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Immersive 3D Sound - Coming Soon

14 Mar, 2017
Immersive 3D Sound - Coming Soon

You’d agree, audio/music from headsets, even the most expensive ones you’ve ever used, sounds flat. As flat as a piece of paper; when compared against what it sounds like in real life for you.

Let’s take an example, if you’re in an airplane, eyes closed and at peace, you’d hear the drone of the engine from one ear, the crackling of a wrapper from the other, the turn of a page, the step of someone in the aisle, and even the air coming from the overhead vent (despite it’s very subtle hiss). You may possibly even hear someone just smoothening his shirt over his belly as he leans back for a nap!

Both your ears would given you a very clear, discernible three-dimensional plane of sound, that you (thanks to your brain’s sound-interpretation algorithm) would be able to clearly understand and make peace with, as you nod off to sleep.

But, if I were to place a voice recorder in your lap that recorded all this ambient noise as you slept – when you later played that recording back using your favoured earphones, you’d actually only hear a jumble of noise, that while discernible, may at best sound two-planar and flat – nowhere as real-life as if you’d been awake to experience it first hand.

Here’s the kicker – it’s not the voice recorder, or your earphones, or even you brain’s fault – so it’s not the hardware so much as a technique in which audio is captured, that helps you fully enjoy audio in all it’s three-dimensional glory.

Despite all the development in materials and hardware, how binaural audio recording (i.e. audio that involves both your ears) can be recreated in realistic three-dimensional form has long been a dilemma for the industry.

Experiments and techniques abound, including the implementation of microphones embedded in some crazy fake ears. This has become a common way of recording binaural audio, but it’s not the only way, nor the best approach.

It’s akin to how most TVs today convert regular visuals into three-dimensional ones – artificially, digitally. And those are obviously not the same as movies recorded in the 3D! So, there has to be a way to record audio in 3D too.

Well, new Kickstarter product, OpenEars,  from a company called Binauric could make recording of binaural audio easier than ever. OpenEars takes a novel approach of building microphones into in-ear headphones. And there’s another twist.

Many binaural microphones try to simulate the shape and density of the human head in order to reproduce the way sound actually reaches our ears. OpenEars sidesteps it by using your own head (we do mean physically, not metaphorically) and lets you simply place the microphones in the right spot.

So, if you like recording videos using your smartphone, this product could well be for you, as it’ll allow you (and your friends) to enjoy real-life video and audio recorded on a whim!

How does OpenEars enable that? Well, the Bluetooth headphones include microphones in the headphones, and a mode called HearThrough allows mixing in live sound from the environment, along with music you’re listening to if you want. This makes it safer to ride a bike while listening to music or performing any activity while enjoying audio through your earphones – allowing you to be fully aware of your surrounding environments, thereby mitigating any untoward surprises.

To me, this product feels inevitable.

Binaural mics that go into your ears have existed for a while and range from USD 60–500, however they can’t be used with most (maybe even all) smartphones, as the average microphone jack supports a mono signal, while stereo is a prerequisite for binaural recording.

I own a couple pairs of these, but I never carry them around because that would mean also carrying around something to record with, like a bulky H4n Zoom. Not so with OpenEars.

And you have the advantage of them being headphones also, so when you want to record something, they’re already in your ears. For a suggested retail price of around USD 225, this is just a little bit more than you would pay for a nice pair of in-ear binaural mics.

Today, binaural audio is mostly used in music, sound design, and niche YouTube communities. Making it easier to record 3D sound directly to your phone could open up the idea to a more mainstream audience. Imagine if every Snapchat you received was recorded in binaural! The immersive quality of 3D audio would literally add another dimension to video on social networks.

Just wait, the binaural wave is coming.

This isn’t Binauric’s first foray into speaker-mic hybrids. Its first product was a Bluetooth speaker and binaural microphone called Boom Boom. Although I haven’t tried OpenEars yet, I have friends who have been playing with Boom Boom and will vouch for both its sound quality and design.

Binauric says OpenEars will be compatible with GoPro cameras, potentially adding an aural dimension to POV extreme sport videos.
Binauric has even created special mics called OpenMics, which can be mounted on a helmet.

Binauric planned to ship to the first 500 backers by November with mass production scheduled for March, but it’s a Kickstarter product, so that may change at the drop of a hat.

One additional downside — because it’s using a unique Bluetooth protocol for processing high-quality stereo audio, it has to use a special app to record. The app is fine, but I want to use these mics for everything: Snapchat, Vine, Hyper-lapse, Instagram, FaceTime, Skype. So even if Binauric’s headphones pan out, my dream of binaural Snapchats is in the hands of phone and app makers who would have to work with this protocol, and maybe one day binaural can reach the masses.