Are binaural recordings higher quality than normal ones?
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endallchaos

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I really don't know where to post this. I'm sorry if it's in the wrong place.
 
Okay, I know this sounds like a dumb question, but yesterday, I downloaded my first Binaural recording (Burst at The Seams by Polar Knights). I played it on my 598's, and it sounds great! What I was wondering is if the binaural recordings are better quality than a normal ones, or is it just sorta like an illusion, because of how it was recorded?
 
The song details:
 
Kind: ALAC
Bit Rate: 956 kbps
Sample Rate: 44.100 kHz
Sample Size: 16 bit
 
 
It's pretty much the same as my other ALAC files, but it just sounds better, that's why I'm asking the question/s above. I'm still sorta of a noob, so yea...
 
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brhfl

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A binaural recording can be just as well- or poorly-made as any other. The difference is simply in the mic technique - one that imitates a human head. This in itself goes a long way to reproducing an accurate sense of space and all, and in general a lot of folks seem to prefer recordings made with simpler techniques like this, or other single-point methods. It's worth noting that the mics used are pretty expensive, so you're probably not dealing with a bunch of amateurs slapping together a binaural recording. All in all, there are reasons that these will tend to sound good - but one could still royally screw up a binaural recording if one wanted!
 
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Better is subjective. Typically, it's a lot easier to capture a recording with a mono mic. You don't have to worry so much about mic placement or the subject moving around and changing the stereo image. To record stereo for music, they typically use two mono mics spaced apart or double up on the mono track in stereo, mixing L/R differently to achieve spatial effects. Binaural recordings, on the other hand, are like mono in that there is a single recording location and like stereo in that there are two channels, but in order to mimic the human perception of sound the L/R channels are placed close but not directly together (sometimes even in a fake head). You can see more pictures here to get an idea. The benefit to binaural recordings is that since they mimic the human perception of sound, they provide a lot more depth/spacial cues based on the differences in sound reaching the L/R mics separately. Your ears are tuned to capture distance and depth information based on sound delays, reverb, frequency changes, doppler effect, etc. and a binaural microphone setup can capture that information (hence all the 3d talk) whereas a mono or dual mono setup cannot.
 
The downside is it needs to be done with absolute precision. The singer or instrument needs to stay dead center for the recording, the microphone setup needs to recreate human perception accurately, and there can be very little deviation from the ideal setup. In my opinion, a binaural recording can be annoying if done badly, or immersive if done well. The problem for me is that they are too often tempted to make silly effect with the panning, moving voices or instruments left to right or vice versa. If they're not willing to keep things centered, and use binaural to create depth rather than panning effects, i think they should leave it alone.     
 
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Another problem with binaural is that everyone has their own variation on ear/head physiology that may or may not match up with the recording dummy / mic placement.  Go here to hear the difference in various placement options:
http://recherche.ircam.fr/equipes/salles/listen/sounds.html
For me there are some that really capture movement in both planes (left/right, front/back), while others just seem to pan L/R only. Recordings tend to use some kind of reference dummy, like the one here:
http://sound.media.mit.edu/resources/KEMAR.html
This means that if your specific physiology doesn't match up with the dummy, you might not get the full perceptual benefits from binaural recordings (and they could possibly sound worse to you than a standard stereo option).
 
Still, it's either binaural or multi-channel if you want to capture front/back and top/down movement. Multi-channel has the advantage of being viable for both speakers and headphones, if you're willing to use HRTF software/hardware for headphone listening. This also allows you, in theory, to apply HRTFs specific (or at least better adapted) to your own physiology.
 
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endallchaos

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  A binaural recording can be just as well- or poorly-made as any other. The difference is simply in the mic technique - one that imitates a human head. This in itself goes a long way to reproducing an accurate sense of space and all, and in general a lot of folks seem to prefer recordings made with simpler techniques like this, or other single-point methods. It's worth noting that the mics used are pretty expensive, so you're probably not dealing with a bunch of amateurs slapping together a binaural recording. All in all, there are reasons that these will tend to sound good - but one could still royally screw up a binaural recording if one wanted
 
 
  Better is subjective. Typically, it's a lot easier to capture a recording with a mono mic. You don't have to worry so much about mic placement or the subject moving around and changing the stereo image. To record stereo for music, they typically use two mono mics spaced apart or double up on the mono track in stereo, mixing L/R differently to achieve spatial effects. Binaural recordings, on the other hand, are like mono in that there is a single recording location and like stereo in that there are two channels, but in order to mimic the human perception of sound the L/R channels are placed close but not directly together (sometimes even in a fake head). You can see more pictures here to get an idea. The benefit to binaural recordings is that since they mimic the human perception of sound, they provide a lot more depth/spacial cues based on the differences in sound reaching the L/R mics separately. Your ears are tuned to capture distance and depth information based on sound delays, reverb, frequency changes, doppler effect, etc. and a binaural microphone setup can capture that information (hence all the 3d talk) whereas a mono or dual mono setup cannot.
 
The downside is it needs to be done with absolute precision. The singer or instrument needs to stay dead center for the recording, the microphone setup needs to recreate human perception accurately, and there can be very little deviation from the ideal setup. In my opinion, a binaural recording can be annoying if done badly, or immersive if done well. The problem for me is that they are too often tempted to make silly effect with the panning, moving voices or instruments left to right or vice versa. If they're not willing to keep things centered, and use binaural to create depth rather than panning effects, i think they should leave it alone.     
 
 
  Another problem with binaural is that everyone has their own variation on ear/head physiology that may or may not match up with the recording dummy / mic placement.  Go here to hear the difference in various placement options:
http://recherche.ircam.fr/equipes/salles/listen/sounds.html
For me there are some that really capture movement in both planes (left/right, front/back), while others just seem to pan L/R only. Recordings tend to use some kind of reference dummy, like the one here:
http://sound.media.mit.edu/resources/KEMAR.html
This means that if your specific physiology doesn't match up with the dummy, you might not get the full perceptual benefits from binaural recordings (and they could possibly sound worse to you than a standard stereo option).
 
Still, it's either binaural or multi-channel if you want to capture front/back and top/down movement. Multi-channel has the advantage of being viable for both speakers and headphones, if you're willing to use HRTF software/hardware for headphone listening. This also allows you, in theory, to apply HRTFs specific (or at least better adapted) to your own physiology.
Oh, I see. Thanks for the info, guys! 
 
 
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Another problem with binaural is that everyone has their own variation on ear/head physiology that may or may not match up with the recording dummy / mic placement.  Go here to hear the difference in various placement options:
http://recherche.ircam.fr/equipes/salles/listen/sounds.html
For me there are some that really capture movement in both planes (left/right, front/back), while others just seem to pan L/R only. Recordings tend to use some kind of reference dummy, like the one here:
http://sound.media.mit.edu/resources/KEMAR.html
This means that if your specific physiology doesn't match up with the dummy, you might not get the full perceptual benefits from binaural recordings (and they could possibly sound worse to you than a standard stereo option).
 
Still, it's either binaural or multi-channel if you want to capture front/back and top/down movement. Multi-channel has the advantage of being viable for both speakers and headphones, if you're willing to use HRTF software/hardware for headphone listening. This also allows you, in theory, to apply HRTFs specific (or at least better adapted) to your own physiology.

As a semi-pro sound engineer, I'm not sure I follow on the set-up needing to accurately mimic your physiology. Most microphones don't come close to mimicking the way we hear (the frequency response extends much higher and much lower and is way flatter), and this is especially true for the small diaphragm condensers typically used for binaural recordings. A ribbon mic is much closer functionally to how we hear but has other limitations that prevent them from being practical.

IMO if the set-up used didn't match your physiology then it would simply mean if you were in the same exact spot of the mics, the recording wouldn't match what you hear exactly. It would still be very very similar. And most people would be very hard pressed to tell any difference. And there's a chance it might actually sound "better". But "good", "bad", "better" and "worse" are perceptual terms anyways. My "this sounds awesome" might be your "omg this is horrid".

But the basic is, most audio engineers strive to capture a recording that is truest to the performance as possible. Especially in live and/or classical settings. And many engineers much smarter than eye have came up with ways to try and accomplish that. Binaural recordings are just one of the methods used.

And fwiw there are some rock/pop concerts these days that are mixed by an engineer on stage. He has in-ears hooked up to a binaural "head" at front of house so he can see how it sounds out front from the stage.
 
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As a semi-pro sound engineer, I'm not sure I follow on the set-up needing to accurately mimic your physiology. Most microphones don't come close to mimicking the way we hear (the frequency response extends much higher and much lower and is way flatter), and this is especially true for the small diaphragm condensers typically used for binaural recordings. A ribbon mic is much closer functionally to how we hear but has other limitations that prevent them from being practical.

IMO if the set-up used didn't match your physiology then it would simply mean if you were in the same exact spot of the mics, the recording wouldn't match what you hear exactly. It would still be very very similar. And most people would be very hard pressed to tell any difference. And there's a chance it might actually sound "better". But "good", "bad", "better" and "worse" are perceptual terms anyways. My "this sounds awesome" might be your "omg this is horrid".

But the basic is, most audio engineers strive to capture a recording that is truest to the performance as possible. Especially in live and/or classical settings. And many engineers much smarter than eye have came up with ways to try and accomplish that. Binaural recordings are just one of the methods used.

And fwiw there are some rock/pop concerts these days that are mixed by an engineer on stage. He has in-ears hooked up to a binaural "head" at front of house so he can see how it sounds out front from the stage.
 
http://recherche.ircam.fr/equipes/salles/listen/system_protocol.html
 
The IRCAM samples come from measurements on various subjects with a range of head and ear characteristics.  The interaction of both the head and the pinnæ with the test tones determine the individual HRIR/HRTF.  So it's not so much that the microphone needs to mimic our ears, it's that the microphone needs to intercept the tones as our ears would.  Thus an HRTF calculated from someone with significantly different measurements than my own might not "fit" exactly right.  This is why each of the sample files I linked to will sound slightly different, with some not really capturing front/back movement at all.  You can hear this even better in games that support OpenAL, as you can compile the IRCAM HRTFs for use with OpenAL.  A well-matching profile will give an amazing surround sense, while other sounds quite "stereo".
 
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I don't think that binaural is better for music. It requires that too many variables all be in line and perfect in real time. The band has to be arranged in the recording venue perfectly. The mikes have to be oriented perfectly. And editing can be tricky if any of that changes as you record. I much prefer a well constructed sound stage, preferably 5.1. That is the most vivid and flexible way to record music. Binaural is good for hair clippers and other test tracks.
 
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Binaural recordings are meant for headphones. 5.1 requires a completely different setup, which the OP apparently is not using. I believe that binaural can be good for many more things than you mentioned, as long as being listened to using headphones exclusively. 5.1's flexibility is similarly limited as it's of no use with headphones.
 
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I think headphones desire more to be speakers than the other way around; speakers mimic our natural interaction with music more realistically.  To me it makes more sense to record for multi-channel, and use HRTFs to get to a binaural setting. A properly mixed surround recording will be naturally transformed by our anatomy, whilst binaural recordings have to approximate that via "average" dummy heads.
 
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  Binaural recordings are meant for headphones. 5.1 requires a completely different setup, which the OP apparently is not using. I believe that binaural can be good for many more things than you mentioned, as long as being listened to using headphones exclusively. 5.1's flexibility is similarly limited as it's of no use with headphones.

Binaural and 5.1 are only for headphones and speakers respectively as you say. But the dimensional sound field of 5.1 is a much more vivid, lifelike and immersive experience than binaural can ever be, just as true stereo speaker soundstage is a much more vivid, lifelike and immersive experience than headphone headstage.
 
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Binaural and 5.1 are only for headphones and speakers respectively as you say. But the dimensional sound field of 5.1 is a much more vivid, lifelike and immersive experience than binaural can ever be, just as true stereo speaker soundstage is a much more vivid, lifelike and immersive experience than headphone headstage.

There's no doubt about that. But people on this forum seem to be interested in headphones for the most part. For reasons other than pursuit of the most vivid, lifelike and immersive experience, of course. Hence the interest in binaural recordings, I suppose.
 
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Cheaper to just get speakers
 
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