If you’ve ever tracked drums in a professional recording studio, you are familiar with the concept of a stereo pair. Two microphones, often splayed at 120 degrees a few feet above a drummer’s head designed to capture a pristine stereo image of the entire drum set. When you listen back, you’ll hear the crash on the right side and the ride on the left. We do this in order for the listener to hear what the drummer is hearing during recording.
My question is: if we want to hear what the drummer is hearing, what are we doing placing the microphones 3 feet above his/her head?
The Best Drum Mic? You’re Freaking Head
We don’t hear 3 feet above the drummer’s head, we hear FROM their head. And there is one type of microphone that allows us to hear EXACTLY what the drummer is hearing: a binaural microphone. Hear what I mean:
Doesn’t that sound like a better stereo pair? What’s more impressive is that it was done completely wirelessly with the Hooke Verse.
Every artist is trying to bring the listener into the room with them. Every artist wants to capture their instrument identical to how it sounds. The sound of an instrument is completely dictated to the way our ears and HRTFs hear that sound. If you want to capture that instrument like you hear it, you must use a binaural microphone.
What Is Binaural Audio? How Does It Work?
Binaural or Binaural 3D audio is audio 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):
The Best Albums Recorded in Binaural Audio
From his early recordings with the Velvet Underground to his restlessly innovative solo career, the late great Lou Reed was always ahead of the curve. As Brian Eno once said, even though the Velvet’s 1968 album White Light White Heat sold just 30,000 copies in its first five years, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”
White Light was a deafening, maniacal assault on the senses, the likes of which had never been heard before. It was met with crickets. But eventually White Light paved the way for punk rock, indie rock, and pretty much every other genre of noise-driven rock you can name. Now, with more and more musicians exploring the limitless potential of 3d audio, a lesser-known aspect of Reed’s pioneering legacy is coming to the fore.
In 1978, Reed released Street Hassle — the first commercial pop album recorded in binaural audio. A binaural recording produces a more immersive listening experience than the standard stereo mix by accounting for the space between the ears, which affects the way we hear, well, everything. When played back through headphones, binaural audio makes you feel like you’re in the same place where the recording was made.
For Street Hassle, Reed recorded live renditions of his latest material with a dummy head outfitted with a microphone lodged in each ear. But his record label, Arista, was expecting a studio record, so Reed had to make certain compromises (like eliminating most of the crowd noise). Plus, headphones were clunkier and a lot less common back then. As with White Light, it would take a little while for other artists to follow Reed’s lead.
Reed went on to record two more albums in binaural, 1978’s Live: Take No Prisoners and 1979’s The Bells. The Rolling Stones picked up the binaural torch, then passed it to Pearl Jam. And in May, Perfume Genius released a critically acclaimed album recorded entirely in binaural. With the VR industry betting big on live concert experiences by Beck, Coldplay and Eric Church to drive headset sales, immersive 3D audio is now on the cusp of going mainstream.
But here’s the thing: VR headsets are only designed for consuming content, not creating it. As we’ve said in this space before, today’s most revolutionary tech innovations inspire us to both create and consume. Unless you’re a major VR production company with millions in financial backing, you probably can’t afford the type of recording equipment that’s used to produce a VR concert.
Reed’s dummy head rig was expensive, too. But nowadays all you need to record in binaural audio is a pair of wireless 3D audio headphones incorporated with microphones. As part of our ongoing Hooke Live Sessions series, we’ve recorded more than 60 bands and solo artists in binaural. Check out those videos and the groundbreaking albums below — we hope it’ll all inspire you to create your own immersive recordings.
And if we left out any binaural album that deserve a place on this list, please let us know about it in the comments.
Lou Reed, Live: Take No Prisoners
Upgrade To The True “Stereo Pair”: YOUR EARS
If you care about capturing your music identically to the way it sounds on stage, in the studio, or in the field, you should consider recording it in binaural audio. Your ears and the ears of your listeners will thank you. #soundmatters
From One Ear To Another,
Hooke Audio Founder and CEO