effective
communication involving audio quality related issues.
©2005 Avaya Inc. All Rights Reserved.
This document defines a variety of terms used to describe voice-related artifacts experienced in
telephony. It is expected that this terminology will be used primarily by Avaya business partners
and Avaya Global Services teams to facilitate the interpretation and understanding of voicerelated problems experienced in the field.
Audio processing components and terminology
In a typical telephony call, speech from talker to listener often passes through the following
processing components and in the order identified in Figure 1.
reverse of below
Figure 1. Components of the end-to-end speech path. The upper path is
identical to the lower path, but reversed in order. The network could be
TDM, packet (VoIP), or a combination of the two.
The talker’s voice enters at the microphone on the left side of Figure 1, then to the microphone
expander, voice coder, network transport, voice decoder, packet-loss concealment, echo
controller, automatic gain control and, finally, the listener’s ear.
Audio Processing Components
Echo controller: broad term meaning an echo canceler, echo suppressor, or a
combination of the two. Speakerphone algorithms are also included. An echo controller
prevents a talker from hearing distant reflections (echoes) of his/her own voice,
reflections caused by acoustic or electrical reflection points within the telephone network
and end-user equipment. Echo controllers are often only partially successful, and this is
why echo is sometimes heard even though the call path is known to include echo
controllers. Often, people use the term “echo canceler” when in fact what is being
referred to is an echo controller.
Echo canceller: a software or hardware implementation of a digital signal processing
algorithm designed to model and subtract-out – or cancel – the reflection, or echo, of a
speech signal. Strictly speaking, an echo canceler does not introduce attenuation or
suppression into the speech paths to reduce the loudness of echo. The term canceler
refers to an adaptive digital filter that models the physical echo path and subtracts that
(excited) model from the return speech path.
©2005 Avaya Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Echo suppressor: like echo canceler, above, except the echo level is reduced or
eliminated by applying suppression or attenuation to the return speech channel. The use
of attenuation causes other audio artifacts, including chopping or clipping of speech
utterances and/or pumping of the loudness level of a caller’s speech.
Microphone expander, and or noise reduction: a microphone expander is a traditional and
relatively simple method of improving the speech-signal-to-background-noise ratio
emanating from the microphone path. An expander attenuates weak room background
noises while passing unaltered the relatively loud speech of the talker addressing the
handset (or headset, or speakerphone).
Speech coder (encoder and decoder): the raw speech signal, once digitized, is often
digitally encoded for transmission into the telephone network. Encoding has one
purpose, namely, to reduce the bits-per-second rate of transmission required to
communicate voice from one end to the other. Highly compressive codecs, such as a
G.729 codec, reduce speech to a low transmission rate (8000 bits-per-second), but
sacrifice voice quality in doing so. Higher voice quality is experienced in systems using
the traditional G.711 codec (mu-law codec), since G.711’s higher transmission rate of
64,000 bits-per-second better captures the nuances of speech. Regardless of coding
scheme, at the receiving side, the speech decoder reconstructs (an approximation to)
the original speech for playback.
Packet-loss concealment: often combined with speech decoders. When the network path
includes packet-speech transmission links, like VoIP, speech packets can be lost
because of network failures. In such cases, a concealment algorithm attempts to fill-in
missing speech samples. Concealment can work well when the rate of lost speech is
very low, say, less than 2% of transmissions.
Automatic gain control: automatic gain control devices apply signal gain or loss
automatically in an attempt to keep the speech sound level at the listener’s ear relatively
constant. Therefore, AGC boosts low-level speech while reducing speech levels that are
too loud. Such devices have been used for decades in audio broadcasting and recording
Terminology for voice-related artifacts
Speech distortions
Distorted speech: speech accompanied by an unnatural buzzing or raspy sound. A
classic example of distortion occurs in the case of a far party who is speaking too loudly
or too close to the handset or headset microphone. The far party’s speech saturates
either the mechanical or electrical capabilities of the handset, causing overload
distortion or amplitude clipping
Muffled speech: speech that has an unnatural loss of high-frequency content. Muffled
speech may be caused by, for example, poorly designed microphone assemblies in
handsets (in particular, wireless handsets) and low-bit-rate speech coders.
Reverberant speech (also hollowness or speaking-in-a-tunnel effect): sounds like
the person speaking is in a barrel or large empty room. This can be the case when the
talker is using a speakerphone, but it can also be the case when there is network echo,
e.g., in a teleconference without echo control.
©2005 Avaya Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Synthetic, Mechanical, or Robotic Voice: this can be very subtle or very severe, or
very consistent or intermittent. In the most severe case, the pitch information has been
lost making the speech sound monotonic and robotic. Recognizing who is speaking is
often difficult.
Amplitude clipping: see definition for distortion above.
Clipping: portions of the speech signal are not heard. This can occur in packet-switched
networks when, for example, large numbers of successive speech packets are not
received because of excessive network congestion. Common in wireless phones, where
the RF-signal strength fades as the user moves within the environment.
Clipping during double-talk: clipping, as defined above, but heard only when both
parties of a telephone call talk at the same time. When it occurs, this effect is almost
always caused by the excessive use of echo suppression (see definition) at some point
within the network. In this case, clipping of speech utterances is not caused by lost
speech packets or, in the case of wireless phones, RF fades, though those artifacts may
also be present in the same call.
Stutter: this is often used to describe an effect caused by repetition of short bursts of
noise or speech, such as “da-da-da-da…” or “fa-fa-fa-fa…” Stutter distortion can occur in
packet-speech networks when one or more network elements (e.g., router or switch)
become a bottleneck to the timely transmission of speech packets.
Speech-level pumping: pumping is often used to describe a varying speech-loudness
level, that is, were the speech gets louder, softer, then louder again, etc., over the
course of a call, often over a period of just several seconds. Automatic gain control
devices can cause audible and distracting pumping.
Noise and Other Phenomena
Hiss or white noise: relatively natural-sounding noise containing energy at all
frequencies. Low-level, idle-channel hiss noise can be perceived on nearly every
telephone call when no person is speaking.
Static: impulsive, ticking noise, similar to the sound of an AM radio when tuned to a very
weak or nonexistent radio station. In a packet-speech network, can be caused by lost
speech packets and/or bit errors. May also be used to describe power-line hum (see
definition below).
Motor boating: repetitive noise that is separate and distinct from the talker’s voice.
Motor-boat noise differs from static in that it is repetitive or non-random.
Hum: sounds like humming, as in “Hmmmmm…” Hum noise often occurs when a
source of 50 Hz or 60 Hz electrical power is located near a telephone. The power source
emits an RF (radio frequency) field that induces a hum-like noise that is heard through
the phone’s handset/headset earpiece or speakerphone loudspeaker.
Distorted Music-on-Hold or Dialtone: low-bit-rate codecs such as G.729 , and G.723 ,
were created to efficiently encode and transport speech but not music (or other nonspeech signal such as tones). Thus the usage of these and other codecs may distort
©2005 Avaya Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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and ruin the music signal or non-speech signal. This can be subtle or severe depending
on the music source.
There are only two physical sources of echo in telephony: electrical echo (or network echo), and
acoustic echo. Electrical echo is caused by a reflection of the speech signal at 2-to-4-wire hybrid
circuitry. This circuitry is present in analog trunk cards, and it also exists deep within the PSTN
(at customer premises, for example). Acoustic echo is caused by the physical coupling (air path,
appliance-body path) between a loudspeaker and a microphone, for example, in a
speakerphone, a handset and a headset. Whether or not a talker actually perceives electrical or
acoustic echo depends on the loudness of his/her reflected voice signal and the roundtrip delay
that that reflection suffers. The loudness of the reflection at the point of reflection depends upon
the electrical impedance mismatch, for electrical echoes, and the acoustic gain of the
loudspeaker-to-microphone path, for acoustic echoes. The roundtrip delay is a function of the
path the reflected signal traverses, which in turn is a function of the call topology.
Electrical echo, also called network echo: reflection of a talker's speech signal at a
point of 2-to-4-wire conversion caused by an impedance mismatch at the point of
analog-to-digital conversion.
Acoustic echo: reflection of a talker's speech signal at an acoustic endpoint caused by
the acoustic coupling between the loudspeaker and microphone.
Constant echo: when talking, the perception of echo with every utterance. Such cases
occur when there is a physical electrical or acoustic echo path but no echo controller in
the call topology to control echo. Additionally, constant echo may result even though an
echo controller is known to be in the call path; this indicates a complete failure of the
echo controller, usually because the capabilities of the echo controller are exceeded
(e.g., the echo tail length exceeds the specifications of the echo controller).
Intermittent echo: when talking, the occasional perception of echo. Intermittent echo
often caused by the intermittent failure of an echo controller in the call path. The echo
suppressor within the echo controller may fail to engage (to apply echo attenuation)
when necessary, with the result that short bursts of echo become audible. In acoustic
echo control applications (speakerphone) in which people or objects close to the
speakerphone are moving, the change to the physical echo path often results in audible
intermittent acoustic echo to listeners at the other end of the call.
Residual echo: when talking, the perception of very low-level (quiet) echo. The echo
could be either constant or intermittent. Residual echo can be caused by PSTN
electrical echo that is not entirely removed by the echo controller in the call path.
Distorted or buzz-like echo: when talking the perception of a distorted echo or buzzlike sound. This can be caused by a non-linear echo source. An example of this is
saturation distortion at an analog trunk interface. In this case, signals low in amplitude
are reflected cleanly, but signals high in amplitude are returned with significant distortion
making it difficult for an echo canceler to control echo. Such distorted echo can be
perceived constantly or intermittently, depending on the degree of distortion and the
echo canceler(s) involved.
Slapback or kickback acoustic echo: this is strictly a phenomenon of acoustic echo.
With speakerphones, slapback or kickback echo is the intermittent echo perceived at the
ends of one's utterances. This can occur with both older-model half-duplex
©2005 Avaya Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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speakerphones and newer-model acoustic-echo canceling speakerphones. For
example, a talker speaking into a handset utters the phrase “Please send me the check”
and perceives echo primarily at the end of his/her sentence. This echo is described as
hearing just the sound “eck” or “k” of the word “check,” or as a slapping sound such as
that made by slapping one’s palm against a desktop. Commonly, slapback/kickback
echo is caused by acoustically reverberant rooms. Large offices and conference rooms
can have long reverberation times. In such rooms, the speakerphone senses at its
microphone a reverberated version of the word “check” (our prior example) several tens
or even hundreds of milliseconds after the far talker has finished saying the word
“check.” The speakerphone algorithm detects this reverberated speech at its
microphone, detects no speech at its receive-path driving the loudspeaker, and decides
to transition to transmit mode. The reverberated version of "check" is transmitted back to
the far talker, where it is perceived as echo.
Sidetone: in handsets and headsets, a portion of the microphone energy is fed back to
the earpiece so that the user of the handset/headset does has a psychoacoustic
experience that simulates the case in which the user's ear is not occluded by an object
(the handset earpiece). Without sidetone injection, the user experiences the
psychoacoustically bothersome condition that can be demonstrated to oneself by
pressing a finger into one ear while speaking. With one ear occluded, the sound of one’s
own voice is dominated by the path through the interior of the head (skull, etc.) instead
of around the head, an effect that most people find objectionable.
Hot sidetone: in a handset or headset, microphone-to-earpiece sidetone injection is not
normally noticed. Some digital phones, in particular, IP phones in which the internal
audio processing frame rate is 5 ms or greater, inject sidetone with an appreciable delay
(e.g., 5 ms) in the microphone-to-earpiece signal path. This delay causes the sidetone to
sound reverberant and/or louder than normal, or hot. Though hot sidetone is a type of
echo source – because some people may use the term “echo” to describe hot sidetone
– it is generated local to the telephone, not at some point within the telephone network.
3.3.10 Short-path acoustic echo, short-path electrical echo: acoustic or electrical echo that
occurs in a very short roundtrip call topology. This type of echo is commonly described
as a hollow sound or sound of speaking in a barrel (see 2.1.3). In a digital-to-digital
phone call (think DCP-to-DCP), station-to-station, the roundtrip delay is usually very
small, less than 10 ms. Some digital speakerphones produce significant acoustic echo,
which is not canceled, suppressed, or otherwise controlled in this simple call topology. In
these cases, and depending on the volume setting of the far-party’s speakerphone and
near-party’s listening handset, the near party may perceive echo and refer to this as hot
sidetone. Again, this is truly acoustic echo from the speakerphone but is returned to the
talker with such a short roundtrip delay that it is perceived as hollowness or
reverberance rather than as classic echo. Because of the short roundtrip delay in this
case, it can be difficult to distinguish between hot sidetone (see definition) and short-path
©2005 Avaya Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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