Hybrid Model


The previous sections have looked at the theory and implementation of three different acoustic simulation techniques. The image-source method is accurate for early reflections, but slow for longer responses. The ray tracing method is inaccurate, but produces acceptable responses for “diffuse” reverb tails. The waveguide method models physical phenomena better than the geometric methods, but is expensive at high frequencies. By combining all three models, accurate broadband impulse responses can be created, but for a much lower computational cost than would be possible with any individual method.

This section will focus on the two most important factors governing the combination of modelling techniques. The first is positioning transitions: in the time domain, from early to late reflections; and in the frequency domain, between geometric and waveguide modelling. The second is matching the output levels of the different methods, so that there are no sudden discontinuities in level, and the transitions are seamless.


Early and Late Reflections

The beginning of the image-source process relies on randomly ray tracing a certain number of reflections. This ray tracing process is similar to that used for estimating late, diffuse reflections. When the simulation is run in Wayverb, rays are actually traced to a depth of 100 reflections or more. The first few reflections are routed to image-source processing, while the entire set of reflections is used for finding the reverb tail.

It is important to note that the stochastic ray tracing process will record both specular and diffuse reflections. At the beginning of the impulse response, this will lead to a duplication of energy, as the energy from specular reflections will be recorded by both the image-source and ray-tracing processes. To solve this problem, the stochastic ray tracer records specular and diffuse contributions separately. Specular contributions from the ray tracer are only added to the output for reflections of higher order than the highest image-source order.

Surface scattering also poses a problem. When simulating scenes with high surface scattering coefficients, specular reflections should be quiet, with a greater degree of scattered energy. Unfortunately, the image-source process cannot account for scattered sound energy by design. The solution is to use diffuse contributions from the stochastic ray tracer, so that the image-source and ray-traced outputs “overlap”. To ensure that the amount of energy in the simulation remains constant, the image-source finder must account for energy lost to scattering during reflections. Therefore, after finding the reflectance of each surface using the method outlined above, the reflectance is further multiplied by \((1 - s)\) where s is the frequency-dependent scattering coefficient of the surface. This causes the image-source contributions to die away faster, and the “missing” energy will be made up by the diffuse output of the ray tracer.

The transition between the image-source and ray tracing models will generally overlap. The image-source response will fade away as the ray-traced diffuse reflections become louder. The exact number of early reflections to be found with the image-source method is largely a subjective decision. For diffuse rooms, the early specular reflections will be very quiet, regardless of which method is used, so it is appropriate to set the number of specular reflections very low, or even to disable image-source contributions altogether. For rooms with surfaces which are large, smooth, and flat, specular reflections will form a more significant part of the room response, and so it is reasonable to use deeper image-source reflections in this case. Even under these conditions, an image-source depth of more than 5 or 6 is unnecessary: in virtually all scenes, some incident sound energy will be scattered diffusely, and the conversion of “specular energy” into “scattered energy” is unidirectional, meaning that late reflections in all scenes will be diffuse, and therefore suitable for simulation with stochastic ray-tracing methods [1, p. 126].

Crossover Position

In the interests of efficiency, the most accurate waveguide method is only used at low frequencies, where it is relatively cheap. The rest of the audible spectrum is modelled with geometric methods, which are most accurate at higher frequencies. However, there is no concrete rule governing where to place the crossover between “low” and “high” frequencies in this context. It should be clear that, when the time and computing power is available, the cutoff should be placed as high as possible, so as to use accurate wave-based modelling for the majority of the output. However, in practice, it might be useful to have an estimate for the frequencies where wave-modelling is strictly required, to guide the placement of the cutoff frequency. The Schroeder frequency is such an estimate, and is based on the density of room resonances or “modes”. Below the Schroeder frequency, room modes are well separated and can be individually excited. Above, the room modes overlap much more, resulting in a more “even” and less distinctly resonant sound. The Schroeder frequency is defined as follows (see [1, p. 84] for a detailed derivation):


Here, \(RT60\) is the time taken for the reverb tail to decay by 60dB, and \(V\) is the room volume in cubic metres. In the Waveguide chapter, the complexity of a waveguide simulation was given as \(O(V f_s^3)\) for a space with volume \(V\), at sampling frequency \(f_s\). Given that \(f_s\) is proportional to the waveguide cutoff frequency, which in turn may be set proportional to \(V^{-\frac{1}{2}}\) by eq. 1, the waveguide simulation complexity becomes \(O(V \cdot V^{-\frac{3}{2}})\) or \(O(V^{-\frac{1}{2}})\). This implies that, for a waveguide simulation capped at the Schroeder frequency, a larger room will be cheaper to simulate than a smaller one when the reverb times of both rooms are equal.

The Schroeder frequency is only an estimate. The actual frequency dividing “resonant” and “even” behaviours will vary depending on the surface area, absorption coefficients, and shape of the modelled space. The optimum crossover frequency should also be guided by the accuracy and time constraints imposed by the user. For this reason, the Schroeder frequency is not used to guide the placement of the crossover frequency in Wayverb. Instead, the user may select the maximum frequency modelled by the waveguide, along with an oversampling ratio. In this way, the user can use the waveguide to model as wide a bandwidth as their time constraints allow. The literature indicates that this is a valid approach: [2] suggests that “under ideal conditions the FDTD method would compute the entire RIR in all bands to ensure physical accuracy”, and [3] notes that further research is required in order to find an objective method for placing the crossover. Finally, the systems described in [4] and [5] allow arbitrary placement of the crossover frequency.

Combining Outputs

Once the geometric and waveguide outputs have been produced, they must be combined into a single signal. This combination process requires that the geometric and waveguide outputs have the same sampling frequency. However, the waveguide sampling frequency will almost certainly be lower than the final output sampling frequency, so the waveguide results must be up-sampled. Wayverb uses the Libsamplerate library for this purpose. The sampling rate conversion preserves the signal magnitude, but not its energy level. The re-sampled waveguide output is therefore scaled by a factor of \(f_{s\text{in}} / f_{s\text{out}}\) (where \(f_{s\text{in}}\) is the waveguide sampling rate, and \(f_{s\text{out}}\) is the output sampling rate), so that the correct energy level is maintained.

Once the waveguide sampling rate has been corrected, the waveguide and geometric outputs are filtered and mixed. The filtering is carried out using the frequency-domain filtering method described in the Ray Tracing section. The waveguide is low-passed, and the geometric outputs are high-passed, using the same centre frequency and crossover width in both cases. The final output is produced by summing the filtered responses.

Level Matching

Image-Source and Ray Tracer

The Image Source model operates in terms of pressure. This means that the pressure contribution of each individual image is inversely proportional to the distance between that image source and the receiver. In contrast, the Ray Tracing method operates in terms of acoustic intensity, and the total intensity measured at the receiver depends only on the number of rays which intersect with it. The distance travelled by each ray is not taken into account.

A method for equalising the output of the two models is given in [6, p. 75]. The goal of the method is to ensure that the energy of the direct contribution (the wave-front travelling directly from source to receiver, with no intermediate reflections) is equal between the two models.

First, equations for the intensity at the receiver must be created. Given a source and receiver separated by distance \(r\), the intensity of the direct image-source contribution is given by:

\[E_{\text{image source}}=\frac{E_{\text{source}}}{4\pi r^2}\](2)

This is the standard equation for describing the power radiated from a point source.

For the ray tracing method, the intensity of the direct contribution is a function of the number of rays \(N\), and the intensity of each ray \(E_r\). Only rays intersecting the receiver will be registered, so ray intensity must be normalised taking into account the proportion of rays which will intersect the receiver. For a spherical receiver, and uniformly distributed rays, the proportion of rays which intersect the receiver can be estimated as the ratio between the area covered by the receiver, and the total area over which the rays are distributed. If the receiver is at a distance \(r\) from the source, with an opening angle \(\gamma\), then its area is that of a spherical cap (see fig. 1):

\[ A_{\text{intersection}} = 2\pi r^2(1-\cos\gamma) \](3)

Then, the total direct energy registered by the ray tracer can be expressed:

\[ \begin{aligned} E_{\text{ray tracer}} & = NE_r \left( \frac{A_{\text{intersection}}}{4\pi r^2} \right) \\ & = NE_r \left( \frac{2\pi r^2(1-\cos\gamma)}{4\pi r^2} \right) \\ & = NE_r \left( \frac{1-\cos\gamma}{2} \right) \end{aligned} \](4)

Figure 1: The proportion of uniformly-distributed rays intersecting the receiver depends on the distance to the source, and opening angle formed by the receiver. The acoustic intensity registered by the ray tracer is given by the number of rays which intersect the receiver, and the energy carried by each ray.
Figure 1: The proportion of uniformly-distributed rays intersecting the receiver depends on the distance to the source, and opening angle formed by the receiver. The acoustic intensity registered by the ray tracer is given by the number of rays which intersect the receiver, and the energy carried by each ray.

The direct energy in both models should be equal, so the two equations can be set equal to one another, giving an equation for the initial intensity of each ray, in terms of the source intensity \(E_{\text{source}}\), the opening angle of the receiver \(\gamma\), and the number of rays \(N\).

\[ \begin{aligned} E_{\text{ray tracer}} &= E_{\text{image source}} \\ NE_r \left( \frac{1-\cos\gamma}{2} \right) &= \frac{E_{\text{source}}}{4\pi r^2} \\ E_r &= \frac{E_{\text{source}}}{2 \pi r^2 N (1 - \cos\gamma)} \end{aligned} \](5)

As long as the initial ray intensities are set according to this equation, both methods will produce outputs with the correct relative levels. The outputs from the two methods are combined by simple signal addition, with no need for additional level adjustment.

Geometric and Waveguide

Setting the waveguide mesh level should follow a similar procedure. The waveguide output level should be normalised so that the direct intensity observed at the receiver is equal to that observed in the image-source model. The normalisation is achieved through the use of a calibration coefficient which can be used to scale the waveguide output, or alternatively to adjust the magnitude of the input signal.

Several suggestions for finding the calibration coefficient are suggested in the literature. One option, which is perhaps the simplest (short of manual calibration), is found in [3]. The average magnitude of a certain frequency band is calculated for both the waveguide and geometric output. The calibration coefficient is then equal to the ratio of these two magnitudes. This approach is flawed, in that the same frequency band must be used for both signals. This frequency band will therefore be towards the lower end of the geometric output, which is known to be inaccurate (this is the entire reason for hybrid modelling), and at the top end of the waveguide output (which may be inaccurate due to numerical dispersion). It is impossible to compute an accurate calibration coefficient from inaccurate data.

Another method, suggested in the same paper [3], is to find the intensity produced by the waveguide at a distance of 1m, and then to normalise both models so that they produce the same intensity at this distance. The image-source direct response is low-pass filtered, so that it only contains energy in the same frequency band as the waveguide output. Then, the maximum magnitude in the initial portion (up to the first reflection) of the output signal is found, for the image-source and waveguide output. The calibration parameter is found by taking the ratio of these maximum magnitudes. This differs from the first technique, in that the calibration coefficient is derived from a single contribution in the time-domain, instead of from frequency-domain magnitudes accumulated over the entire duration of the signal.

The second method is superior, in that it will produce an accurate calibration coefficient. Unfortunately, it requires analysis of the waveguide output signal which, while not time-consuming, seems unnecessary. A given mesh topology and excitation signal should always require the same calibration coefficient, assuming that the geometric source level remains constant. It should be possible to calculate the calibration coefficient for a certain mesh topology, and then to re-use this coefficient across simulations. This is the approach taken in [7] which provides Wayverb’s calibration method.

This general calibration coefficient is found by exciting a waveguide mesh with an impulsive signal, and recording the pressure at a receiver node immediately adjacent to the source node. The simulation continues until the magnitude of vibrations at the receiver have reduced below some threshold (perhaps falling below the noise floor). Now, the change in pressure at a distance \(X\) is known, where \(X\) is the inter-nodal spacing of the waveguide mesh. The geometric pressure level at the same distance is given by

\[ p_g=\sqrt{\frac{PZ_0}{4\pi}} / X \](6)

where \(P\) is the source strength and \(Z_0\) is the acoustic impedance of air. The waveguide pressure level cannot be directly compared to the geometric pressure level, because the upper portion of the waveguide output frequency range is invalid. Instead, the DC levels are compared. The DC component of the waveguide output can be found simply by accumulating the signal at the receiver. Now, the calibration coefficient \(\eta\) can be expressed like so:

\[\eta = \frac{p_\text{init}R}{p_\text{DC}X}\](7)

where \(p_\text{init}\) and \(p_\text{DC}\) are the initial and DC pressure levels respectively, \(X\) is the inter-nodal spacing, and \(R\) is the distance at which the geometric source has intensity 1W/m².

Experimentally-obtained values of \(\frac{p_\text{DC}}{p_\text{init}}\) are given in [7] for several different mesh topologies. To produce normalised waveguide outputs, a calibration coefficient is calculated, using the experimental result corresponding to a rectilinear mesh. The waveguide excitation is then scaled by this calibration coefficient.


To validate the waveguide calibration procedure, a simple cuboid-shaped room is simulated using the image-source and waveguide methods. The outputs are compared in the frequency-domain, to ensure that the modal responses of the two models match, in shape and in magnitude.

Although geometric methods are generally not capable of modelling low-frequency modal behaviour, the image-source model in a geometric room is a special case. For cuboid rooms with perfectly reflective surfaces, the image-source method is exact [1], and it remains reasonably accurate for slightly-absorbing surfaces. In cuboid rooms the image-source model can, therefore, predict modal behaviour. Additionally, for this room shape, the image source method can be dramatically accelerated, making it possible to calculate extended impulse responses [8]. This accelerated method differs from Wayverb’s image-source finder, in that it can calculate long impulse responses for one specific room shape, whereas Wayverb’s can calculate short responses for arbitrary geometry.

If the accelerated method is implemented, it can be used to generate impulse responses which are close to ideal (depending on the surface absorptions used). These impulse responses can be compared to those produced by the waveguide, and if the calibration coefficient has been chosen correctly, then their frequency responses should match.

A room, measuring \(5.56 \times 3.97 \times 2.81\) metres is simulated, using the accelerated image-source and waveguide methods. The source is placed at (1, 1, 1), with a receiver at (2, 3, 1.5). Both methods are run at a sampling rate of 16kHz. The simulation is carried out three times, with surface absorptions of 0.2, 0.1, and 0.05, and in all cases the simulation is run up until the Sabine-estimated RT60, which is 0.52, 1.03 and 2.06 seconds respectively. The resulting frequency responses are shown in fig. 2.

Figure 2: Frequency responses analysis of image-source and waveguide outputs. The initial waveguide level has been calibrated using the technique described above. Room mode frequencies are shown in grey.
Figure 2: Frequency responses analysis of image-source and waveguide outputs. The initial waveguide level has been calibrated using the technique described above. Room mode frequencies are shown in grey.

In the graphs, room modes are shown. One of the properties of the waveguide is that it models wave effects which directly contribute to this low-frequency modal behaviour. In the case of arbitrarily-shaped rooms, the image model is not exact, and cannot be used to model low-frequency behaviour in this way, while the waveguide will accurately model low-frequency behaviour in any enclosed space. This is the main reason for using a wave-modelling technique at all, instead of using geometric methods for the entire spectrum.

Below 30Hz, the responses show significant differences. Between 30 and 70Hz, the responses match closely, to within a decibel. There is some divergence at 80Hz, after which the results match closely again until the upper limit of 200Hz. At the upper end of the spectrum, the levels match closely between outputs, but the peaks and troughs are slightly “shifted”.

The low-frequency differences can be explained as error introduced by the hard-source/Dirac-delta waveguide excitation method (see Digital Waveguide Mesh). This source type has previously been demonstrated to cause significant error at very low frequencies [9]. However, it is not known how this error will be affected by changes in mesh sampling rate.

There are several possible causes for the remaining differences seen between the outputs of the different models. Firstly, the image-source technique is only exact for perfectly reflecting boundaries. The boundary model used in this image-source implementation is the same locally-reacting surface model that Wayverb uses: the reflection factor is real-valued and angle-dependent. A more physically correct method would be to use complex reflection factors, which would allow phase changes at boundaries to be represented. The boundary model is almost certainly the cause of the largest discrepancy, at around 80Hz: results given in [10, p. 78] show similar artefacts of the real-value angle-dependent reflection factor, compared against other more accurate image-source boundary types. Due to time constraints, these more complicated boundary models could not be tested here.

The small frequency shift at the top of the spectrum is most likely to be caused by numerical dispersion in the waveguide mesh. Numerical dispersion becomes more pronounced as frequency increases, which is consistent with the shift seen in the results, which is greater at higher frequencies. The shift may also be caused by slight differences in the dimensions of the modelled room, or the source and receiver positions. In the image-source model, all measurements and positions are exact, but the waveguide must “quantise” the boundary, source, and receiver positions so that they coincide with mesh nodes. If the dimensions of the room were adjusted slightly, this would also cause the room modes to change (which again would be more pronounced at higher frequencies), which might lead to a perceived spectral shift relative to a room with exact dimensions.

Despite the small differences between the frequency responses, the close level match between models suggests that the calibration coefficient is correct.

The reverb times of the outputs are also compared and shown in table 1.

Table 1: Reverb times of outputs generated by image source and waveguide models
absorption method T20 / s T30 / s
0.05 exact image source 1.044 1.065
0.05 waveguide 1.165 1.180
0.10 exact image source 0.5401 0.5633
0.10 waveguide 0.5689 0.5905
0.20 exact image source 0.2768 0.2990
0.20 waveguide 0.2674 0.2880

There is a difference of 11% for the lowest absorption, which falls to 6% for an absorption of 0.10, and to 4% for an absorption of 0.20. The just noticeable difference (JND) for reverb time is 5%. For the lowest two absorptions the difference is larger than the JND, so the match cannot be considered accurate. The waveguide’s longer reverb times may be a by-product of the relatively increased level below 30Hz. Octave-band reverb-time measurements may help to clarify whether the error is indeed frequency-dependent. In any case, the match between the modal responses above 30Hz suggests that the boundary models have equivalent behaviour, at least within the audible range.


By combining the results from different models, IRs can be generated which have better broadband accuracy than the geometric output alone, and which are faster to produce than broadband waveguide results. In Wayverb, the crossover frequency between models can be adjusted by the user, depending on the desired accuracy and simulation speed. Similarly, the image-source depth is somewhat subjective and may be set manually. Investigation of the Schroeder frequency suggests that the waveguide bandwidth can be reduced in larger rooms, which means that the overall simulation complexity is effectively below linear in the volume of the modelled enclosure.

A technique for matching levels in the geometric models has been derived from the equation for power radiated from a monopole source. This results in a formula for the initial energy carried by each ray, expressed in terms of the energy at the source, the distance between the source and receiver, the receiver radius, and the number of rays. When this formula is used to set initial ray energies, the ray tracer and image-source models will register the same energy level at the receiver by definition, and therefore this particular calibration has not been tested.

The process for calibrating the waveguide is also reasonably straightforward, but depends on a constant derived from experimental data put forward in [7]. This method is not provably correct, and therefore has been verified through independent experimentation. The calibrated waveguide output has been compared to the output of an ideal image-source model, showing close agreement in level between 30Hz and 200Hz. Below 30Hz, the waveguide level is higher than the image-source level, suggesting that some component of the waveguide (likely the injection method or boundary model) behaves incorrectly at low frequencies. The calibration method adjusts the broadband gain of the waveguide, so this error is definitely not due to an error in calibration. Further testing and analysis is necessary to show how the low-frequency error is related to the simulation parameters, and whether it is likely to be problematic in practice. The waveguide calibration method itself appears to function correctly.


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[3] A. Southern, S. Siltanen, and L. Savioja, “Spatial room impulse responses with a hybrid modeling method,” in Audio Engineering Society Convention 130, 2011.

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