Princeton sound lab pushes boundaries of realism

Edgar Choueiri creates illusions with sound. He can conjure a distant trumpet or a voice whispering in your ear, but there is nothing there.

“[Author] Arthur C. Clarke said any technology, if sufficiently advanced, appears to be magic,” said Choueiri, a Princeton professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Choueiri’s BACCH™ system, which produces 3-D sound from a pair of ordinary speakers, can create the sound of a buzzing fly circling your head so realistic that the urge to swat is almost irresistible. The BACCH™ 3-D Sound technology is now available to consumers as a built-in feature of the Jambox™, a wireless speaker made by Jawbone, Inc. Choueiri is expanding his research with support from Sony Corp. During the three-year effort, his team will seek to push the boundaries of sound reproduction and create a sound space so realistic that it can be used as a basis for virtual reality.

“Imagine sitting on a beach, plugging your earphones into your MP3 player and on top of the waves, you have a choir,” he said. “Or walking down the street and having your favorite band walking along with you.”

An expert in plasma physics, Choueiri’s primary research is on developing a high-powered plasma rocket system for future missions to Mars. The development of his sound lab was originally supported through the engineering school’s Project X funding, which is designed to allow faculty members to pursue unconventional ideas including those outside their primary field.

“The substantial support that Edgar is now receiving from Sony exemplifies the surprising innovations that can emerge when experts are given the freedom to explore and cross disciplines,” said H. Vincent Poor, the dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.