Binaural Recordings Pt.1

I want to record all of my material using binaural microphones, I’m hoping that this will give the listener a greater sense of ‘realness’ while listening to my tracks.

I want to research not only the best way to go about this, but also how binaural recordings work so that I can get a greater sense of what I’ll be using, instead of just using it for the sake of it.

The most well known binaural recording is the ‘Virtual Haircut’, in the recording, the listener is made to feel like they’re sitting in a hairdressers chair, about to get a haircut. The hairdresser walks in and you can hear him walk towards you from the right, you can even hear the reverb from the left wall as he gets closer. I really want to incorporate these subtle differences between stereo and binaural in my own recordings. I want to try and make them seem as real as possible, not just ordinary, field recordings.

The main difference between stereo and binaural is that binaural incorporates 'natural ear spacing or “head-shadow” of the head and ears'. This is important, as this is something that occurs naturally and stereo recordings cannot replicate this.

I found a band’s website that have been experimenting with binaural and they have a few tracks up to listen to here. They said that they like how with binaural recordings, you can tell just by listening, how close the players are in relation to one another. This is an interesting idea and something that I want to try and include in my tracks. I want to listener to tell how close or far I am from the sound source when I was recording it. This is especially important because I want to portray the idea of a journey and if I’m literally walking closer to a sound source, I want the listener to hear that.

So far, I’ve only found two methods to record binaurally, I’ve asked at uni and neither of these options are available to hire. One way is to buy a ‘dummy head’, these are polystyrene or felt type heads that usually have microphones built into to specially designed ear canals. I think these will give the best result for what I want but having done a quick look on ebay, I only found a few AKG D99C ‘Harry’ models. They’re all way out fo my price range, at about $495.00, and when I think about it, it wouldn’t be suited to my needs because I’d have to carry it around everywhere, and the sound being recorded wouldn’t be how I’m hearing it.

AKG D99C ‘Harry’

This leads me to the next method of binaural recording. I have found that Roland have created a pair of in-ear binaural headphone/microphones, the CS-10EM. These would be fantastic, as at only £79, they’re within my price range and would be much easier for me to record with. Also, the sounds being recorded would be exactly how I’m hearing them because I’d be listening as I record them. This would allow me to be more directional in my recording because I could turn my head when there is a sound I’d like to focus more on and this would hopefully make my recordings more natural and real sounding.

Roland CS-10EM

I’ll have to look into what I need to plug these into to be able to record with them but I’m sure I could borrow some equipment from uni if I need to.

Having researched the background of binaural recordings, I’ve found that an algorithm is used, the Cetera algorithim. It was developed for use with hearing aids in 1999 by Starkey Labs. It simulates the brains reception of sound through the ear.

Stereo recordings places sound in different speakers to create the illusion of space, whereas binaural uses two audio sources which have been made to simulate how the sound is actually picked up by the ear in a ‘physical space’.

According to - “Binaural recordings take into account the propagation of sound waves through the space around the head and shape of the outer ear. The result is a remarkable simulation of 3D sound. Most binaural recordings are made using dummy heads that approximate the average geometry of the human head and ears. It takes into account the minuscule differences between when our left and right ears hear a sound and even the effect of our skin on sound waves.”

When playing back the binaural recordings that I’ll create, I must make sure that the listener only hears them through stereo headphones, otherwise the result will sound like nothing more than a stereo recording. The audio must be played directly into the listeners ears for the it to properly work. I thought this may be the case so that’s why I decided to use headphones for the playback of my tracks anyway.

I have found this wordpress to be very interesting both by giving me ideas on where I could do my recordings and the actual possibilities and kinds of things I can hope to achieve by recording binaurally. 'Inside the Hotel Du Nord' is similar to some of the tracks that I will be creating, so hearing other’s work that I feel works very well is inspiring.

This track has been recorded with the Roland CS-10EM microphones that I am hoping to use, I don’t think the finished piece is as good as it could have been, binaurally-wise. I feel this is because there’s a bit too much going on. I’m hoping for a more simple set of pieces, less erratic, more natural sounding and almost peaceful. This Soundcloud group has lots of binaural recordings, all recorded in a variety of methods, and has a large selection of different types of recordings. I think this will be helpful in helping me choose what it is I’ll base each of my tracks around. For example, the video arcade didn’t work as well as it could have but that could have been because of the mixing as much as the environment that the recording was taken from. 

I haven’t yet read the Wikipedia page for Binaural Recording, this is something I’ll leave until later…