Recording Binaurally

photo of ear with sound wave
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Listen to “Recording Binaurally”

Trust me. You should wear headphones for this episode of HowSound and any of the audio on this page.

Some years ago, I traveled to Newfoundland, hiking and eating not-so-great food — though, the pan-fried capelin from Ha Ha Bay were amazing! A highlight of the trip was kayaking around icebergs near Hay Cove at the tip of the Northern Peninsula. I recorded my paddle with binaural microphones. My binaurals are outfitted with alligator clamps. They clipped onto my baseball cap allowing hands-free, stereo recording. Have a listen.

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Listen to “Clip of Nothing Predictable: Kayaking Newfoundland”

I think the recording sounds great. But, I have to wonder if it would have sounded better had I used more traditional binaural mics — the ones that go directly in your ear. Why would that sound better? Well, the short answer is — because of my ears.

Good stereo mics enhance the listening experience by capturing the stereo field. Sounds on the left are heard in the left ear while sounds on the right are heard in the right ear.

Most of the time, when reporters record in stereo, they use a hand-held mic or even the built-in mics on a recorder. What’s missing from this typical stereo recording, though, is the third dimension, if you will. You can’t discern if the sound is below you or above or behind. But your ears can.

When sound arrives at ears, it bounces around the folds and bends of the outer ear. Those twists and turns provide a more fine-tuned sense of the direction of a sound. So, if you put mics in your ears, a recording is more likely to capture that directional information.

That’s what Clare Walker of the BBC did for her documentary Give Me Space Below My Feet. It’s the story of Gwen Moffat, England’s first female professional mountaineer. As part of the doc, Clare recorded Helen Mort climbing. Helen wore binaurals in her ears and the sound is stunning.

For more info about binaural mics, check out this video from the BBC that offers a really clear and powerful explanation of how the mics work.

Enjoy listening to this episode of HowSound and wear your headphones!

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  • Chris Hall

    5.19.18

    Reply

    The binaurals work really well when you chomp down on the ice “cube.” I remember listening to this without headphones (maybe in mono?) a while back, so I knew that bit was coming. I was curious about how it would sound, considering how we hear our own chewing from the inside, kind of. Sounded good!

  • Rob Rosenthal

    5.20.18

    Reply

    Hey Chris, That piece actually aired on NPR. Several hundred stations aired the sound of me chewing ice. Love that. 🙂 — r

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