Continuing on my sounds design post from a while ago, I’d like to tell you a bit more about an audio effect I find particularly interesting: binaural audio.
Although it has been around for a long time, it used to be a rather obscure technique. However, with the interest in games and immersive devices such as the Oculus Rift, this technique has gained much attention lately.
When listening to binaural audio it’s like you are at the exact spot where the microphone was while recording the audio. You can hear the sound all around you, below you, above you, and it coming closer and getting further away.This is due to the recording technique used, which involves either a dummy head with microphones in its plastic ears, or wearing microphones on one’s own ears.
Because the earlobe filters sound in a particular way, the recorded audio sounds exactly like what we would hear if we would have been in the recording space ourselves. As such it is very realistic.
However, because of it’s special recording technique one has to listen to binaural audio on headphones to hear it properly, or have special speakers designed for playing it back.
One of the most well-known videos showcasing binaural audio is the virtual haircut:
Binaural audio does for sound what virtual reality devices do for visuals. This is the reason why it’s very popular for use in games, and especially for the Oculus Rift.The all-around and head movement responsive visuals, along with binaural audio, create a very realistic and immersive experience.
Apart from use for virtual reality devices there are also some interesting examples of games using the special features of binaural audio and making it the main focus.
Papa Sangre for example is a horror game that makes a world out of just sound. You can walk through the world by turning around, and taking steps by using your smartphone as a joystick. To progress you have to walk towards certain sounds while avoiding others, and because of the binaural audio it can be quite creepy.
I am sure this technique will get much more attention as virtual reality devices will become more mainstream. If you’d like to know more about it, the Verge has made a pretty cool video about binaural audio, which you can watch here: