I have heard the future of audio. It is here, and it is called binaural sound.
The occasion was my purchase of the deluxe 2CD edition of TesseracT’s new album Sonder, which comes with a second disc containing the binaural 3D mix for headphone or earbud listening.
“The concept is to push past the restrictions of a stereo headphone mix and create an accurate ‘3D’ space in which positioning outside of the normal Left Right axis can occur. This is something that every artist that uses in ear monitors on stage wishes to recreate; the real and accurate positioning of instruments. We immediately felt that this technology could be applicable to us in the studio. TESSERACT loves to bring what it does in the studio to the stage, but this time it’s experimenting with bringing a live element to the studio.”
I’ve been listening to the album since my fellow Progarchy editor Carl turned me on to it. I absolutely love it, and every track is brilliant (“Smile” especially was an instant favorite that made me smile), but now listening to the new mix I feel like I am hearing the songs in a new way, with much more space and clarity in the mix. (And on “Orbital,” the vocals are above you… how cool is that…)
Here’s a good Web page with an introduction to the tech:
“Everything changes when you put on your headphones: your natural ability for spatial hearing becomes seriously weakened. You can still have a feeling of sounds coming from the left and those coming from the right, and of sounds that are closer or more distant. But you lose the ability to distinguish between front and back, up and down. And you get the impression that all sounds are kind of strung on a string between your ears. Audio geeks call this in-head localization. The reason for the loss of spatial hearing when using headphones is that they neutralize the acoustic influence that the shape of your body, your head, and your outer ears have on the sound you’re hearing.
Another flattening effect is that headphones ignore the room acoustics. Depending to the physical characteristics of the room, any sound including those played back over loudspeakers creates a reverb. And you always hear the direct sound waves mixed together with the reverb of the listening room. Since the sound from your headphones only passes the ear canal, the acoustic „footstep” of the listening room doesn’t affect your hearing.
Finally, the music is spatially “locked” to your head and not to the external world: left always stays left in your perception, regardless of the direction in which you turn your head. In contrast, with loudspeaker playback, the spatial sound image is locked to the external environment, where the loudspeakers are located.
Luckily, smart people have found a way to make binaural 3D hearing possible even with headphones. The short story is: they figured out how to simulate the acoustic influence of your body.”
Read further at the link above about the mathematical solution to the problem: convolution.
I predict binaural 3D mixing is the future of prog audio:
“In less than five years, 3D spatial audio is expected to revolutionize our standard for multimedia listening. Similar to how high-definition television has enhanced the everyday viewing experience, binaural 3D sound is expected to reshape our listening experience and redefine the production of music, movies, radio, and television programming – and yes, VR, AR and mixed reality content as well.”
Time for Steven Wilson to get to work on a bunch of new mixes…