Memorial Lecture at 148th: Francis Rumsey / Sound Quality in the Era of Interaction and Extended Reality

AES 148th Convention
May 25-28, 2020

Francis Rumsey, AES Bronze Medal holder, presented the 42nd Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture during the 148th Convention

Sound Quality in the Era of Interaction and Extended Reality

When evaluating sound quality, audio engineers have traditionally relied on some explicit or implied comparison with a reference. Even if a reference signal is not formally used, any judgement about what is “good” or “correct” has traditionally been rooted in a concept of fidelity to some ideal. That ideal might be a memory of “the best I have ever heard”, some naturally occurring version of the sound in question, or perhaps “what the engineer/producer heard in the control room”. We assume that we know what is correct sound reproduction, and that high quality means getting as close to that as possible. This is all very well when we are mainly aiming at sound reproduction of something that actually happened, and when a canonical version exists. Audio products are increasingly interactive, though, and multiple versions can be rendered, depending on user interaction. Extended reality systems make the user experience increasingly indeterminate. The concept of fidelity breaks down and the engineer no longer has ultimate control over what is delivered to the listener. New paradigms for integrative evaluation of sound quality are needed.


Francis Rumsey is an independent consultant, specialising in technical writing, audio engineering and music technology. He is Consultant Editor and Technical Writer for the AES Journal, and was chair of the AES Technical Council 2011-2018. Until 2009 Francis was a professor at the University of Surrey, leading a research group that concentrated on psychoacoustics and sound quality evaluation. His books, papers and articles on audio engineering are widely adopted on courses and cited in research. Francis was awarded the AES Bronze Medal in 2014 for his outstanding long-term contributions to the Society. He is a Fellow of the Society, and has served as chair of the Membership and Regions and Sections Committees, as well as having been Vice President, Northern Europe. In November 2019, Francis was awarded the Peter Barnett Memorial Award by the Institute of Acoustics in the UK. He is organist and choirmaster at St Mary’s, Witney, sings with OPMS and the Oxford Cathedral Singers, and consults for a company that builds digital church organs.

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