Tuesday 12 February 2013

Attention Headphone Enthusiasts ...

... here is an album you ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE!  Chesky Records are one of the studios most committed to serious recordings using the "binaural" technique.


Most high quality recordings attempt to capture the illusion of a three-dimensional space using a stereo pair of loudspeakers.  This is possible because the brain can do an amazingly good job of interpreting what it hears in a form which closely approximates what it believes it is hearing.  If we capture the sound in a recorded space using a pair of monophonic microphones, one pointing slightly toward the left, and the other slightly towards the right (a "crossed pair") and we play the result through a pair of stereo loudspeakers, we can do a remarkably good job of re-creating the illusion of the original recorded space.  Variations of this "SoundField" recording technique have been widely adopted by conscientious recording engineers for decades.

Unfortunately, while SoundField recordings can sound incredibly realistic through loudspeakers, when listened to through headphones the perceived spatial imaging goes haywire, for reasons beyond the scope of this post.

There is an interesting solution to this.  Basically, you make a dummy of a human head, including the ears.  Inside each ear you place a microphone.  This is called a "binaural" recording technique.  With this technique, the resultant recordings possess a truly staggering spatial realism when listened to through headphones - far more so than with a SoundField recording via stereo loudspeakers.  The knock on Binaural recordings, though, has always been that the stereo image is totally screwed when listened to through conventional loudspeakers.

Explorations in Space and Time comprises nine tracks, simultaneously recorded using both a SoundField microphone and a Binaural Microphone.  The recordings through the different microphones are presented as eighteen separate tracks, one version of each in SoundField and one in Binaural.

What these Binaural recordings achieve, even when auditioned through everyday headphones, is one of life's great audio epiphanies.  And to hear these through Stax SR007's is an experience tough to adequately describe.

Actually, Chesky describes these recordings as "Binaural+", which apparently adds signal processing to render the recordings as effective through loudspeakers as through headphones.  I will leave you to be the judge of how well that has been accomplished.