You’ve been able to “see” in 3D since the stereoscope was introduced in 1831. But what about hearing in 3D? Also known as binaural audio, 3D audio has existed for almost as long. It was introduced in 1881 as the Théâtrophone, a call-in system in a theatre that replicated listening from certain sections. Binaural recording allows you to record audio, then replicates all the movements of the sounds and textures you experienced once you hear it in playback.
Say you recorded a video with a GoPro helmet, which recorded footage as you saw it. Now imagine the same for audio — the sounds around you coming in and out of the stereo space exactly as you experienced it. Hooke Audio is a tech company that has designed the Verse, a set of headphones fitted with microphones to “record audio the way the ear actually captures sound.” The Verse is paired with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile app and doesn’t require any special listening equipment — any headphones will do. We spoke with Hooke founder Anthony Mattana to get an earful on the newest in 3D-audio technology.
How binaural recording works
Binaural audio recording works by using two microphones, placed on each ear of the human head. Early binaural recordings used microphones placed in dummy heads to achieve the 3D-audio effect. This effect was used by Lou Reed on Street Hassle, released in 1978 (listen how the strings seem to bounce from the right to center channel). Now, Hooke Audio has developed the world’s first bluetooth binaural microphone. The Verse, in tandem with the Hooke 3D Audio app, utilizes a bluetooth codec that “allows the Hooke Verse to stream multichannel, latency-free, pro-quality sound files over bluetooth to a smartphone,” Mattana explains. “The app also accesses your phone’s camera, allowing you to capture video in binaural, or binaural audio alone,” he adds. “The file is saved on your device, ready for you to share to social media, email, or text. On the other end, all a listener needs is two channels to hear the world like they never have before.”
Defining “3D audio”
There are actually two schools of thought with 3D audio: spatialization, used in VR experiences such as virtual tours, animated movies, or video games; and localization, the umbrella term for binaural recording and listening. Spatialization places sound sources within certain spots of the virtual space, artificially recreating an immersive sound environment. Localization, on the other hand, records audio as the recorder’s ears experienced hearing it. Mattana compares localization to a GoPro video. “It’s POV. It’s immersive; you feel like you’re there,” he says. “In playback, you’re forced into the perspective of the recordist. The same goes for binaural audio.”
The future of immersive audio
“Just like with HD-capture technology, the equipment used to capture immersive audio and video will become more affordable, portable, attractive, and user friendly” Mattana predicts. “Remember that stereo audio is a format, just like binaural audio. Stereo is an entire market made up of companies that allow users to hear and record it in all different ways. Consumers will need a solid year of consumer immersive content before they feel inspired to create in it.” He points out that, as major platforms like Facebook and YouTube make 3D content widely available, the interest to create and produce that content will follow. “Like with smartphone photography, when people begin to experience 3D content in their daily lives, they’ll come to expect to be able to create it themselves, too.”
According to Mattana, many major broadcast journalism stations are in talks to record podcasts, newscasts, and radio programs in binaural audio. With mobile becoming the world’s most popular form of media consumption, creators are prioritizing mobile (and subsequently headphones) for producing content. As Mattana explains, “Formats like 360 video and binaural audio will soon be the standard, much like HD and stereo sound are today.” In addition, Hooke Audio has expanded into another market — some members of the blind community have used binaural mics for years, and are excited to be using this technology on their smartphones now. “For blind users,” Mattana says, “binaural is everything. It’s their photography and so much more.”
The hope for Hooke Audio is to make microphones become as accessible and portable as headphones and video recorders in a consumer base appreciative of great sound. “We want people to care about sound and change the way they record the world. We want them to understand it’s not just a supporting cast member. Sound matters, and it’s time we start delivering on that promise.”