A Beginner’s Guide to Binaural Technology

What is it?

Binaural sound technology is preoccupied with producing 3Dlike sound. It differs from stereo recordings, which artificially splits sound in to left and right channels to recreate sonic directionality. Instead, binaural sound technology records sound the way our two ears would naturally hear the world. Just as one needs 3D glasses to enjoy 3D visual media, binaural technology requires a listener to wear headphones. A popular example of binaural technology is a recording of a man getting his hair cut by a barber. The immersive nature of binaural sound makes you feel as if the barber is standing right behind you cutting your hair. Have a listen here.

How does it work?

Binaural recordings sound like natural 3D sound because its technology utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach: physical acoustics, psychoacoustics, and auditory neurophysiology. Two microphones are embedded in a dummy head in the position of human ears or alternatively a recordist may place two tiny microphones (which are a similar size to mp3 headphones) in his or her ears. Recording this way replicates key elements of physical acoustics including interaural intensity difference (IID), interaural time difference (ITD) and head-related transfer functions (HRTFs). These combined elements provide a 3Dlike quality for binaural recordings.

Why use binaural technology?

My practice-based PhD research is currently focused on examining reasons why sound artists, filmmakers and field recordists choose to use binaural technology over mono or stereo microphones in their work. As part of my first residency at Pervasive Media Studio, I carried out a series of sonic experiments on suspense to ascertain listeners’ responses to binaural versus stereo sound and to explore the creative potential for using binauraltechnology in future work. I have since applied binaural technology in the creation of audio postcards for the cities of Bristol and Brooklyn. Have a listen and make a personalised audio postcard here.

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