Lyra - enabling voice calls for the next billion users

Tuesday, April 6, 2021


Lyra Logo

The past year has shown just how vital online communication is to our lives. Never before has it been more important to clearly understand one another online, regardless of where you are and whatever network conditions are available. That’s why in February we introduced Lyra: a revolutionary new audio codec using machine learning to produce high-quality voice calls.

As part of our efforts to make the best codecs universally available, we are open sourcing Lyra, allowing other developers to power their communications apps and take Lyra in powerful new directions. This release provides the tools needed for developers to encode and decode audio with Lyra, optimized for the 64-bit ARM android platform, with development on Linux. We hope to expand this codebase and develop improvements and support for additional platforms in tandem with the community.

The Lyra Architecture

Lyra’s architecture is separated into two pieces, the encoder and decoder. When someone talks into their phone the encoder captures distinctive attributes from their speech. These speech attributes, also called features, are extracted in chunks of 40ms, then compressed and sent over the network. It is the decoder’s job to convert the features back into an audio waveform that can be played out over the listener’s phone speaker. The features are decoded back into a waveform via a generative model. Generative models are a particular type of machine learning model well suited to recreate a full audio waveform from a limited number of features. The Lyra architecture is very similar to traditional audio codecs, which have formed the backbone of internet communication for decades. Whereas these traditional codecs are based on digital signal processing (DSP) techniques, the key advantage for Lyra comes from the ability of the generative model to reconstruct a high-quality voice signal.

Lyra Architecture Chart

The Impact

While mobile connectivity has steadily increased over the past decade, the explosive growth of on-device compute power has outstripped access to reliable high speed wireless infrastructure. For regions where this contrast exists—in particular developing countries where the next billion internet users are coming online—the promise that technology will enable people to be more connected has remained elusive. Even in areas with highly reliable connections, the emergence of work-from-anywhere and telecommuting have further strained mobile data limits. While Lyra compresses raw audio down to 3kbps for quality that compares favourably to other codecs, such as Opus, it is not aiming to be a complete alternative, but can save meaningful bandwidth in these kinds of scenarios.

These trends provided motivation for Lyra and are the reason our open source library focuses on its potential for real time voice communication. There are also other applications we recognize Lyra may be uniquely well suited for, from archiving large amounts of speech, and saving battery by leveraging the computationally cheap Lyra encoder, to alleviating network congestion in emergency situations where many people are trying to make calls at once. We are excited to see the creativity the open source community is known for applied to Lyra in order to come up with even more unique and impactful applications.

The Open Source Release

The Lyra code is written in C++ for speed, efficiency, and interoperability, using the Bazel build framework with Abseil and the GoogleTest framework for thorough unit testing. The core API provides an interface for encoding and decoding at the file and packet levels. The complete signal processing toolchain is also provided, which includes various filters and transforms. Our example app integrates with the Android NDK to show how to integrate the native Lyra code into a Java-based android app. We also provide the weights and vector quantizers that are necessary to run Lyra.

We are releasing Lyra as a beta version today because we wanted to enable developers and get feedback as soon as possible. As a result, we expect the API and bitstream to change as it is developed. All of the code for running Lyra is open sourced under the Apache license, except for a math kernel, for which a shared library is provided until we can implement a fully open solution over more platforms. We look forward to seeing what people do with Lyra now that it is open sourced. Check out the code and demo on GitHub, let us know what you think, and how you plan to use it!

By Andrew Storus and Michael Chinen – Chrome


The following people helped make the open source release possible:
Hengchin Yeh, Alejandro Luebs, Jamieson Brettle, Tom Denton, Felicia Lim, Bastiaan Kleijn, Jan Skoglund, Yaowu Xu, Matt Frost, Jim Bankoski (Chrome), Chenjie Gu, Zach Gleicher, Tom Walters, Norman Casagrande, Luis Cobo, Erich Elsen (DeepMind).