Binaural Storytelling

Mona Lalwani at The Verge reports on how a century old technology is in resurgence thanks to developments in VR and 360 video.

For a great demonstration of how binaural sound works, grab some headphones and watch this film now.

Lalwani says the technology had remained in the realm of an interesting audio experiment until the rise of VR and 360 video gave it an environment in which to flourish.

Now, almost a century after the demise of the Theatrophones, investors are starting to revisit 3D audio technology: the prototype of Sony’s VR headset Project Morpheus includes a custom 3D audio binaural solution in its development kit. “3D audio adds to the feeling of presence that we strive so hard to achieve with the visuals in VR,” says Richard Marks, senior director of research and development at Sony Computer Entertainment America. “When sound is perceived to come from the same direction as a visual stimulus, the credibility of the virtual experience is greatly increased. While purely visual VR experiences can be made, adding 3D audio greatly magnifies the impact and depth of a VR experience.” 3D audio offers a more expansive experience than its visual counterpart. “Unlike with the visuals, 3D audio is not limited to the field of view of the display and can be rendered to give a ‘complete 360-degree’ experience,” says Marks. “One of the biggest challenges for VR design is that the user can look in any direction, and may not even be looking when something momentous occurs. But using a 3D audio cue, it is possible to steer the user’s attention to look in the direction of the sound, similar to techniques that are used in live theater.”

Caroline Scott of has also been looking at binaural sound and talked to audio innovator Rupert Brun who provided some production advice for achieving an immersive audio experience;

“If you are used to producing stereo sound, you’ll need to get a soundcard that has more outputs on it and some surround sound speakers at your editing workstation. Produce the content as surround sound in a conventional way, and then at the end when you have finished it, you’ve got your surround sound version that you can fold down to make a stereo if you want normal stereo distribution, or you can use a plug-in to create a binaural version,” said Brun. Brun is yet to find a free binaural plug-in that is any good, although he recommends noisemakers, which costs €80. “You can make your programme just as you normally would and then do the binaural editing at the end, providing you have some sort of surround sound element in the content,” he said.

Also of interest and on the binaural theme is OpenEars , a kickstarter project from German company Binuaric. Liz Stinson of Wired explains how they work;

Binauric has miniaturized binaural recording technology to a degree where it’s possible to stick them into headphones. To begin recording you tap the headphones; that audio can be turned into typical formats like WAV and MP3 or streamed directly through an app. The headphones have something the Binauric team calls “hear through,” which allows you to set, via an app, how much of the outside world you want to hear through your headphones. Also of note: They designed a GoPro add-on that hooks to helmets and syncs with the camera to capture 3-D sound.