Audio is in the midst of a renaissance. The new iPhones now come standard with stereo speakers, Bluetooth headphone sales have surpassed those of wired, Apple has removed the headphone jack, Podcasts audiences are doubling by the MONTH and the rise of virtual reality content has both brought binaural audio, a century old audio format back into the spotlight and introduced a new one: 3D Sound.

Binaural Audio: The Sound of the 21st Century

The way we create and consume sound on our mobile devices, desktops and home theaters is changing. It’s important to understand the difference between these formats since one might be better used in your story than others. Not every interview wants to be recorded in binaural, but not ever podcast wants to be recored in mono.

1. Mono

One of the most widely used formats out there, mono (meaning one) audio is single channel audio. With mono, all audio is sent through one channel for playback. For example, if you are listening to mono audio on headphones, you will notice that whatever you hear in your right earbud, you will hear in the left earbud. That is because your headphones are playing back the same single channel audio file into both earbuds. You won’t hear the drums in your left ear, or the guitar in your right. Everything will just sound like its right in front of you, evenly dispersed through both earbuds. Your iPhone’s built in mic captures mono audio. Hear the difference below:

 

2. Stereo

An upgrade to mono, stereo audio is 2 channel audio. With stereo audio you can localize audio sources to the left and right when listening, but not above, behind or below. Most of the music you listen to on Spotify or shows you watch on netflix have been mixed in stereo so that you can have drums mixed to the right, or sense a character walking on from the left of the screen. Hear the difference below:

 

3. Surround Sound

Companies like DTS, Dolby Digital and THX invented surround sound technology for commercial and home theaters. Surround sound is mainly seen as a mixing process and playback experience. An engineer in a studio can take several mono and stereo audio files and use a computer program to create a surround sound mix. Once this surround sound mix is created, it can be played back through a surround sound speaker system. Surround systems can be anywhere from 5.1 (5 speakers, one subwoofer) to 7.1 to 21.1, all depends on how many speakers you want to mix for during the mixing process. Once more, companies like DTS and Dolby have created algorithms that home theater receivers license. When audio passes through one of these receivers that licenses the surround sound tech, the receiver digitally splits it to the surround speakers in your room. FUN FACT: When playing Hooke Audio Binaural 3D Audio through a home theatre receiver, it will actually disperse to all of your speakers in surround sound. Think of the Hooke Verse as a surround sound capturing microphone.

4. Binaural

An upgrade to stereo audio and much more accessible format than surround audio is binaural audio. Binaural audio is sound captured identically to the way we hear the world. When audio is captured with a binaural microphone like the Hooke Verse (www.hookeaudio.com), it is capturing the exact location of every sound source and where it is in relation to the recordist upon capture. When you listen back to binaural audio recording on any 2 channel system (so any pair of speakers, any pair of headphones) you will feel like you are there in the moment, hearing it identically to the way the recordist did when they were capturing it. Hear for yourself (recommended with headphones on) and for more info on binaural audio, see here: https://hookeaudio.com/blog/2017/08/08/binaural-audio-the-sound-of-the-21st-century/

5. 3D Audio

The newest and least defined format in the world of audio is 3D Audio. Virtual Reality has brought about this format as most audiences in VR experiences want the sound to move around them as they explore virtual environments just like the visuals do. 3D Audio can be created in a variety of different ways, if you’re designing a video game or animated VR film, you will use a computer program to artificially place sound sources in an environment so that when the audience member explores the environment, those sounds are present. If you’re capturing live action video, you’ll want to use a binaural or ambisonics mic then a computer program to burn that audio to your VR video so that when an audience member experiences the video, the sound moves with them.

Complete List Of Every Company Who Makes 3D Audio Mics, Headphones, Engines (Updated Monthly)

The History (and Future) of 3D Audio

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below. Record on!

From One Ear To Another,

Anthony Mattana
Founder, Hooke Audio