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Surrounded by sound: how 3D audio hacks your brain



For decades, binaural recording was a novelty, and overlooked for less technically demanding methods. But with the rise of virtual reality hardware like the Oculus Rift, Sony’s Morpheus, and Samsung’s Gear — systems dependent on realistic 3D audio to fully immerse their users — binaural audio is on the cusp of a renaissance.

Binaural recording systems are unique because they emulate the workings of the human head. The architecture of our anatomy dictates how we understand the sounds we hear: with an ear on either side of a thick skull and spongy brain, we hear sounds enter our left and right ears at different times. If a dog barks by our left ear, it takes a few extra microseconds for the bark to reach the right ear; the sound will also be louder in one ear than the other. In addition, sound waves interact with the physical constitution of the listener — the pinna (or outer ear), the head, and the torso — and the surrounding space, creating listener-specific variations otherwise known as head-related transfer function. The brain scrutinizes these miniscule interaural differences of time and strength in order to localize sound with immaculate precision.

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That sounds crazy cool.

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