Binaural ASMR recordings are quickly becoming the gold standard for ASMRtists. The reason for it is clear for anyone who experiences that tingly ASMR sensation. You can actually feel the difference.
It all started a decade ago with a post to an online forum titled “Weird sensation feels good.” A 21-year-old writing under the handle “okaywhatever” was seeking info on a mysterious sensation that would hit at random-seeming moments ever since he was a kid — “while watching a puppet show….when a friend drew on the palm of my hand with markers…its like in my head and all over my body…I also like to trace my fingers along my skin because it feels good when experiencing the sensation…what is it??” The overwhelming response perfectly illustrates how the internet enables us to share, compare, codify, and better understand our deepest personal experiences, and thereby find common ground. That weird sensation now has a name we all know: ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. And the online community that sprang from okaywhatever’s post celebrated a major milestone a couple weeks ago, when the YouTube personality known as Gentle Whispering became the first “ASMRtist” to hit the one-million subscriber mark.
There are now 4 million videos designed to trigger ASMR. Among the more common techniques are blowing in the ear, turning pages, and feather-light taps on a plastic-backed hairbrush. The sensation tends to begin on the scalp before wiggling deliciously down the back of the neck and through the upper spine, but you don’t have to be a fellow-feeler to appreciate the audio-visual stimuli associated with ASMR. What was once an insular community is now a full-blown pop culture phenomenon. Witness the latest Selena Gomez video for “Fetish,” which was inspired by ASMR. Or Whisperlodge, a New York-based “ASMR spa for the senses” that will soon expand to LA and San Francisco. Or a new 25-minute IKEA commercial featuring a pink Gollklocka pillowcase getting caressed, scratched, and squeezed by disembodied hands as a narrator who accentuates every syllable and elongates every “s” whispers, “Listen to that wonderful chenille fabric, which feels so ultra-soft against your skin.”
To say that sound plays a crucial role in triggering this pleasurable sensation is an understatement. The best ASMRtists are also audiophiles, and together they have raised widespread awareness of a superior alternative to stereo sound called binaural audio. Binaural ASMR, like all binaural recording, captures sound as you actually hear it by employing two microphones spaced to approximate the distance between your ears. Many online videos and audio tracks are marked “Binaural ASMR,” but some of them are actually stereo recordings, which why there’s a sub-Reddit dedicated to “Real Binaural ASMR.” The difference in sound quality is clear. When you play back a binaural recording through headphones, it produces the incredibly immersive sensation of being in the same exact place where the recording was made. It’s a difference you can physically feel.
You can find lots of people talking about microphones on ASMR websites and forums. As of now, the mic of choice for serious ASMRtists is the 3Dio Free Space Pro Binaural Microphone — a dummy head set-up with two life-size molded ears that starts at $599. But we’re excited to see what new directions ASMR videos by pros and amateurs alike will take following the recent release of the Hooke Verse, which is less than half the price of the 3Dio. The Verse is the first (and still the only) pair of Bluetooth binaural audio headphones, with a tiny mic incorporated into each earbud. The Verse pairs with your smartphone and can be connected to a standalone camera. The selfie cam feature in the Hooke app also enables you to record video of yourself in binaural that’s consistent with the reflected image of your left and right ear. Most ASMR videos are staged, and the Verse provides clear binaural ASMR recordings in any controlled environment. But it’s also an easily portable wireless headset that offers more hands-free mobility than any other binaural microphone out there. More than just a tool for triggering ASMR, the Verse has the potential to reveal how it feels in real-time, out in the world, at a moment when we least expected it.
ASMR is another niche in the binaural aspect of sound. Like all of the people and videos mentioned above, it triggers that sense on the back of your neck and down your spine and can send you into a state of relaxation. It helps calm people down and even deal with anxiety, helping people focus on that feeling moving down their body and having their attention elsewhere. It doesn’t even have to be staged or practiced ASMR tricks, either. Sometimes, being placed in another spot helps others by itself. But ASMR is a pop culture phenomenon that is helping society articulate and define what ASMR and binaural are, how they can be used, and even how they can be helpful.