Sounds such as the voice or musical instruments can be recognized on the basis of timbre alone. Here, sound recognition was investigated with severely reduced timbre cues. Short snippets of naturally recorded sounds were extracted from a large corpus. Listeners were asked to report a target category (e.g., sung voices) among other sounds (e.g., musical instruments). All sound categories covered the same pitch range, so the task had to be solved on timbre cues alone. The minimum duration for which performance was above chance was found to be short, on the order of a few milliseconds, with the best performance for voice targets. Performance was independent of pitch and was maintained when stimuli contained less than a full waveform cycle. Recognition was not generally better when the sound snippets were time-aligned with the sound onset compared to when they were extracted with a random starting time. Finally, performance did not depend on feedback or training, suggesting that the cues used by listeners in the artificial gating task were similar to those relevant for longer, more familiar sounds. The results show that timbre cues for sound recognition are available at a variety of time scales, including very short ones.

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