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Perceptual audio coders use an estimated masked threshold for the determination of the maximum permissible just-inaudible noise level introduced by quantization. This estimate is derived from a psychoacoustic model mimicking the properties of. masking. Most psychoacoustic models for coding applications use a uniform (equal bandwidth) spectral decomposition as a first step to approximate the frequency selectivity of the human auditory system. However, the equal filter properties of the uniform subbands do not match the nonuniform characteristics of cochlear filters and reduce the precision of psychoacoustic modeling. Even so, uniform filter banks are applied because they are computationally efficient. This paper presents a psychoacoustic model based on an efficient nonuniform cochlear filter bank and a simple masked threshold estimation. The novel filter-bank structure employs cascaded low-order IIR filters and appropriate down-sampling to increase efficiency. The filter responses are optimized for the modeling of auditory masking effects. Results of the new psychoacoustic model applied to audio coding show better performance in terms of bit rate and/or quality of the new model in comparison with other state-of-the-art models using a uniform spectral decomposition. The low delay of the new model is particularly suitable for low-delay coders.