Better-quality voice calling, complete with silences and breath sounds?
August 17, 2011 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Is there any VOIP or other audio-chat-over-the-internet software that doesn't massively compress the audio and flatten quiet moments into complete silence?

In the old days of analog phone lines, a long intimate phone conversation could consist of periods of silence where two people could just be companionable together and sometimes just listen to each other breathe. Now it seems that digital protocols - especially when using internet calling - make the sound quality vastly worse than it used to be, and most importantly when you're not actively speaking NO sound is transmitted - breath sounds are completely quashed.

Is there any way to up the bandwidth - especially the minimum bandwidth - and get those important breath sounds in the quiet periods back?
posted by dmd to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There's probably a better way, but you could use a couple of SHOUTcast servers to broadcast anything up to lossless quality
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:32 PM on August 17, 2011

Analog phone lines used compression (as in dynamic range compression, not data compression), so you'd hear the softer sounds like breathing even more than if you had an accurate transmission of the source. To emulate this I expect you could do some signal processing at the source to bring up these sort of sounds, but simply having a lossless transmission of your source signal wouldn't really sound the same.
posted by pompomtom at 5:03 PM on August 17, 2011

Teamspeak allows you to configure for continuous transmission (IE: Disable push to talk and voice activation) and it allows you to disable the features: Remove Background Noise; Automatic voice gain; and echo reduction. Also if you are hosting your own server you can change what codec is used for compression. You can try it out without buying anything by downloading the software and then connecting to their test server.
posted by Mitheral at 5:38 PM on August 17, 2011

I've been out of the VoIP industry since 2001, so I don't have any up to date information for you. I can tell you that G.711 is a full rate (64 kbps) codec, and to my ear sounded noticeably better than the more aggressively compressed codecs, but I don't know how you might go about specifying it. That may give you a toe-hold to start searching.

Silence suppression is a separate technique, not directly related to the choice of compression algorithm, although it shares the same goal, reducing bandwidth usage. Basically, it consists of just not sending any packets when the audio input is below a certain amplitude. Because people do not like the dead silence, the company I worked for would generate synthetic background noise at the receiving end. We called it comfort noise. Again, I don't know much about current practice.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:55 PM on August 17, 2011

Agreed with Bruce H. that G.711 is what you want -- it's basically the same encoding scheme used for traditional analog lines. How to get it depends on your service and/or software. I've got Voicepulse for VOIP service and they originally provisioned me with G.729 (more aggressive compression). All I had to do was call customer service and ask them to reprovision my line for G.711.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 6:50 PM on August 17, 2011

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