Ed's note: This Saturday's Play on Radio 4 is Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful, dramatised by Simon Reade. Directed on location by Susan Roberts, there are several different audio versions of the drama in surround sound available to download. Here Audio and Music's head of technology outlines the different listening options and how to get them - PM.

    Following our successful experiment offering A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in surround sound at Christmas, we are now giving you the chance to hear a drama in surround sound. This time it will be available to download.

    There are two versions of Private Peaceful to try, one is designed for use with normal surround sound speakers and the other gives an impression of listening on surround sound speakers using normal headphones.

    To find out more about Michael Morpurgo's play Private Peaceful, visit the programme page.

    To listen in Surround Sound on speakers

    You need to download the audio file of the play and player from the internet by following these instructions, then install the player on a Windows PC connected via a surround sound card or HDMI cable to a multimedia amp or "home cinema".

    Once you have accepted the terms and conditions you will be able to install the player.

    When you've downloaded the player or the audio file, connect the surround sound output from your computer to the amplifier input using separate leads or an HDMI lead, then just drag and drop the downloaded audio file onto the player and it should play.

    The special player will only work for the two weeks we are running this experiment, after which it will stop working and you should uninstall it. After the experiment, you will still be able to play the audio in stereo using a variety of media players.

    To listen in Binaural Sound on headphones

    You will need to experiment to find out which one works best for you; it will depend on the shape of your head and ears and the type of headphones you are using.

    Once you have downloaded the audio, you can play it on your computer or put it in a mobile mp3 player or smartphone to take with you and enjoy at any time. There is no time limit on the binaural version and it should play on most devices but if you switch to a different type of headphones you may find you need to use a different binaural version of the audio

    Strange though it may seem, different versions may also be affected by the size of room you are listening in and this is one of the properties we are seeking to examine with this experiment.

    We'd like your feedback

    We welcome comments on this blog, but if you have a question please check the FAQs first. We would also like you to complete the short survey to help us understand how the experiment worked for you; it covers both the loudspeaker and headphone experiments.

    Find out more about the feedback we had from the last surround sound experiment with Radio 3's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

    Rupert Brun is head of technology, BBC Audio & Music

    Tagged with:


    All posts are reactively-moderated and must obey the house rules.

    with your BBC iD, or Register to comment and rate comments

    • Comment number 27. Posted by ChrisV

      on 7 Mar 2012 17:09

      I listened to this play in surround using my speakers. I can only say how impressed I was and how I have waited some 35 years to hear once again a play in surround on the radio. I listened to plays such as The Tempest (also King's College Festival of Carols) in Matrix H Quad and they were splendid to hear. So it was amazing to hear this play really come to life in surround. I note that one comment here does not want to have surround for fear of losing the focus on the play. The reality is that broadcasting a play or programme in surround allows us all to benefit, those who want to listen in mono or stereo and those who want to enjoy all of the amazing benefits that surround brings, for benefits there are. It is the same with music as well as speech, surround offers the ability to be far more immersed in the production, to hear far more of the detail that in the programme and have a real sense of place with the ambience that surround offers. It also adds a dimension to allow the director to be creative, it is like adding 3D to sound and creates a more involved listening experience.

      It is really refreshing to see that surround is being seriously explored and will offer us real choice bringing us into the 21st century in our listening experiences. I look forward to more forays into surround sound on the radio. Would it be possible to dust down some of the archive quad programmes from the 70s and broadcast them again?

    • Comment number 26. Posted by dallas simpson

      on 27 Feb 2012 10:33

      Thanks to Rupert Brun for clarification of the 'binaural position'. However, regarding: "...but this only works well if, at a single location, you can create the sound you want the listener to hear. For much of our output this isn’t possible – we need to mix in pre-recorded effects or use additional microphones positioned to make a specific sound clear. This is in part why we are experimenting with binaural rendering of the sound rather than binaural recording."

      - I have produced and created complex binaural drama productions using mixes of binaural material recorded in a variety of locations including binaural sound effects (even underwater) and additional stereo / mid-side and mono material for 'inside the head' placement against 'outside the head' binaural spatialisation for dramatic effect. And including movements of particular sounds into and out of the listener's head. See also Planet B binaural trailer!

      I reject the premise that you can only create 'true' binaural recordings with sound effects and complex mixes 'at a single location'. If you would like me to demonstrate these techniques, or offer demo recordings I would be happy to do so.

    • Comment number 25. Posted by Rupert Brun

      on 21 Feb 2012 17:24

      The experiment is now finished and the audio is no longer available. The blog has been left open until 27th February to collect any further views and answer final questions. If you have already downloaded the binaural sound you can still play it, but the player for the MPEG loudspeaker surround will no longer work for licensing reasons.

      To answer Pete Suthers’ point, the audio for the experiment was available for two weeks from the date I started the blog on the 3rd of February but the "normal" podcast was not available until the 10th of February. We will make this clear in future experiments and I apologise for the confusion. The feedback about the desirability of some means for the user to assign channels to sound card outputs within the player is also noted.

      Rupert Brun
      Head of Technology for BBC Audio & Music.

    • Comment number 24. Posted by Peter Suthers

      on 18 Feb 2012 17:59

      Yet again the BBC shoots its self in the foot.
      I stumbled upon this today, 18th Feb, folowed the link to download the binoral versions, this took me to the Podcast page which states that the recording is avaialble for download for 14 days, but also states "no episodes of the podcast are avaialble", when I last worked it out 10th +14 days = 24th! What is the point of carrying out these experiments if the listener cannot partisipate?
      I have downloaded the 5.1 version, but have to re-wire my sound system to listen to it as I use outputs 3-8 on my PC for surround, and the player does not have facilities to select which outputs I use.

    • Comment number 23. Posted by Rupert Brun

      on 14 Feb 2012 21:21

      Thanks everyone for the comments so far, please do also follow the link to the survey https://bbcarp.org.uk/survey/index.php?sid=72671 so that we can get some statistical information to go alongside your comments here.

      I'm sorry for the confusion caused by the normal podcast not being available for the first week of the experiment. "Play of the Week" podcasts are available on the Friday following transmission and I should have made this clear.

      Regarding the binaural debate I would like to explain a little more about why we are doing the experiment this way.

      It's certainly true that recording with a "dummy head" or putting the microphones in the actors' ears can create a wonderful sense of “being there” but this only works well if, at a single location, you can create the sound you want the listener to hear. For much of our output this isn’t possible – we need to mix in pre-recorded effects or use additional microphones positioned to make a specific sound clear. This is in part why we are experimenting with binaural rendering of the sound rather than binaural recording.

      As Dallas Simpson and others have pointed out, head shape and size along with the type of headphones are important in creating an effective binaural presentation. Our experiment with “Nine Lessons and Carols” at Christmas focussed on this, presenting the same mix rendered for 3 different head shapes and 2 different types of headphones. The current experiment is looking at other factors which affect the listening experience. There isn’t a “BBC Policy” for binaural sound at present; we are genuinely experimenting here and nothing we do in these experiments should be taken as an indication that a particular technique or technology is preferred.

      I’m also very keen to get your feedback on the MPEG surround loudspeaker presentation, unlike the binaural versions which work with almost any player, you need to hook your computer up to a surround sound system and download the special player. If you do have the technology to do this please give it a try and let me know what you think. Surround sound for TV isn’t exactly new but I’m would like to hear what you think of drama reproduced over a 5.1 setup when there are no pictures on the screen. As the MPEG version is backward compatible you will also be able to enjoy the play in very high quality stereo using this version, even after the experiment is finished and the special surround sound player stops working.

      Rupert Brun
      Head of Technology for BBC Audio & Music.

    • Comment number 22. Posted by Chris

      on 14 Feb 2012 09:37

      I listened to Private Peaceful last night and was "blown away" at the sheer audio quality achieved with binaural. The positioning of all the actors was just incredible, and when the explosions occured they really did make me jump.
      I listened to P.P.from an Ipad which was connected to an Arcam Neo Solo and listened with pair of Sennheiser HDR 180 headphones.
      As a disabled person who has time on their side(and listens to a lot of radio drama) I was able to experiment with the different versions and the best version for my particular set up was version 4.
      I know this was an experiment, but if this is the direction radio drama is going I can't wait.
      Well done BBC for bringing new,innovative technology to us.

    • Comment number 21. Posted by dallas simpson

      on 13 Feb 2012 06:50

      Thanks to Simon Tuff for the feedback. Binaural versions 3 & 4 seemed similar with 4 possibly the best for me.
      Re: "It may also appear confusing that we don’t recommend which version of Binaural you should choose but this is because we don’t yet know. The effectiveness of the binaural format, even when recorded with a dummy head, varies depending on the characteristics of the listener’s head and ears."
      Fair point. It is impossible to eliminate this issue. However, the premise seems to be that speaker presentation is the definitive presentation system –'in a room with speakers' according to Anthony Churnside's video - and that the binaural experience should provide a headphone emulation of the speaker surround experience.

      If the above statement of 'the speaker supremacy' actually corresponds to current BBC policy then I feel sure that policies can be reviewed and changed. By default as a human race we had ears long before any sound reproducing technology had been conceived. It would probably be fair to say that headphone listening is on the increase at present with the increasing use of portable players in a variety of forms.

      In terms of listening experience your own research indicated: '60% of the respondents agreed that their preferred version of the service sounded like they were at the event, 87% agreed that their preferred version sounded spacious.'

      Binaural recording of a live event fulfils these criteria admirably – literally the experience of being 'at the event', without the necessity to mix down to speaker surround 5.1 sound then re-convert the speaker surround, with its inherent spatial limitations notably lack of vertical information, back to binaural.

      Sure, we still have the real and complex issue of the variability of individual head/ear/body morphology, and of the influence of headphone type - whether the listener is using in-ear, open or closed headphones and so forth. But I would rather see the BBC dealing with those issues from the perspective of pure sourced binaural productions. Please can we have some pure binaural productions to assess, without having to refer to speaker surround production values reproduced binaurally.

    • Comment number 20. Posted by Alan Wheatley

      on 11 Feb 2012 10:55

      The first time I have listened on headphones to binaural, so interesting to hear it working.

      As to the versions, by far the most effective way of comparing the versions was to listen to the test tones in sequence. I could not tell any difference between 3 and 4, both of which were better than 1 and 2. In all cases the LFE channel was at very low volume, which I guess is due to the analogue output stage of my Apple lap top computer.

      Headphones are good quality over-ear Sennheiser.

      As to the play itself, the surround effect was not much apparent - certainly nothing like as obvious as with the test tones.

    • Comment number 19. Posted by Simon Tuff

      on 10 Feb 2012 20:09

      Thanks to every one for all these comments. They are greatly valued and will help us understand where we might go with spatial audio in the future.
      Firstly apologies for any confusion about how to find the standard stereo Podcast for all those of you who just wanted to get straight to the story as usual. Because Private Peaceful is the Play/Drama of the week it only appeared as a “standard” Podcast today (Friday the 10th) despite being broadcast on the Saturday the 4th of February. Friday is the day when we make the new Play of the week Podcast available and unfortunately this has left us with nearly a week when our experimental versions are the only Podcasts to be found. I can see this is confusing and I think we need to look at this.
      It may also appear confusing that we don’t recommend which version of Binaural you should choose but this is because we don’t yet know. The effectiveness of the binaural format, even when recorded with a dummy head, varies depending on the characteristics of the listener’s head and ears. So thanks to those who complete the questionnaire as that will helps us to work out how to optimise binaural as a listening experience for the largest number of people.
      We are also sorry the MPEG surround file won’t play on many home cinema systems and is mostly bound to the PC at the moment. We are using MPEG surround for a number of reasons including its audio quality, its bit rate efficiency and the fact that if you don’t have an MPEG Surround player it should work in stereo! If our experiments are successful we will certainly look at making spatial audio available in more ways and more formats but for the time being we are limiting ourselves to ensure we keep costs down.
      This comes to my last point. One of the reasons for these experiments is to make sure we can manage the complexity of these new formats, whilst maintaining quality and keeping costs down. Our intention is to make great content better and not to increase costs or reduce the amount of radio we make!

      Simon Tuff - BBC Principal Technologist

    • Comment number 18. Posted by Paul Murphy

      on 10 Feb 2012 13:01

      Hello all

      Private Peaceful is this week's Play of the Week podcast so for seven days you can download the podcast of the broadcast version here:



      Paul, Editor of the R4 blog

    More comments

    with your BBC iD, or Register to comment and rate comments

    More Posts