A Net Audio Database Primer

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Design Considerations


When incorporating audio into multimedia databases or other access vehicles, design considerations must be weighed. Trade-offs among design features need to be balanced to maximize the ultimate goals and objectives of the project. Constraints imposed by platforms, hardware, and software will be key issues that will determine quality and access.

This table shows how some areas of concern translate into design features:
Goals and Objectives Design Features
Preservation Maintain Quality of Data
Sufficient Storage Space
General Improved Access Availablity Through Multiple Platforms
Widely Used Software and Hardware
Availablitly of Shareware
Promote Research Accurate, Extensive Data Descriptions
Authority Control of Access Points
Public Education or Entertainment User Friendly Interface
Networked Resources Incorporate Existing and Proposed Standards

Project budgets and timetables will also play prominent roles that effect the design process. Inevitable compromises must be made with the goals and objectives of the project in mind to attain successful outcomes.

Formats and Compression

Audio files require significant resources in terms of file space. Until recently, they also required a significant time investment to download the files in order to listen to them. RealAudio eliminates the download time by allowing interactive play.


To access RealAudio files, a user must first register with RealAudio to obtain a password, and then download free RealAudio software. RealAudio works on multiple platforms.


The sheer convenience of not waiting for a file download holds a distinct advantage (albeit with loss of quality) over all other sound formats. Unfortunately, it also brings up inevitable comparisons to other forms of noncomputer audio delivery. A listener may now be able to hear lengthy programs, but the stationary computer lacks the portability of car audio systems or Walkmans.

With no other activities to undertake while staring at a computer monitor, the listener may become bored and disengaged. Design considerations must now analyze the optimal length of sound clips, and weigh the benefits and costs of making imagery available simultaneously. If listeners are accessing files solely for direct informational purposes, (as opposed to listening for voice quality/ sonorance/ cadence ), sound delivery so that information is delivered at a faster rate, a rate closer to the speed at which the ear/brain can process and interpret the message, may help keep the listener engaged.

The Rest

Other formats used include AIFF, AU, SND, and WAV. Rather than plagarize or create web redundancy, I refer you to an excellent summary of these at the University of Notre Dame's Sounds and Sound Info page. Sound files are accessible there which demonstrate and allow for ready comparison of sound quality using a couple of different compression levels.

Since a significant amount of time is required to download these files before they can be played, it is imperative to provide the user with an accurate and complete description of what the sound file contains. The description should include the file size and play time. Although sound content can be difficult to describe, some creativity can help. An example of good description technique is SoundBytes .

Access Features

Since audio clips cannot (yet) be linked directly to databases, most access systems employ one of two mechanisms. The first is a simple list or multiple hierarchical lists (ex: Soundprint) of the sound files available.

Databases, such as the _1/ This section amplified and adapted from Duggan, Mary Kay, "Access to Sound and Image Databases," in Studies in Multimedia (Proceedings of the 1991 Mid-Year Meeting of the American Society for Information Science), Medford, NJ: Learned Information, Inc., 1992.

_2/Detroit News, "Newsmakers", June 11, 1995, pg 2A.

turkvl@sils.umich.edu - Last modified on 10/8/95. All links functional as of 10/8/95.