Audio Watermarking Vs. Audio Fingerprinting - Which Should You Choose & Which is Best For Your Needs?

by Intrasonics Team

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Audio watermarking and audio fingerprinting are sometimes clubbed together in the same category of content identification systems.

However, many vital differences are essential to consider before deciding which one is best for your uses.

To help you understand the differences, we will discuss the basics of audio watermarking and fingerprinting, what makes them different from one another, the various pros and cons of each, and the best use cases for both.

Differences Between Audio Watermarking and Fingerprinting

Although they sound similar, there are a lot of crucial differences between audio watermarking and fingerprinting.

Let’s unpack this a little by looking at what each involves.

Audio watermarking involves an inaudible marker being added to audio content that will remain with the content no matter how it may be downscaled, downsized, altered, or transcoded when it is distributed and used.

Audio fingerprinting involves analyzing audio content and producing a small snapshot fingerprint that is representative of the content.

It works in the same way as human fingerprinting, as all human fingerprints are unique to the individual owners.

With audio fingerprinting, a whole audio file, whether it’s a piece of music, audiobook or advert, can be reduced into a string that represents the main characteristics of the original file. We have a more in-depth piece on how audio fingerprinting works

Both have their place and use, and there is not one that is better overall than the other when it comes to choosing between audio watermarking and audio fingerprinting.

Instead, as we will discuss below, some use cases better suit audio watermarking and some suit audio fingerprinting.

Speak to one of our team today to find out which is the best fit for your use case and a free demo here.

Best Use Cases for Audio Watermarking

Primarily, the best use of audio watermarking is to prevent illegal copies from being made or files being used.

If a unique watermark is inserted into the original copies, this can be used to identify copies that have been distributed, broadcast, or used illegally.

Audio watermarking can also be a more efficient tool for content ID since it has faster detection and far lower operational costs than fingerprinting.

Pros of Audio Watermarking

  • Ideal for tracing, as a unique marker can be inserted into every copy of an audio file, meaning any illegal copy can be successful linked back to the source.
  • Precision. Watermarking is more precise than fingerprinting, as you can insert a watermark into just about any frequency, even 2 or 3 times each second. This means that even a short excerpt of only 1 second can be detected and identified.
  • Much faster speed of detection. Audio watermarking doesn’t require a comparison or a back-end server to detect as audio fingerprinting does.
  • It can be detected even when there’s no internet connection.
  • Lower operation costs; audio watermarking only needs up-front servers to be inserted into audio, while fingerprinting requires it on the back-end and needs to compare watermarks constantly.

Cons of Audio Watermarking

· Can’t Accommodate Back-Scanning - audio watermarking cannot be used in an ex-facto manner, like audio fingerprinting. For example, a new ad on a radio channel or the TV. If it does not have a marker, it can’t be detected.

  • Higher False Positives if the watermark is damaged
  • Less flexible and stricter workflow than audio fingerprinting – the watermarks need to be inserted into the original copies before they are released
  • Greater up-front investment – watermarking needs more human intervention throughout the marking procedure and requires more logistics that need to be factored in. The original copy needs to be obtained, the watermark needs to be created and added, and the files need to be distributed. Then there are the servers required at all stages in the watermark insertion process because it involves the modification of existing files, and the procedure needs doing on all copies of the content that require their unique identifier. Sound wave in smart phone isolated on white picture id477713097

Best Use Cases for Audio Fingerprinting

The best use cases for audio fingerprinting are undoubtedly in content identification and back-scanning.

If you are looking to track an audio campaign’s success, you can use the fingerprint to achieve this.

Although you can use both for anti-piracy, many prefer to use audio fingerprinting if the original content already exists.

Customers can use small segments of content to create fingerprint markers to use as identifiers of the content.

Pros of Audio Fingerprinting

  • Ex-Facto Application – with fingerprinting, there is no need for a marker to be inserted into the content for it to track. Using the example highlighted when discussing the cons of watermarking, in the same scenario, fingerprinting can still be used to identify it, as long as there is a record of it in an archive. So back-scanning is possible with fingerprinting.
  • Accuracy on longer files - Fingerprinting is more accurate with longer segments of audio
  • Accuracy (when there is a reduced signal) – if there is a longer audio piece, the poor signal quality can be compensated for. The audio is still essentially the same, even in this situation, so it will always be detected.
  • Flexible workflow – the release of audio files, such as ads, can go ahead with a sample taken later, even days or weeks afterward.
  • Lower upfront investment – unlike audio watermarking, the upfront costs for fingerprinting are less. Adding an audio fingerprint marker is a relatively simple task that can take less than a minute.

Cons of Audio Fingerprinting

  • Can’t be used for tracing, as you can only use it to identify if that particular audio is similar to something original.
  • Fingerprinting is accurate, but only when the segment of audio is longer than 4 seconds.
  • Higher operating costs – although it does not require as much human intervention in the beginning, it does require more human involvement to check the results of detections and continuous back-end server involvement to compare and detect watermarks.


If you were hoping for a conclusive decision over which is better, audio watermarking or audio fingerprinting, we hate to disappoint you, but it would be inaccurate to make any such bold claims.

As you can see from our overview of audio watermarking and audio fingerprinting, they involve two very different techniques.

While audio watermarking involves the insertion of something extra to audio content, audio fingerprinting is the extraction of something.

The fact that these two methods work in very different ways, lends each of them to very different uses.

At Intrasonics, we offer both technologies and can advise which we think would be best for the particular application you need audio content detection for.

Please speak to one of our team today to find out which is the best fit for your use case and a free demo here.

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