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What Is Binaural Audio? Understanding 3D Sound Technology

audiosorcerer
|
March 31, 2023 
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Last Updated on January 1, 2024

Sound is an essential part of our lives. It allows us to communicate, experience emotions, and connect with the world around us. However, traditional stereo audio can sometimes feel flat and two-dimensional. That's where binaural audio comes in. Binaural audio is a 3D sound technology that provides a more immersive and realistic listening experience. In this post, we will dive into the world of binaural audio, discussing what it is, how it works, how to listen to it, and what the future holds for this exciting technology.

What Is Binaural Audio?

Binaural audio is a sound technology that uses two microphones to capture sound from two different locations and create a 3D audio experience. The word "binaural" means "two ears," and that's precisely how binaural sound works. The two microphones are placed in the same position as the human ears, and they capture sound in the same way that our ears do. This creates a 3D audio experience that mimics the way we hear sound in the real world.

Binaural audio is not a new technology. In fact, it has been around since the 1800s, but it has become more popular in recent years due to the rise of virtual reality and gaming. It is often used in VR and gaming to create a more realistic experience, but it can also be used in other forms of media, such as music, movies, and podcasts.

The More You Know: Surround sound is not the same as Binaural. As binaural recordings are just stereo left and right channels, surround sound is a minimum of 6 discrete channels.

How Does Binaural Audio Work?

A graphic of the internal workings of an ear.

To understand how binaural audio works, we need to take a closer look at how our ears perceive sound. When sound waves enter our ears, they are captured by the outer ear and funneled into the ear canal. The sound waves then hit the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. These vibrations are then transmitted to the inner ear, where they are converted into electrical signals that are sent to the brain.

The brain uses these signals to determine the location of the sound source in relation to our head. This is known as the "sound localization" process. Sound localization is critical for our survival because it allows us to determine the direction of potential threats and respond accordingly.

Binaural audio works by mimicking the sound localization process of the human ear. The two microphones used in binaural sound capture sound from two different locations, just like our left ear and right ear. The sound waves are then processed to create a 3D audio experience that mimics the way we hear sound in the real world.


Related Article: The Haas Effect: What It Is And How To Use It


Head-related transfer function refers to the way in which the human head and ears affect the sound reaching the eardrums. It is a set of filters that characterizes the acoustic transfer function of the human head, torso, and pinnae (outer ear). These filters are unique to each individual, depending on the size, shape, and orientation of their head and ears.

HRTFs are important because they allow the human auditory system to perceive and locate sounds in three dimensions, by providing cues about the location of sound sources in the environment. The HRTF for a given sound source varies depending on the direction and distance of the source relative to the listener's head, and these variations are processed by the brain to create a spatially accurate auditory scene.

HRTFs can be measured or modeled using specialized equipment and software, and are used in a variety of applications, including virtual and augmented reality, spatial audio reproduction, hearing aid design, and acoustic design of concert halls and other listening spaces.

Important: Since we all hear differently, when binaural audio is emulated, the sound engineers take an average of the measurements.

How Do I Listen To Binaural Audio?

Listening to binaural recordings is easy, and you don't need any special equipment. All you need is a pair of headphones. When listening to binaural audio, it's essential to use headphones because they allow you to hear the 3D audio effect properly. Without headphones, the binaural effect will be lost, and the audio will sound like regular stereo.


Related Article: The Top 5 Best Studio Headphones For Mixing In 2024


What Streaming Services Offer Binaural Audio?

A woman streaming music and listening on turquoise headphones.

Several streaming services offer binaural audio content. Here are some of the most popular:

  1. Tidal - Tidal is a music streaming service that offers a large selection of binaural music. The service also offers exclusive binaural content from artists such as Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Coldplay.

  2. Amazon Music HD - Amazon Music HD is a high-quality music streaming service that offers binaural audio content. The service offers a growing selection of binaural tracks that can be played on compatible devices. You will find these tracks listed under "Spatial Audio".

  3. Apple Music - Apple Music has a large selection of binaural music, including tracks from major artists such as The Weeknd and Demi Lovato. They are a big advocate for Dolby Atmos and spatial audio.

  4. YouTube - YouTube is a great source for binaural audio content. You can find a wide range of binaural content including music, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), and meditation tracks. They support two types of spatial audio; First Order Ambisonics and First Order Ambisonics with Head-Locked Stereo. They also provide a full document for creators on guidelines to follow when creating spatial audio content.

If you're interested in creating your own binaural audio content, you'll need a binaural microphone. Here are 3 popular microphones on the market for binaural recording:

  1. Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset - The Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset is a binaural microphone that is designed to work with your smartphone. The headset features two microphones that are placed in the earbuds and can capture spatial audio on the go.

  2. SonicPresence SP15 - The SonicPresence SP15 is a professional microphone and headset that isn't compatible with smartphones. It is meant to be used with video cameras, mixing consoles, and field recorders to capture audio as people actually hear it. Using HRTF technology, it allows you to record and stream spatial audio with ease.

  3. 3Dio Free Space Pro II - The 3Dio FS Pro II is a high-quality, extremely expensive binaural microphone that is designed for professional use. The microphone features two high-quality condenser microphones that are placed in a dummy head. If you want the best binaural microphone out on the market then look no further!


Related Article: The Top 5 Best Microphones for Recording Vocals In 2024


Slate Digital VSX Headphones: The Best Room Emulation System

Slate Digital VSX headphone system GUI.

The Slate Digital VSX headphone system utilizes binaural audio to simulate the experience of listening to sound sources in a three-dimensional space.

In the case of the VSX headphone system, the binaural audio technique is used to create a virtual soundstage that mimics the experience of listening to audio in a professional studio environment. The VSX software plugin includes a collection of impulse responses that were recorded using a binaural microphone array placed at different positions within various studio control rooms and with different monitor speakers.

When the VSX plugin is applied to the audio being mixed, it uses the binaural impulse responses to simulate the acoustic environment of the selected control room and monitor speaker configuration. This creates a virtual sound field that is processed and output through the VSX headphone amp to provide an accurate, spatialized monitoring experience.

The binaural audio technique used in the VSX system is particularly effective for headphone monitoring because it allows for the recreation of a spatial sound field without the need for external speakers or room acoustics. By using binaural audio, the VSX system provides a more natural and immersive listening experience that can help mix engineers make more accurate and informed decisions about their mixes.

What's The Future Look Like For Binaural Audio?

The future of binaural audio looks promising. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more realistic and immersive binaural sound experiences. Here are some trends to look out for in the upcoming years:

  1. Virtual Reality - Binaural audio is already widely used in virtual reality, and we can expect to see even more immersive VR experiences in the future.

  2. Gaming - Binaural audio is becoming increasingly popular in gaming, and we can expect to see more games that use it to create a more realistic gaming experience.

  3. Health and Wellness - Binaural audio is also being used in health and wellness applications, such as meditation and relaxation apps. Binaural beats are said to synchronize brain activity while not affecting the mood. We can expect to see more health and wellness applications that use it to promote serenity and reduce stress.

The More You Know: According to NIH, a binaural beat does not enhance EEG power or emotional arousal.


CLICK HERE to learn about Binaural Auditory Beats from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)


Final Thoughts

Binaural audio is an exciting technology that provides a more immersive and realistic listening experience. It's a great way to enhance your music, movie, and gaming ventures, and it's easy to listen to with just a pair of stereo headphones. Whether you're a content creator or a listener, binaural audio has a lot to offer. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more exciting developments in the world of binaural audio.

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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