Binaural Listening

An essential technology for directing attention and enhancing immersion. This analysis is an extract from our 2018 Trends Report.

What is it about?

Binaural listening uses headphones to reproduce in 3D how we naturally hear the sounds that surround us. To produce this effect, a slight shift is created between the sounds perceived in each ear. The technology has been around for more than a century, but is now back in the headlines thanks to the growing popularity of one-to-one media experiences (including virtual reality (VR) and mobile content). There are 2 types of binaural recordings: native (a soundtrack captured directly in binaural) and dynamic (created from a mono track and modified through an algorithm). Dynamic binaural audio is the game changer, since it lets you create a spatial sound field that changes in real time according to whatever the viewer is watching.

Advantages

Disadvantages

Emphasizes the sense of immersion by stimulating both sight and hearing to increase the feeling of being there. Binaural lends itself more to certain types of content (including long shots, 360° experiences, virtual reality, and reproduction of specific acoustics and horror scenes).
For directing and maintaining the spectator’s attention in 360° and VR productions. To create a binaural synthesized sound, it’s best to record dialogue and ambient sounds separately.
Produces an extremely clear and precise sound (like a sound from another room, or a whisper in the ear). The effectiveness of sound spatialization is based on the individual shape of each user’s head. We don’t all perceive binaural sound in the same way.
No specialized equipment is required for a binaural experience. Headphones are required for optimal binaural listening. The technology is best suited to individual experiences.

Why is it important to out industries?

Sound occupies a major place in 360° and VR productions as a continuity vehicle that allows users to look in all directions. Creators were quick to understand the importance of binaural to accompany this type of experience (eg. Strangers with Patrick Watson by the Montreal studio Felix & Paul in 2014, and Notes on Blindness in 2016).

Another important binaural benefit is its ability to render in three dimensions a sound heard through headphones, at a time when 43% of North American 18-to-35-year-olds are watching movies or series on their smartphones at least several times a week. Binaural sound is also increasingly used in podcasting as well as in in television. The BBC has, among other things, created a binaural track for an episode of Doctor Who and for a several Planet Earth II episodes produced for Snapchat.

Interesting facts

Binaural sound was born in France in 1881 when Clément Ader’s Théâtrophone made it possible to listen to an opera performance by holding a telephone handset to each ear.

Go deeper

In this interview, Audiogaming founder Amaury La Burthe explains the process of creating the binaural soundtrack for the Notes on Blindness VR experience.

Worth following

Binaural is a priority at the BBC research and development division, with the hope of producing more and more programs with spatial sound. The ultimate goal is to offer 3D sound scenes that automatically adapt to the playback system of the listener (binaural sound when headphones are used, surround sound when a home theatre system is used, etc.).

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