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Perceptually Ergonomic 3-Dimensional Sound for Headphones.
Headphones are required for the effect.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Headphone Selection

Headphones Have a Lot of Variation:
A friend of mine said he listened to one of my recordings and had this very realistic experience where he thought the door behind him kept opening. Turns out it was just the door on the recording. Then he went home and listened to the same track with different headphones and barely got the effect. So, the moral of the story is that headphones are hugely variable and you need to choose headphones with specific characteristics in order to get the unique attributes of binaural recordings. We already have enough variation between people in the shape and size of the outer ear, so the headphones should be as accurate as possible.

It is true, you can get significant variation based on just having different headphones when listening to the same exact binaural recording. This is because there is not only inherent variation in the quality of headphones but the placement of the drivers (the little speaker in each side of the headphones) changes vastly ("vastly" means up to ~1cm, which is huge when you consider how small the features of your ear are) depending on the headphones.

What is Optimal For These Recordings:
The placement of this driver should optimally be in the exact same location as where my microphone was in my ear when I made the recording. This yields the most accurate reproduction and consequently the most realistic experience.

Specific Headphone Characteristics to Shoot For:
  • "In-Ear" Headphones: Don't use the big ones that go around or on the outside of your ears (I love this type of headphones, but they are just not meant for this). You want them to sit in your ear right where my microphone was during the recording. Something like an iPod earbud is the correct type in terms of where it physically sits. However, those are pretty low quality so if you have something higher quality that sits in the same place, that is preferable. Of course, if it's the iPod earbuds or huge "traffic controller" headphones, the earbuds are probably better because they sit in the right physical location.
  • High Quality Headphones: You want your headphones to be capable of reproducing all of the frequencies and timing of the recording as exactly as possible without distorting or coloring. The fine timing, amplitude, and frequency details give your ears the information they need to determine where a sound came from. So, the more transparent your headphones are, the better an experience you'll have.
Ok, so now you have your high quality in-ear headphones, now what?

Left in Left... and Right in Right:
You want to make sure to wear them in the correct ear. Left in left and right in right. Duh, right? Well, it's extremely important for us to get the most realistic experience so it definitely warrnats repeating. Usually headphones are marked. It doesn' hurt to check this though as I know that my iPod headphones are in fact reversed.

Set The Sound Level to What You Would Expect in Reality:
You can playback these recordings at any volume you want. Though, I think bringing it to about the level you would expect to hear in those situations will give you a more accurate experience. Clearly, a rock concert is going to be a lot louder than chamber music. Of course, headphones turned up really high are not good for your hearing. Also, in many of the recordings there is a lot of variation so while you might set it to a reasonable volume, it very well could get deafeningly loud after that. So, please be careful and use good judgement.

Remove Extra Processing:
Sometimes you have "level compensation" turned on or maybe "EQ for rock". You should not have anything extra as it will change the recording and you want as clean a reproduction as the original for maximal effect. So, please be aware that anything extra will degrade your experience.

Time to Enjoy the Sound:
There you go. You should now have a killer headphone setup. Well, at least you should know how to select one or chose from your existing headphones and attain the most optimal playback system for binaural recordings. Now, it's time to start listening!