Skip to main content
Log in

Auditory navigation with a tubular acoustic model for interactive distance cues and personalized head-related transfer functions

An auditory target-reaching task

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces Aims and scope Submit manuscript


This paper presents a novel spatial auditory display that combines a virtual environment based on a Digital Waveguide Mesh (DWM) model of a small tubular shape with a binaural rendering system with personalized head-related transfer functions (HRTFs) allowing interactive selection of absolute 3D spatial cues of direction as well as egocentric distance. The tube metaphor in particular minimizes loudness changes with distance, providing mainly direct-to-reverberant and spectral cues. The proposed display was assessed through a target-reaching task where participants explore a 2D virtual map with a pen tablet and hit a sound source (the target) using auditory information only; subjective time to hit and traveled distance were analyzed for three experiments. The first one aimed at assessing the proposed HRTF selection method for personalization and dimensionality of the reaching task, with particular attention to elevation perception; we showed that most subjects performed better when they had to reach a vertically unbounded (2D) rather then an elevated (3D) target. The second experiment analyzed interaction between the tube metaphor and HRTF showing a dominant effect of DWM model over binaural rendering. In the last experiment, participants using absolute distance cues from the tube model performed comparably well to when they could rely on more robust, although relative, intensity cues. These results suggest that participants made proficient use of both binaural and reverberation cues during the task, displayed as part of a coherent 3D sound model, in spite of the known complexity of use of both such cues. HRTF personalization was beneficial for participants who were able to perceive vertical dimension of a virtual sound. Further work is needed to add full physical consistency to the proposed auditory display.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. System latency was measured by means of two condenser microphones connected to an audio card working at 48 kHz sampling rate; microphones were placed at the headphone pad and on top of the pen tablet, respectively. Latency was estimated as the time difference between these two events: (1) pen impact on the tablet and (2) changing in audio output at the headphones.

  2. The geometrical properties of the virtual map were chosen in ways to ensure detectable elevation cues from the HRTF selection procedure (see Sect. 3.1).

  3. Each distribution exhibited very high skewness towards a physical constraint. After logarithmic and Box-Cox transformations not all conditions passed the Shapiro-Wilk test.


  1. Algazi VR, Duda RO, Thompson DM, Avendano C (2001) The CIPIC HRTF database. In: Proc. IEEE Work. Appl. Signal Process., Audio, Acoust., New Paltz, New York, pp 1–4

  2. Andéol G, Savel S, Guillaume A (2015) Perceptual factors contribute more than acoustical factors to sound localization abilities with virtual sources. Auditory Cogn Neurosci 8:451

    Google Scholar 

  3. Asano F, Suzuki Y, Sone T (1990) Role of spectral cues in median plane localization. J Acoust Soc Am 88(1):159–168

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Blauert J (1983) Spatial hearing: the psychophysics of human sound localization. MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  5. Boren B, Geronazzo M, Brinkmann F, Choueiri E (2015) Coloration metrics for headphone equalization. In: Proc. of the 21st Int. Conf. on auditory display (ICAD 2015), Graz, pp 29–34

  6. Bronkhorst AW, Houtgast T (1999) Auditory distance perception in rooms. Nature 397:517–520

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Campbell D, Palomaki K, Brown G (2005) A matlab simulation of “shoebox” room acoustics for use in research and teaching. Comput Inf Syst 9(3):48

    Google Scholar 

  8. De Sena E, Hacihabiboglu H, Cvetkovic Z (2011) Scattering delay network: an interactive reverberator for computer games. In: Audio engineering society conf.: 41st Int. conf.: audio for games

  9. Devallez D, Fontana F, Rocchesso D (2008) Linearizing auditory distance estimates by means of virtual acoustics. Acta Acust United Acust 94(6):813–824

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Fontana F, Rocchesso D (2003) A physics-based approach to the presentation of acoustic depth. In: Proc. Int. Conf. on Auditory Display, Boston, pp 79–82

  11. Fontana F, Rocchesso D (2008) Auditory distance perception in an acoustic pipe. ACM Trans Appl Percept 5(3):16:1–16:15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Fontana F, Savioja L, Välimäki, V (2001) A modified rectangular waveguide mesh structure with interpolated input and output points. In: Proc. Int. Computer Music Conf., ICMA, La Habana, pp 87–90

  13. Gardner WG, Martin KD (1995) HRTF measurements of a KEMAR. J Acoust Soc Am 97(6):3907–3908

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Geronazzo M (2014) Mixed structural models for 3D audio in virtual environments. Ph.D. thesis, Information Engineering, Padova

  15. Geronazzo M, Avanzini F, Fontana F (2015) Use of personalized binaural audio and interactive distance cues in an auditory goal-reaching task. In: Proc. of the 21st int. conf. on auditory display (ICAD 2015), Graz, pp 73–80

  16. Geronazzo M, Bedin A, Brayda L, Avanzini F (2014) Multimodal exploration of virtual objects with a spatialized anchor sound. In: Proc. 55th int. conf. audio eng. society, spatial audio, Helsinki, pp 1–8

  17. Geronazzo M, Bedin A, Brayda L, Campus C, Avanzini F (2016) Interactive spatial sonification for non-visual exploration of virtual maps. Int. J. Hum Comput Stud 85:4–15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Geronazzo M, Kleimola J, Majdak P (2015) Personalization support for binaural headphone reproduction in web browsers. In: Proc. 1st Web Audio Conference. Paris

  19. Geronazzo M, Spagnol S, Bedin A, Avanzini F (2014) Enhancing vertical localization with image-guided selection of non-individual head-related transfer functions. In: IEEE int. conf. on acoustics, speech, and signal processing (ICASSP 2014), Florence, pp 4496–4500

  20. Huopaniemi J, Savioja L, Karjalainen M (1997) Modeling of reflections and air absorption in acoustical spaces: a digital filter design approach. In: Proc. IEEE workshop on applications of signal processing to audio and acoustics. IEEE, New Paltz, pp 19–22

  21. Iida K, Ishii Y, Nishioka S (2014) Personalization of head-related transfer functions in the median plane based on the anthropometry of the listener’s pinnae. J Acoust Soc Am 136(1):317–333

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Katz BFG, Noisternig M (2014) A comparative study of interaural time delay estimation methods. J Acoust Soc Am 135(6):3530–3540

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Katz BFG, Parseihian G (2012) Perceptually based head-related transfer function database optimization. J Acoust Soc Am 131(2):EL99–EL105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kowalczyk K, van Walstijn M (2008) Formulation of locally reacting surfaces in FDTD/K-DWM modelling of acoustic spaces. Acta Acust United Acust 94(6):891–906

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lu YC, Cooke M, Christensen H (2007) Active binaural distance estimation for dynamic sources. In: Proc. INTERSPEECH, Antwerp, pp 574–577

  26. Magnusson C, Danielsson H, Rassmus-Gröhn K (2006) Non visual haptic audio tools for virtual environments. In: McGookin D, Brewster S (eds.) Haptic and audio interaction design, no. 4129 in Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer, Berlin, pp 111–120

  27. Majdak P, Baumgartner R, Laback B (2014) Acoustic and non-acoustic factors in modeling listener-specific performance of sagittal-plane sound localization. Front Psychol 5:1–10

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Masiero B, Fels J (2011) Perceptually robust headphone equalization for binaural reproduction. In: 130th AES convention, London, England, pp 1–7

  29. Middlebrooks JC (1999) Virtual localization improved by scaling nonindividualized external-ear transfer functions in frequency. J Acoust Soci Am 106(3):1493–1510

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Moore BC, Glasberg BR, Baer T (1997) A model for the prediction of thresholds, loudness, and partial loudness. J Audio Eng Soc 45(4):224–240

    Google Scholar 

  31. Neuhoff JG (2001) An adaptive bias in the perception of looming auditory motion. Ecol Psychol 13(2):87–110

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Parseihian G, Katz BFG, Conan S (2012) Sound effect metaphors for near field distance sonification. In: Proc. int. conf. on auditory display, Atlanta, pp 6–13

  33. Schönstein D, Katz BFG (2010) Variability in Perceptual Evaluation of HRTFs. In: 128th Convention of the Audio Engineering Society, AES London, 11 p

  34. Shinn-Cunningham B (2000) Learning reverberation: considerations for spatial auditory displays. In: Proc. int. conf. auditory display (ICAD’00). Atlanta, pp 126–134

  35. Spagnol S, Geronazzo M, Avanzini F (2013) On the relation between pinna reflection patterns and head-related transfer function features. IEEE Trans Audio Speech Lang Process 21(3):508–519

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Speigle J, Loomis J (1993) Auditory distance perception by translating observers. In: Virtual reality, 1993. Proceedings., IEEE 1993 symposium on research frontiers in, pp 92–99

  37. Valimaki V, Parker JD, Savioja L, Smith JO, Abel JS (2012) Fifty years of artificial reverberation. Audio Speech Lang Process IEEE Trans 20(5):1421–1448

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Viaud-Delmon I, Warusfel O (2014) From ear to body: the auditory-motor loop in spatial cognition. Front Neurosci 8:283

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Wiener JM, Büchner SJ, Hölscher C (2009) Taxonomy of human wayfinding tasks: a knowledge-based approach. Spat Cogn Comput 9(2):152–165

    Google Scholar 

  40. Zahorik P (2002) Assessing auditory distance perception using virtual acoustics. J Acoust Soc Am 111(4):1832–1846

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Zahorik P (2002) Auditory display of sound source distance. In: Proc. int. conf. on auditory display. Kyoto

  42. Zahorik P (2002) Direct-to-reverberant energy ratio sensitivity. J Acoust Soc Am 112(5):2110–2117

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Zahorik P, Brungart DS, Bronkhorst AW (2005) Auditory distance perception in humans: a summary of past and present research. Acta Acust United Acust 91(3):409–420

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The Authors are grateful to the volunteers who participated in this study, and to F. Altieri for his support in data collection. This work was supported by the research project PADVA , University of Padova, under Grant No. CPDA135702.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michele Geronazzo.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Geronazzo, M., Avanzini, F. & Fontana, F. Auditory navigation with a tubular acoustic model for interactive distance cues and personalized head-related transfer functions. J Multimodal User Interfaces 10, 273–284 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: