The Blog Roll
Saturday / June 16 / 2012
Binaural Recording: When Two is Better Than One
Maybe you’ve heard the term “binaural” thrown around before, but you aren’t exactly sure what it means. Fear not, as this blog post will attempt to give you a brief but thorough introduction to the concept.
It’s no coincidence that our ears are on the left and right sides of our heads and placed towards the back with funny wiggly bits attached. Due to this ,the sound picked up by your left ear is subtly different to the sound picked up by your right ear. This difference helps our brain to work out the location of sounds around us.
Your brain then uses this data to construct or “remix” these individual sounds into the 3D rendition of our sonic surroundings that you perceive as the ‘sound around you’.. Picking up multiple sounds at a time in various different spatial contexts and “remixing” these sounds within our brain as needed to produce a “sonic landscape” which we move through. Our animal forebears and ancestors probably initially evolved this ability in prehistoric times both in order to hunt and also to detect predators, behind us or when our vision was otherwise obscured by rocks, trees, or around corners. We unconsciously use this skill constantly, and it is weaved firmly into the tapestry of our everyday lives. Mammals still use this technique for survival much as we did in more primitive times.
The dictionary gives us this definition for binaural:
“bin·au·ral (b-nôrl, bn-ôr-)
a. Having or relating to two ears.
b. Having to do with the perception of sound with both ears: binaural hearing.
2. Of or relating to sound transmission from two sources, which may vary acoustically, as in tone or pitch, to give a stereophonic effect.“
The word comes from the Latin word bini, defined as "twofold, two apiece" (used especially of matched things) and aural, which comes from the Latin for ears, auris.
This means, then, that rather than a traditional recording using one microphone to record several sounds, a binaural recording is one that is made using two different microphone pickup points during the recording process. The microphones’ placements mirror the location of each of our own, natural sound pickup points: our ears. This is often done using a dummy head with microphones embedded in the ear canals in order to replicate the natural ear spacing or "head shadow" of the head, and the directional filtering of the pinnae (the fleshy, visible part of the ear).
Recordings made this way capture the tiny differences between the sound heard by the left and right ears and this allows your brain to decode differences and so the locations of the sounds correctly.
Accordingly the result of making a recording this way can be the production of astoundingly real, and in some cases even unsettling, reproductions of real life aural experiences. It enables the listener to “place” the sounds in space just as they do in real life, thereby constructing a 3 dimensional rendering of their acoustic surroundings. These reproductions can be intensified by closing one’s eyes while listening, thus eliminating any possible dissonance between the visual and aural cues. In fact, an interesting phenomenon, which can be clearly demonstrated using binaural recordings, is this relationship between vision and hearing.
It’s important to note that a binaural recording will only work if played back using stereo headphones. Otherwise, the 3D spatial effect will be lost and the sound will be heard as being “flat” and one-dimensional.
We also have to be careful not to confuse the terms “stereo” with “binaural”, as they are two distinct recording techniques; stereo recordings use a left and right channel, but do not take into account the natural ear spacing or “head shadowing” that binaural recording does. The resulting differences in the end product are hugely different when listening through headphones – a stereo recording will not produce the same 3D spatial landscape that a binaural recording will.
Hopefully this article has given you a bit more insight into the term “binaural”, and will inspire you to learn more about this effective and evocative sound recording technique. Why not have a go at our own Binaural game? Just click here.
Wednesday / June 13 / 2012
England v France
Good news for the die hard England fans who congregated on the GC terrace to watch England France on Monday was that it was just like going to Villa Park in November.
Wet and windy. No need to worry about the sun screen.
Despite the drought in the south east, Ivor and Chris threw caution to the wind (aka gale) and booked the marquee again.
Just as well - gave us somewhere to put the bar as well as the fans.
Our picture quality was brilliant and for a change in a major tournament England weren't bloody awful.
They might even beat Sweden on Friday and have something to play for in the last group match on Tuesday when Rooney will be back.
Invites for Friday or Tuesday are coming your way soon. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org once you've been sent your invitation.
First come first served.
NB Making like a German and putting your towel down in advance will not be sanctioned.