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From the May 1997 issue of the respected monthly audio newsletter BOUND FOR SOUND. Reprinted with permission - Martin DeWulf, reviewer:
"This recording is a turning point that may spell out the future for recording techniques as we know them."
Stravinsky: Le Sacre; Rachmaninoff: Symphony Dances, Pasadena Symphony cond. by Jorge Mester (Newport Classic AUricle NCAU 10002)
Recording of Exceptional Merit, Sonic Blockbuster.
I haven't heard a classical demonstration disc like this in years. If you are looking for a recording that will stretch the envelope of what your system can do at all frequencies and at all dynamic ranges, with tones as right as rain, this is your CD. Years back Telarc came out with a series of CD's that had the audio world buzzing about the explosive dynamics they were able to put to vinyl and CD. But I haven't heard a real good Telarc lately, and the midrange on those recordings was lacking in many respects. In terms of extremes, this recording by Newport Classic AUricle is so far ahead of those old Telarcs that a point by point comparison would be a waste of time. And get this: It's a Binaural recording. But wait, while this recording does do some amazing, almost unbelievable things when listened to on a set of headphones, it sounds every bit as good when listened to through pair of speakers.
...This recording is a turning point that may spell out the future for recording techniques as we know them. It's amazing, simply amazing, how realistic and audibly pure this recording is...[This is] only the beginning for a new breed of binaural CD's that will have heads turning on audiophiles everywhere soon. Instead of buying a new amp or preamp, buy something that you can afford that will have a greater impact on your listening experience...Treat yourself by calling...and ordering this CD as a present for YOU (and your spouse will love it that your audiophile thirst was appeased by a purchase of only $25). If the live event is your bag, this CD will wipe you out!
Edward M. Long's review of the first AUricle Pasadena Symphony gold CD, in AUDIO, December 1995, last page:
I predict that this Newport Classic Binaural CD of St.-Saen's Symphony No. 3, "Organ," and Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra (NCAU-10001) will become a collectors' item. The numbered, limited-edition recording features the Pasadena Symphony conducted by Jorge Mester with Hector Olivera as organist. It was recorded in 20-bit format to hard disk using the Neumann KU-100 dummy-head binaural microphone system. I listened with Stax SR-Omega, Sennheiser HD580, and Grado SR125 earphones; it sounds fabulous on them all. The spaciousness is marvelous, and the low C on the organ pedal is awesome! The gold CD lists for $49.95 and comes in a special case.
[Our price is $35.] Here is the CD listing.
Here is a rave review of three binaural CDs (Nos. O-16, C-21 & C-22), from the Jan/Feb 1997 issue of FANFARE, The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, reprinted with permission:
"Such recordings as this are uncanny, partly because they are so utterly realistic when listened to over headphones and partly because we are so unused to spatial accuracy in sound."
The Common-Sense Audiophile by AL FASOLDT
New Binaural CDs from Germany
(Aachen Head Acoustics mike system with associated processing electronics)
Stereo is not sound from two speakers. It is a firm and palpable stadium of sound, wide, deep, high, and close. The word has come to us from the Greek term for "solid." When you listen to stereo audio, you should be immersed in a 3D acoustic space.
This does not happen often. I've been an audio enthusiast since the age of fourteen - almost forty years - and can count the number of times I have enjoyed near-3D stereo sound on the fingers of one hand. As many of you do, I own a superb audio playback system, one especially designed to surmount spatial deficiencies in a home environment, yet what I hear from my $6,000 loudspeakers and megawatt amplifiers is not stereo, if I apply the real definition; it is very close, and it is exciting, but it is not the kind of solidity we experience when we listen to live sound. It is not 3D but 2 1/2D; the soundfield is wide, deep, high, and distant. The soundfield is out there, perhaps in front of me, perhaps to the side, perhaps above me, perhaps against or even behind the walls of my listening room. But it is not both there and here. That is what 3D is all about.
The closest I ever came was a week auditioning a pair of planar loudspeakers at a time when nothing more would fit comfortably in my listening room. The two speakers occupied the only available space in the large kitchen of my country home, filling the oak-and-old-glass wall at the far end of the room. If I sat in that one "sweet spot" triangulated between the speakers and as distant from them as they were apart, I heard the most realistic near-3D sound imaginable in a home. My reference system will never sound quite that good, even though it plays much louder, extends much deeper, requires no precise listening position, and allows me to control dimensionality in a way impossible in that winter week a decade ago when I forced my family from the kitchen.
I am not disappointed. I know why those planar speakers sounded so good in my kitchen. Sitting at just that right spot, my ears picked up the near-field sound waves at a greater intensity and earlier arrival time than the reflected waves, and this helped keep my ears and brain from noticing the reflected sounds; they remained part of the superstructure of the 3D acoustic object, but only at a level too low to recognize separately. The elaborate psychophysiological mechanisms we employ to analyze even the most simple sounds are easily misled by arrival times and apparent loudness, and so the most basic kind of loudspeaker setup and the least likely acoustic space can supply the most realistic sound if we are seated in the right position.
That's the problem, isn't it. And that's why you should get to know John Sunier. He has hosted The Audiophile Audition syndicated radio show for years, laboring to acquaint the unknowing world with the unique delights of 3D sound. . .In fact, John Sunier's passion is the only way to listen to 3D sound without loudspeakers.
I'm referring, of course, to headphone listening of a special kind - binaural sound, in which the recording is a replica of what your ears hear. In a binaural recording project, engineers capture the sound using a life-size artificial head fitted with a small microphone at each ear cavity. When you play back a binaural recording over loudspeakers, you hear a normal stereo effect, but when you listen through headphones - even the cheapest made-in-Malaysia throwaway models - you hear what the artificial ears heard in stunning 3D sound.
Although binaural fanatics sometimes own very-high-quality playback equipment, with separate headphone amplifiers and multi-thousand-dollar headphones, all this economic largesse isn't necessary. Good $60 headphones and a reasonably clean amp will team up with any modern CD player to provide incredible realism at home, and - as I'll discuss later in this column - an ordinary portable CD player paired with efficient headphones will do the same in any location. This means you could put together a suitable binaural audio system on an afternoon visit to your local discount store, at a total cost of $200 to $400.
Sunier runs The Binaural Source, the wellspring of binaural recordings in North America and much of the rest of the world. He sent three of the latest CDs imported from Germany by The Binaural Source, all recorded on an ultra-high-bit-rate digital recorder using a Neumann binaural mike setup. I played them on my normal system (over my loudspeakers, then through my reference headphones) and on a portable CD player. All three sounded uncommonly detailed and had almost no signs of digital artifacts.
G. Silbermann-Orgel, with Alexander Koschel at the Gottfried Organ at St. Peter's Church in Freiburg (Abadone ABCD 93205), captures the recently refurbished two-manual organ in a bright and wide 3D setting. Upper registers of the pipes seemed overly bright at the first playing, but comparisons with other top-quality organ CDs began to favor this disc more and more with each listening. (The complete absence of room effects in playback sometimes jolts our sensitivities, and should remind us how much we normally listen to the room and not to just the music.) Middle ranges, where most loudspeakers are likely to exhibit easily measured distortions, are extraordinarily clear in this CD when heard over good headphones, and only slightly muddied in comparison over loudspeakers. Bass was tight and well extended, almost antiseptically clean. Headphones that reproduce rolling-thunder bass properly will pay for themselves in one playing of this CD.
ALEKO- Russisches Vokalensemble Live (Abadone ABCD 93201) shows off the darkly somber baritones and tenors of the Russian Vocal Ensemble of St. Petersburg, recorded live during a tour of Germany in 1994. Photos in the CD's slim booklet show a Mr. Potato- Head-looking dummy perched near the top of a microphone stand in front of the singers, with a much better "seat" than you could get at a concert. But, of course, that is your seat in this recording, and, in playback, the singers are arrayed in a shallow arc in front of you. The spatial rendition is so accurate that you can readily determine which voices belong to short men and which to tall ones, and, if you close your eyes or turn down the lights, you will be able to judge exactly how far you'd need to reach to touch the man on the left. Such recordings as this are uncanny, partly because they are so utterly realistic when listened to over headphones and partly because we are so unused to spatial accuracy in sound.
Ensemble Oriol Berlin (Abadone ABCD 93204) is even more impressive, delineating the sound of a small Baroque-and-more ensemble in them most convincing 3D space I've ever heard in a recording. When my reference player pulled the first track into memory and lit up its lime-green LEDs to show me the track had begun, reached for the gain control; apparently, the knob had been inched back to a lower setting . . . or so I thought until the violins started to sing. No CD in recent memory has exhibited less inherent noise. This statement seems absurd when I look back at the screen of my word processor, because the Oriol recording has no discernible noise whatsoever. It's as quiet as anything could be. Fortunately, this superb engineering effort was not wasted by the performers, who play their Schmelzer, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and Stravinsky with exuberance and charm.
The Binaural Source can be reached at P. O. Box 1727 in Ross, California 94957, or by telephone at 800-934-0442 or 415-457-9052. Sunier has a World Wide Web page at http://www.binaural.com, thoughtfully designed without the excess graphics of typical pages, making it easily navigable by those who still travel [the] Web in text-based browser software. (The page also has many links to other pages of interest to high-fidelity buffs.)
[Article in LISTENER magazine, Volume 4, No. 1, Winter 1998. Published quarterly by Eastern Bee Publications, 36 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820, 607-433-0808]
"...everything that nearly everyone is listening to on headphones was never designed nor intended for headphone playback - it was designed for loudspeaker playback!"
Taking Sound in Another Direction
(BINAURAL BARRICADE AGAINST THE AUDIO POLICE by John Sunier)
Being heavily into headphones, I couldn't resist having my curiosity aroused by Tom Corbin's first column [in a past issue] announcing that he will suggest circumstances under which one may want to wear two pairs of headphones simultaneously. Well, I can't imagine what circumstances those may be and am waiting with bated breath to find out, but in the meantime I can tell you about some circumstances you probably had not thought about in which you might want at least to wear one pair of headphones.
Tom's "Audio Police" business also caught my eye and I couldn't agree more. I've railed against some of the Audio Police dogma for years, such as the "hair shirt" approach to component features, especially dispensing with headphone jacks (since I'm into headphones) in preamps, not to mention tone controls. I'm going to do a bit of creative, lateral thinking such as Tom was encouraging, and among other things I'll also give you a rock-solid reason why you should buy a graphic equalizer.
ROOM TREATMENT & THE SWEET SPOT
Rumors are that one of the leading very high end speaker exhibitors at Hi-Fi '97 bragged about how great his speakers sounded without any acoustical treatment in the small and sonically-deprived room of the San Francisco hotel where it took place. Yet a little snooping after the demo revealed Tube Traps in the front corners and a bunch at the rear wall.
While both the Audio Police and those of us who prefer to think and hear for ourselves stress the importance of the listening room in the high end equation, it is the former, not the latter, who have escalated the ritual of room treatment to new complexities and expense. Many audio buffs buy more room treatment materials than they need, or entirely the wrong ones, because they don't sit and listen while trying simpler, less ugly and cheaper means such as rugs, drapes, furniture, or CD/LP storage shelves.
Another problem connected to the room treatment emphasis is the narrow sweet spot encountered with many of the larger and most expensive tower and panel speaker systems. Loss of 50% of the sonic achievement of a typical large high end speaker when standing up from a seated position is not at all an unexpected occurrence. Even moving from side to side a few inches destroys most of the superior imaging and soundstaging of many two-speaker setups. How many of us can sit next to a friend or spouse and be assured that the other person is hearing exactly what we are hearing in our carefully-aligned sweet spot? OK, so the majority of the audio unwashed out there has never heard of the idea of sitting equidistant from the two speakers in an equilateral triangle and thus has one speaker horizontal at floor level in one corner with the other vertical high up on another wall. The Audio Police have gone too far the other way - resulting in some of the listening room diagrams appearing in some audio pubs looking like a prison cell with a kitchen chair two-thirds of the way back, two speakers one-third of the way into the room, one little equipment cabinet to one side, and nothing else.
And in these ruminations on the sweet spot I'm not even addressing those approaches that REALLY have a narrow sweet spot - namely processes attempting to cancel some or all of the left speaker signal from reaching your right ear and the right speaker signal from reaching your left ear. (There used to be a specific name for this but it is now trademarked so I can't use it). Among these are Carver Sonic Holography, Polk SRDS speakers, Lexicon Panorama circuit, and many new computer-related speaker-processing approaches that attempt to give a "3D" feeling to stereo sources heard through them.
In the computer area, I've never understood why all the research and effort are being expended to getting a 3D effect with dinky little speakers (and often a third little box laughably referred to as a "subwoofer") when the computer user isn't going anywhere and doesn't require any freedom of movement. This is a perfect situation for headphones! Even inexpensive models can achieve better sound than the undersize speakers being sold for multimedia use; but better than that, headphones plus Binaural sound can precisely locate sounds anywhere in a full 360-degree sphere around the listener.
EVERYTHING YOU'RE LISTENING TO IS WRONG!
More than 200 million headphones were sold over the past decade, yet everything that nearly everyone is listening to on headphones was never designed nor intended for headphone playback - it was designed for loudspeaker playback! Stereo purposely mixes some of the left channel signal into the right and vice versa, and then when your pair of speakers are speaking in your listening room they do the same thing.
The result on headphones is what's sometimes referred to as the "musical hat" effect - all the sounds happen inside your skull. Not only that, but half of the musicians seem to be clustered over just inside your left ear and the other half of them over just inside your right ear. Some people also hear another cluster in the middle of their cranium. The HeadRoom circuit offered by that headphone-oriented mail order service tries to connect these clusters via cross-feeding of the two signals to more closely emulate the effects of loudspeaker listening when wearing headphones. For many listeners and some types of music this subtle circuit enhances the listening to stereo material.
Biophonic Response Chart
[Vertical Scale = relative level in dB; Horizontal Scale= frequency. Ron Cole feels this EQ can make listening to standard stereo sources on headphones less bizarre-sounding to most persons, though not equalling true binaural.]
Here is a less subtle enhancement for listening to all these recordings and broadcasts that were never designed for headphones. Binaural recordist Ron Cole came up with this chart which corrects for ear canal resonance and other differences in the spectrum between speaker listening and headphone listening. It can be set up on a parametric equalizer or almost any multiband equalizer (those accessories which the Audio Police tell us should never have been invented). You don't have to hit the various boost points right on the button -- even getting close makes an amazingly more natural headphone listening experience when using stereo source material. While I have yet to try this in combination with the HeadRoom circuit, the two should be a synergistic duo. Remember though that neither of these band-air approaches locate the music outside of one's head nor do that impart a "you-are-there" feeling in listening on headphones.
THE BINAURAL RAP
There's only one way to do that. That's using true binaural recordings and any headphones. Here again we are at odds with the Audio Police since absolutely no additional components are needed. Plus the ultimate in fidelity is not required to experience binaural recordings. The very first public experiments with it, in fact, took place at the Paris Opera in 1881, using primitive carbon transducers both on the stage and a pair of them hooked to two separate telephone lines at each subscriber's home.
Even with a $25 walkman-type cassette portable and the ear-buds that came with it, one can have a jaw-dropping sonic experience with a good binaural cassette. One that I frequently suggest to binaural virgins is Stephen King's "The Mist," available at the Simon & Schuster audio book rack of most chain bookstores for about $9. It's more hair-raising than any King movie. With a cast of about 30, original sound effects and music, you're part of the horror drama. Monsters creep up on you from behind and drop down from the ceiling on you.
But it is with music that binaural can almost literally Take You Away. Isn't the primary purpose of high end audio to Get Into the Music More? (The Audio Police may say that but their actions often contradict that.) Well, with binaural one is in the same venue where the musicians originally performed. One is aware of the room size and shape, and all the reflections that are such a major part of the musical experience are preserved instead of being turned into a general mish-mash of reverberation without any directional information, as with stereo.
The basics of binaural couldn't be simpler, but recent improvements have brought it to such a level of viability and functionality that if recording engineers would only wake up to it they would be recording everything binaurally. It is now completely compatible for mono or stereo speakers as well as matrix surround sound playback.1 The heart of binaural is a dummy or artificial head which replicates the human head. The most vital features on it are the two outer ears or pinnae. They are usually formed out of soft rubber or plastic and often cast from actual human ears. Ridges and valleys in the pinnae reflect the sounds differently into the inner ears and therefore they are vital to recreating precise localization of sounds. The current interest in spherical mike systems for stereo preserves many elements that are part of binaural reproduction, but without the pinnae to reflect the incoming sounds to the omni mike capsules, the localization cannot be very specific.
The two channels from the dummy head must be kept absolutely separated all the way in the chain to the two drivers of the listener's headphones. And the left mike on the dummy head must feed the left driver of the headphones and vice versa; the backs of our heads lack the features of the front and reversing the channels gives a confusing sonic image much as does reversing the left and right-eye images of a stereo photograph.
While even a $3.98 pair of ear buds will deliver good binaural, the better quality your headphones, the better will be your experience. We already know that it's possible to get better sound with some of the high end phones2 than one could get with many of the most expensive speaker systems. Add binaural to that equation and you have a really amazing sonic experience. Add one of the many dedicated headphone amps now being produced3 and you'll be hearing the ultimate. Add a longer cable and you're no longer glued to that sweet spot! You can now take it with you, within reason.
The Audio Police have decided that FM radio, audiocassettes and binaural are all not worth our consideration as far as high fidelity sources. I could expound at length on the idiocy of the first two, but that's off the subject. Their beef with binaural is the claim that it sounds perfectly awful played back on loudspeakers. In the distant past that was somewhat correct; binaural recordings sounded a bit thin and distant. Part of this was the very poor bass end sensitivity of the consumer mikes, which were often built into headphones and had to have a low cutoff to avoid feedback! Even the recently-discontinued Sennheiser MKE 2002 binaural mikes lacked extended low end.
Today, however, the two commercial binaural mike systems used in 99% of existing binaural recordings are completely equalized for excellent speaker playback. After the first of the two gold binaural CDs from Newport Classics was released, a press event was held in the same auditorium in Pasadena where the recording was made. Speakers placed on the lip of the stage played back the binaural CD and all agreed it sounded as good or even better than the best standard stereo CD. 4 (Of course most of the "you-are-there" feeling is lost in speaker playback.)
The other binaural misconception is that there are no recordings available. Not true. They were extremely difficult to find, and when I began regular All Binaural Broadcasts on my local AUDIOPHILE AUDITION program about 17 years ago listeners reported that they asked in shops about binaural recordings but only got blank stares. So seven years ago I decided to start THE BINAURAL SOURCE, which is a web-based mail order business currently stocking over 125 different true binaural CDs and cassettes. Most of these are imported exclusively by us from Germany, France, Britain, Bulgaria, Japan, not to mention a growing number of small U.S. labels who lack distribution in the stores. The sounds cover classical, pipe organ, jazz, crossover, new age, pop, audio dramas (such as "The Mist"), nature sounds, and special sounds to enhance sleep and relaxation.
THE BINAURAL SOURCE is online at http://www.binaural.com An extensive FAQ and more detailed information about binaural reproduction are found at the web site. Actual binaural demos for free downloading are available there. The current catalog is available by calling 800-934-0442 (PST), e-mailing your street address to email@example.com or by writing to THE BINAURAL SOURCE, Box 1727, Ross, CA 94957.
1 = I realize most LISTENER readers are staunch two-channel/two-speakerists, but if you buck the Audio Police by owning any sort of matrix surround sound processor (no DSP reconstructions, please), you will find that binaural CDs provide a superior surround soundfield to any Dolby Surround-encoded music CD.
2 = Among my personal favorites for binaural are the AKG K 1000, Sennheiser HD 600, the Jecklin and Ergo models, the Sony CD-3000 and any of the Grados.
3 = Headphone amps have been available from HeadRoom, AKG, Melos, EarMax, Creek. Headphone amps have been introduced by Musical Fidelity, Sennheiser, Holmes·Powell, Pure Audio, Mesa Engineering, Naim, Grado and Bowman.
4 = Fellow audio writer Martin De Wulf said this about the second Newport gold binaural CD in a recent Bound for Sound issue: "...while this recording does do some amazing, almost unbelievable things when listened to on a set of headphones, it sounds every bit as good when listened to through a pair of speakers."
HOME ENTERTAINMENT by Harry Somerfield
"The 360-degree sound of binaural recordings places a listener right there at the performance - front row center."
The Binaural Revolution Begins Between Your Ears
You've heard "mono" and "stereo." You've probably heard "quad" and "surround sound." But what about "binaural"? Over the years, a variety of methods have been used to record and reproduce music. In the beginning, a single microphone was placed before a group of musicians to record or to broadcast over the radio...This type of sound system was known as monophonic because it featured a single sound source. When stereo (two sound sources) was invented, two microphones were placed before a band and each was recorded on a separate track. The microphones were usually placed six to eight feet apart to give the listener a more distinct sense of left and right.
Now, close-miking setups are in vogue - using numerous microphones fed to either left, right or both channels. The sound fed to both left and right channels ends up sounding as though the instruments are halfway between the left and right speakers. The result sounds like a live performance in the listener's home.
Far from being the latest in a string of far-out audio breakthroughs, binaural sound has been around since 1881, when it was sent from the Paris Opera House to subscribers via telephone lines. And, unlike the rash of complex multi-channel techniques, including quadraphonic (four-channel) sound, surround sound and Ambisonic sound, binaural recordings do not require high tech equipment. All a listener needs to enjoy the experience is a pair of stereo headphones, normal stereo gear and a...tape or CD recorded using the binaural technique.
Binaural recordings are made in an amazingly simple way: A life-size model of a human head...is constructed with microphones implanted where a human's ears are found. Then the dummy head and torso are placed in the audience of a musical performance. The sounds heard by the right and left "ears" are stored on a normal stereo recorder. The results are striking. The 360-degree sound of binaural recordings places a listener right there at the performance - front row center. The music and its live ambience are retained because the acoustics of the room or hall are reproduced precisely as a spectator would hear them.
The easiest way to enjoy this technology is with a portable player and a pair of stereo headphones. While binaural recordings can be played through stereo loudspeakers, the single listener must sit exactly between left and right speakers that have been turned to face each other, in order to experience the full effect.
In fact, because of the superior reproduction qualities of most loudspeakers, many audiophiles prefer this listening venue. Binaural addicts say that only dramatic productions...suffer from playback over speakers. You can make your own recordings using special binaural mikes...One, by Sennheiser, is designed to be worn like a headset by a person in the audience. [now discontinued]
...A company called "The Binaural Source" has a catalog of compact discs and cassettes that can be ordered by mail. Included are...classics, folk and new age music to big band, jazz and easy listening. The Binaural Source's catalog also includes a few dramatic productions - remember the days of the radio dramas? Included is "The Mist," by Stephen King...The catalog's listings are drawn from all over the globe, including recordings made in Austria, England, France, Germany, Ghana and Poland, as well as the United States...Some are available on either CD or cassette - some on only one format or the other. For a free copy of The Binaural Source catalog: Box 1727, Ross, CA 94947.
[This article by nationally-syndicated writer on home electronics Harry Somerfield was reprinted by permission of Chronicle Features, CA.]
'FRITZ' CREATES THREE-DIMENSIONAL RADIO
(Neumann KU-100 artificial head mike system)
Betty Smith...put on a pair of headphones to audition Carlos Fuentes' "Aura," the first of a series of three-dimensional radio dramas...After a few minutes, she heard footsteps and a voice behind her, and turned around. There was no one else in the room.
"I knew what to expect, but I was still fooled," she said... "Kunstkopf" binaural sound is a step beyond stereo. Where stereo creates the illusion of sound originating on both sides of the listener, binaural sound also reproduces sound behind, above, in front and below...
Fritz, officially the KU-81i dummy head manufactured in Germany by the Georg Neumann Corp. , is a gray, solid-rubber replica of a human head, mounted on a microphone stand pole...Fritz embodies several improvements over early binaural mechanisms. .. By measuring more than 70 ears, Neumann calculated an average size and shape, according to Tom Lopez, president of ZBS Media...Because the solid rubber... has about the same density as a human head, the dummy's ears have the same acoustic properties as a human's. . . Neumann solved the loudspeaker [playback] problem with... acoustic delays (in essence, sound filters) placed in Fritz' auditory canals enabling the microphones to cope with the diffuse and complex sounds coming in from all directions.. .
At a stroke, the old studio recording techniques...became obsolete. ZBS couldn't rely on a couple of actors speaking all the parts while a sound person rattles doorknobs and rings telephones in the background because the Kunstkopf would reproduce what was happening too accurately...
Screwing the head onto a stand and attaching it to a Sony portable digital recorder, ZBS went on location. Lopez...carried Fritz around to record footsteps approaching over fallen leaves and voices echoing in a stairwell... The listener hears the sound...with a devastating intimacy.
[from The Boston Globe, October 1984]
SIGHT & SOUND by Jim Phalen
"...the spatial cues ... are the same ones you use to locate sounds in real life."
Headphones offer a lot of advantages. They [usually cost] a fraction of what speakers of the same quality would cost. They require very little power, and because they clamp onto your ears, they offer the best stereo separation possible. They also give the listener a large measure of unobtrusive privacy...
An excellent use for headphones is something called binaural audio. In an ordinary stereo recording the sound is mixed so that it seems to come from various points between two loudspeakers. On a binaural recording, which is made to be heard through headphones, the sound seems to come from in front of the listener, from behind, way off to the side, and sometimes even from above and below. This aural illusion is created through the use of a specially wired mannequin with microphones set inside the ears. The stereo separation in the dummy's microphones is the same as the one you have inside your head, so the spatial cues recorded are the same ones you use to locate sounds in real life.
Although binaural cassettes and CDs are a natural for Walkman-type players, they can't be found in most record stores yet. THE BINAURAL SOURCE offers a number of recordings in classical, jazz, new age and other formats, including several audio dramas with creepy sound effects that seem to come at you from all directions. The mailing address is Box 1727, Ross, CA 94957, or call them during [10 AM - 2 PM ] at [800-934-0442].
Before you hear any binaural works you may need to get a pair of headphones or you might want to upgrade ones you already have...Individual tastes vary greatly here: some people like the deep bass response you get from a pair of large circumaural-type phones, while others prefer something lighter and less bulky. ..some are so small they fit inside your ears with only a couple of wires leading out. No two headphone designs give the same sound, so... try before you buy.
[From the Pacific Sun weekly, 9/7/90]
OTHER COMMENTS FROM THE PRESS
Amazing, spooky. You can actually reach out and grab hold of the sounds. -- NBC News
Welcome to the future. 3D recording is here. -- SPIN magazine
I've felt for years that for true sonic realism there are only two approaches worth taking Binaural and Surround Sound. Larry Klein, ELECTRONICS NEWS
A sensuous voice whispers into my right ear and then suddenly coos into my left. I'm getting goose bumps...Then a door opens, but I've been fooled; it is only on the CD! -- ESQUIRE magazine review
As real as my own flesh and blood...the results are staggering! -- BAM magazine review
Virtual Audio [binaural] is more fluid, for certain, than the best Virtual Reality system appears to the eyes. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS? -- RU Sirius, MONDO 2000 magazine
The technology creates a wildly vivid sense of having another person or persons in the room. -- San Francisco EXAMINER
Judging soundstaging with headphones is a little awkward, due to the fact that with conventional recordings all the instruments are inside your head, hung on a line stretched between your ears. Binaural recordings, however, made with a dummy-head microphone, should produce out-of-the-head imaging with good headphones. To judge soundstaging I therefore used a number of my own binaural recordings as well as some CDs supplied by John Sunier of The Binaural Source. - John Atkinson in STEREOPHILE
Exciting New Source of Binaural Sound Open to the Public!
The over 126 giant-format IMAX theaters around the world have begun a conversion to both 3D image and binaural sound! The first on line was the Sony Imax Theater on Broadway in New York City. The Edwards theater in Irvine CA and many others nationwide are now open, to be followed by San Francisco in 1999*. Binaural sound is delivered via infra-red transmitters around the theaters to PSE (Personal Sonic Environment) headsets [see photo] which incorporate both small earspeakers and liquid crystal filters which synchronize with the two images on the giant screen. The process puts YOU in the movie -- we've experienced it and it's breathtaking!
More information on the Sony 3D IMAX theater in NYC at the Sony Theaters web site =http://www.sony.com(Go to Pictures). The Edwards Cinema complex in Irvine is at 65 Fortune Drive.Other IMAX 3D theaters are either now in operation or are scheduled for Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Chicago (Cineplex Odeon), New Orleans (Aquarium of the Americas); Virginia Beach, VA; Chattanooga, TN; Costa Mesa, CA; Seattle; Omaha; Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and locations around the world.
A comprehensive illustrated 8-page article by John Sunier on the 3D Sound & Image IMAX films and theaters around the world is featured in Vol. 6, No. 4, issue 26 of WIDESCREEN REVIEW. A similar but shorter article appeared in the October 1997 issue of AUDIO magazine.
* = Unfortunately, the new IMAX theater in the Sony Metreon in San Francisco has decided NOT to employ the PSE binaural headsets because they felt the expense of changing the batteries after each show was too great.
"...only true binaural recordings, recorded with a dummy head, are fully compatible with headphones. "
STEREO ON HEADPHONES VS. BINAURAL ON HEADPHONES
[Thoughts on stereo via headphones while listening to "The Beatles Past Masters" on stereo headphones...]
Like much of the earlier Beatles material, some tracks on this collection are in mono and some in stereo. After hearing several mono tracks and not really thinking about them, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" comes on. Whoa! Stereo! and How! With their basic four-track recorders did they ever give us a gnarly stereo mix! Small wonder their producer George Martin prefers the mono versions to the stereo on most of these earlier Beatles tracks.
What one hears are the drums just inside your left ear, the guitars just inside your right ear, and in the dead center of your head are the Beatles' voices. They're all coming from the same spot in the center of your cranium, and I for one can't help visualizing in my mind's eye Paul, John, George and Ringo all snuggled up together on that tobaggan in "Help!"
This is the logical result of listening to stereo (or mono) source material on headphones. It is all material that was recorded expressly for loudspeaker playback - not for headphones. I happen to believe that only true binaural recordings, recorded with a dummy head, are fully compatible with headphones. Standard stereo recordings, intended to be heard through loudspeakers, all sound a little weird through headphones, with or without processing. . . .Peter Aczel, THE AUDIO CRITIC Spring 1997 issue.
The HeadRoom circuit (in their own and other headphone amps) can ameliorate this disconcerting skull-staging of the sound -- in fact the HeadRoom improvement is more noticeable in studio-created pop music like this than it is with classical music or jazz. [And here's something else that can create an even more dramatic improvement in listing to standard stereo on phones!] This amazingly effective EQ circuit may be included in a new headphone amp currently in development.However, these improvements still keep the performers imprisoned inside your skull. Only true binaural source material can localize the performers outside of your head.
NEWSFLASH: The new Dolby Headphone circuit, developed by Lake DSP in Australia, processes standard stereo or Dolby Surround sources in such a way as to create a five channel virtual speaker layout around one's head when listening on headphones. The circuit will soon be a part of many dedicated headphone amplifiers and headphone jacks on components, making stereo material sound much less strange on headphones. It does bring the sound out of one's head, but it is NOT binaural and has a Bypass switch which should always be engaged when listening to true binaural recordings! (The new Sony MDR-DS5000 Virtual Dolby Digital Wireless Headphone System uses NOT the new Lake technology, but Sony's own Virtualphones technology.) Yet another entry in this growing field is the new Sensaura Virtual Ear system which allows each headphone user to modify his own HRTFs to more perfectly model the virtual surround effect. (See April 2000 issue of HI-FI NEWS.) If this can be done to more perfectly match the listener's parameters to that of the original binaural dummy head, the binaural listening experience could be even more realistic for many listeners!
To Introductory Binaural Article by John Sunier
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