The efficacy of rate-distortion optimization in audio coding is constrained by the quality of the distortion measure. The proposed approach is motivated by the observation that the Noise-to-Mask Ratio (NMR) measure, as it is widely used, is only well adapted to evaluate relative distortion of audio bands of equal width on the Bark scale. We propose a modification of the distortion measure to explicitly account for Bark bandwidth differences across audio coding bands. Substantial subjective gains are observed when this modification over plain NMR is used in the Two Loop Search, for quantization and coding parameters of scalefactor bands in an AAC encoder. Comprehensive optimization of the new measure, over the entire audio file, is then performed using a two-layered trellis approach, and yields nearly artifact-free audio even at low bit-rates.
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