A fast vector quantization (VQ) method and apparatus is based on a binary tree search in which the branching decision of each node is made by a simple comparison of a pre-selected element of the candidate vector with a stored threshold resulting in a binary decision for reaching the next lower level. Each node has a preassigned element and threshold value. Conventional centroid distance training techniques (such as LBG and k-means) are used to establish code-book indices corresponding to a set of VQ centroids. The set of training vectors are used a second time to select a vector element and threshold value at each node that approximately splits the data evenly. After processing the training vectors through the binary tree using threshold decisions, a histogram is generated for each code-book index that represents the number of times a training vector belonging to a given index set appeared at each index. The final quantization is accomplished by processing and then selecting the nearest centroid belonging to that histogram. Accuracy comparable to that achieved by conventional binary tree VQ is realized but with almost a full magnitude increase in processing speed.