3D Sound and Virtual Reality

3D Sound – or more accurately – “binaural” sound has been around since 1881. Since the 1950s the word has been often misused when referring to stereo fields. So, what is binaural sound?

Binaural recording is a method whereby two microphones (often with an omnidirectional pickup pattern) are placed roughly 7” apart to achieve a 360 degree sound field. To achieve the most accurate representation of 360 sound, it is best to imitate the listening environment. Thus, a dummy head is used. A dummy head is the shape, size and density of an average human head. Microphones are housed within the head so that the ears help direct the pickup pattern to be perceived as sound would be by a human.

Despite its simple setup and functionality, binaural recording requires headphones for the listener to fully appreciate the 360 degree sound experience.

With the rise in affordable, portable technology over the past 20 years, more people use headphones than ever. Will the availability of inexpensive, quality headphones give binaural sound a second life?

Although that is an open question, the rise in the popularity of Virtual Reality could help. VR requires the use of an optical head-mounted display. It is anticipated that the upcoming retail release or some, or all, of the VR headsets will include or support basic headphone integration.

Sound is a powerful sensory experience, just as important – and sometimes more so – than vision. Immersing yourself in a VR experience without sound is fun, but with sound – binaural sound – it is much more powerful and immersive. What better way to enhance the experience than to pair 360 visuals with 360 degree sound?

So much more is possible now than in the early 1900s, but there are still have a few hurdles for developers to overcome – namely – making sound tracking sync with the immersive visual experience. This is where we are now, and we VR developers are on the cusp of not only breathing new life to an old recording method – we are integrating it into a new technology that those who first experimented with binaural sound could not have imagined.