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Radio 3 in binaural sound

Whether quality of sound is important to you when listening to classical music, or you simply enjoy being up close and personal with the actors during a radio drama, here's how we've been recording many of your favourite Radio 3 programmes using binaural sound technology.

What is binaural sound?

Binaural sound recordings allows you to experience an immersive spatial audio impression of events when listening on headphones. It differs from stereo sound, which creates an impression of a soundscape inside your head, and mimics, instead, the natural hearing cues created by our brains and ears, when they aid us create a three-dimensional sound map of the world we live in.

This type of listening experience can often be found in cinemas where 3D sound has been around for a while. It’s also increasingly utilised in Virtual Reality experiences with 360˚ video landscapes. The plan, then, is to bring this technology to your headphones for a richer sense of space in the radio programmes you might normally consume through your devices.

Why it matters

In the last few years there has been a large growth in the number of people listening to programmes over headphones. This is largely thanks to the arrival of powerful smart phones, fast mobile data networks and services such as the BBC iPlayer. Currently all audio we hear over headphones is in stereophonic format, the same content that we play over loudspeakers. But listening to stereo programmes over headphones gives a flat impression with sounds coming from inside the head. Binaural techniques can be used to create a richer sense of space in programme sound, giving a more exciting and immersive listening experience.

How it works

Binaural techniques simulate the hearing cues created by acoustic interaction between our bodies and the environment around us. Recorded audio signals are filtered to introduce these cues and give the impression that a sound source is located outside of the head at a given location in space. Every person has an individual pattern of hearing cues that are the result of the unique shape of their head, shoulders and overall stature. Binaural filters have historically created unconvincing spatial impression, however, and often resulted in poor sound quality. Achieving high quality binaural sound currently requires careful measurement and specialist equipment and adapting this for convincing broadcasting has required an approach that uses new techniques which are based on a better understanding of human hearing with careful measurements that approximate the average human head as well as specialist recording equipment.

You can read more about the binaural mixing process here.

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Listen to Alice Oswald's poem Rain in binaural sound

Inspired by a rainstorm, prize winning poet Alice Oswald recites her new commission Rain.

Hear the results for yourself

While the effects vary between listeners, we’d invite you to have a listen for yourself using normal or in-ears headphones. Make sure, though, you wear them correctly for the binaural effect to work properly - with the left earphone on your left ear and the right earphone on your right ear.