Understanding Binaural Audio

By Hamish Patel Sep 04, 2020

The music experience in a live concert is completely different one that recorded. Live music comes with its own emotions, not without reason. It’s indeed a surreal experience to be present at the moment, hearing the vocalist stand right in front of you while the drummer and the guitarist spin their magic. And when it comes to the audio quality of live performances, the “surround sound” literally takes the cake! Recorded music, on the other hand, may not sound quite the same, although readily available for the taking any time of the day! 

Breaking Down Binaural Audio

What if you could hear an audio recording that sounds exactly like you are in a live audio setup? Binaural audio makes it possible. Simply put, when audio is captured with a binaural microphone, it can capture the exact location of every sound source. 

It is important at this stage to know that binaural sound isn’t the same as stereo sound. Unlike stereo sound, binaural sound allows the listener to localize sound sources from various directions. Much like when you are attending a physical concert, binaural audio will allow you to identify that the vocalist is in front of you and the drummer behind you.

How Exactly Does Binaural Audio Work?

Essentially a binaural microphone consists of two microphones. While recording music in a stereo mode, the two mics are kept at a distance. In the case of binaural music, however, a dummy head is used with mics fitted in each ear. The dummy, in turn, imitates the way the human ear receives the sound. In fact, binaural, literally means two ears. This is what is responsible for the life-like binaural listening experience and what can give you a concert like feel. 

Essentially the principle of binaural recording is simply this, that recording is done under the same conditions as someone listening to it. As a listener, we hear sounds enter our left and right ears at different times. Also, the sound waves interact with our physical structure and create listener-specific variations. Since the dummy head is recreating the shape as well as the density of the human head, the microphones are able to capture sound exactly how it would be heard. Binaural audio, therefore, accomplishes a far more natural 3D sound. 

Binaural recordings are naturally optimized for headphones. What you have is the perception of distance and thereby a more immersive audio experience through your headphones. 

Binaural Audio Applications

The one place where binaural audio is increasingly finding application is in the field of virtual reality. Rightly so, as binaural audio can help wearers locate sounds beyond the field of view. Picture yourself listening to laser rifle shots whizzing by or being caught in a crossfire. 

Another application of binaural audio is in reducing stress and improving sleep. Essentially, binaural beats harness the brain’s responsiveness to sound and ensure that you are able to relax and sleep better. Binaural audio sleep is essentially a sound wave therapy, whereby the left and right ear hear slightly different frequency tones through a pair of headphones. The difference between the two frequencies stimulates brain waves which impacts mood as well as cognition. It is also known to promote relaxation and sleep.

Having a perfectly immersive sound is every audiophile's dream. All you need to do now is to have your headphones in place and get transported to that concert you have been dreaming of attending in person. With binaural audio, you will get to experience the rich soundscapes that you would have, in a physical setting. Here’s to more life-like listening experiences!

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