recording for headphone listening only?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by rfreez, Jan 24, 2008.

  1. rfreez

    rfreez Active Member

    is it true that the binaural technique is the optimal two microphone technique to use when making a recording which will be played back exclusively on headphones? how does blumlein compare with binaural when listening back on headphones?

  2. Gib

    Gib Active Member

    It is a great technique that will translate Very Well to listeners using headphones to hear the end product. However, I have experimented with the Neumann KU-100 Binaural Mic. (I dont own one however, they are very pricey) I tried it out on stuff like ambiance sounds and sound effects. I also placed right behind drummer for a cool "fun mic" in addition to the multi mic setup on the drums. I found that mixing that in with the drum sounds was a cool effect depending on what you are going for. Just watch out for phasing issues in that scenario. lol

    So imo, it isn't only for media that is headphone exclusive, but does a nice job on it for when it is. If you can build one, which i will one day(dummy head and 2 omni capsules etc) that would be a fun toy
  3. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Binaural recordings can be amazing, especially if you were not there for the original recording and so you don't know what was *actually* happening and where things *really* were in the soundstage.

    Whether it's the optimal technique for headphone playback is another question. Is any technique *optimal* for everything? For headphone playback, it would depend on what you're trying to create, or where you're trying to take the listener.

    Ignoring any issues of reproduction through loudspeakers (your post refers to heaphone listening only, of course), binaural techniques can generate confusion between front and back. A sound that occurred in front of the dummy head (or whatever you use) can be perceived as being behind the head on playback. I have noticed this quite often with binaural recordings.

    That aside, for headphone playback there is no other technique that images like binaural - a good binaural recording can be quite scary, with left, right, front, behind, up and down all clearly defined. Wow!

    Have you heard any binaural recordings? There are a couple of famous ones, notably the barbershop/haircutting recording, and the shaking matchbox. But on both of those, to my ears at least, the subject tends to spend a little too much time behind my head. I am sure the original performance was happening with much more in front of the binaural pair...

    Gordon Hempton is quite famous for his award-winning dummy head recordings of natural environments, which he calls, appropriately, 'sound portraits'. You can check them out here:

    On his recordings I sometimes hear prominent sounds occurring behind my head and wonder if they were meant to be in front of me instead... But that's nature recording, where things are happening in 360 degrees, so the only way to know for sure is to be there at the time. Otherwise, it becomes purely a matter of whether you like it behind your head or not!

    I very much enjoy listening to Blumlein through high quality open audiophile headphones - especially if the recording is made solely for headphone listening and you have a good space to record in. The out-of-phase nulls on the sides of the Blumlein pair create an incredibly lush and spacious effect in headphones.

    It doesn't image anywhere near as well as binaural, however, but it can be impressive and pleasing in its own right.

    I got much joy from listening to my Royer SF12 (and later the SF24) through Sennheiser HD600s while setting up to record string quartets in concert halls. But I also learnt that if the sound was lush and spacious in the headphones, it would almost certainly be too reverberant over speakers and I'd ultimately have to move the microphone closer. I often lamented the fact that few, if any, people would get to enjoy that particularly lovely experience.

    On this topic...

    I am constantly impressed with how well my Schoeps MS pair creates a sense of reality in headphones when decoded at 1:1. I often let people listen back to a recording, particularly one with street noise or similar in the background, and watch them take the heaphones off and put them on again, taking a reality check - was that passing car real, or in the recording? I think that is a characteristic perhaps more unique to the Schoeps MS pair than to MS in general, and is probably due to a happy matching of the off-axis responses in their cardioid and bidirectional microphones. I certainly don't get the same effect with MS on other mics; it seems unique to the Schoeps. Other Schoeps users here will probably confirm that - Schoeps seems to do MS particularly well. Perhaps their off-axis responses allow them to do MS as it is meant to be done?

    The SASS-P from Crown also gives good results in headphones, but doesn't get much coverage here...
  4. rfreez

    rfreez Active Member

    simmo, thanks for the (as usual) patient and helpful reply. i have an enquiry from a 'wellness center'... a sort of high end recovery and recuperation spa for people who've had difficult health situations. they are, in fact, looking for 'music therapy' based productions... i have hooked up with someone who has studied the effect of different ragas (musical modes) on the physical and mental health of subjects... in my opinion, the results are nowhere near conclusive, but the way i'm looking at it, it can't hurt for a person recovering from a serious illness, to listen to beautiful, peaceful music.

    the headphone aspect is my twist, in context. being that its probably going to be impractical to have separate listening rooms with high end sound systems, in the given situation, my intuition is that a pure, minimalist recording made specifically for headphone playback will serve the purpose best. another reason for the choice of making recordings exclusively for headphone playback, is rather selfish... in that it is the USP in my proposition... if i can sell the concept, it opens up possibilities for production of new material... otherwise, there are plenty of recordings out there claiming to induce peace and 'wellness'.

    if this additional information prompts any ideas or pointers, please bring 'em on...
  5. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    I got involved with something like this back in 1992. I was engineering and a composer friend of mine was writing the music. For Westerners, at least, I learnt some interesting things. Certain sounds that we may consider 'relaxing' are, in fact, highly evocative - such as pan flutes. We put together a couple of hours of very nice 'new age' style relaxation music based on keys and tempos suggested by the client, but much of it was using pan flutes and similar sounds. The client politely explained that, as nice as the pan flute is, it is simply too evocative for this application. The music had to relax people, not take them to another place, or space, or whatever. It made sense to me at the time, but it wasn't immediately obvious.

    I am not sure how that relates to ragas, but perhaps there is something in the choice of sounds to consider there. The tabla, for example, is a very vocal instrument and I'd imagine the player would have to limit its vocabulary appropriately...

    ...and here's my twist. For a couple of years now I've been saying that headphones are far more relevant than speakers these days. Everywhere I look, people are using iPods and similar with headphones. I am certain that there is far more music being consumed via headphones than there is via speakers. Many people are making their music purchasing decisions using headphones as well. For these reasons, I anticipate a 'switch' from speakers to headphones in mixing and monitoring, simply based on relevance to the market.

    Most engineers still have the attitude that it must sound good on the studio monitor speakers, and then it will sound okay on headphones as well - the headphones always play second best, as if they are minor consideration. But I think that attitude is past its 'use by' date. Just take a look around at how people are consuming music - making it sound good on headphones ought to be the priority these days, with speakers being the lesser consideration.

    Also, anyone who has spent some time with headphones will know that there is so much more you can do with a mix if it is primarily for headphones. In addition, headphones also allow amazing things like binaural recordings to be integrated into the mix...

    I am not sure whether or not I'll ever buy another pair of high quality studio monitors. I think it makes more sense in this day and age to invest in two or three pairs of headphones - something like Stax electrostatics or Sennheiser HD650s or similar for the absolute reference, and then a pair of iPod earbuds or similar for translation (how it will sound to most listeners, rather like the way we use the NS10). A pair of small active two-way monitors, nothing too expensive or lavish, will suffice as the speaker 'test' pair.

    One of the wonderful things about mixing for headphones is that it takes two layers of room acoustics out of the equation. The acoustics of the control room (where the mix is made) become irrelevant, as do the acoustics of the listener's room. As an engineer, not having to compensate for these things allows a bit more certainty in your work...

    I may have said this before, but I reckon there's a great opportunity for a boutique record label to start making audiophile recordings specifically for headphone listening. It could be marketed as: Recorded for iPod, Mixed for iPod, Mastered for iPod. These don't have to be direct-to-stereo recordings, either. They could be multitrack recordings, incorporating all kinds of things that work well on headphones - whether they work well on speakers or not won't be much of an issue because fewer and fewer people listen seriously to speakers any more, yet with headphones on the mix really does have their attention.

    But anyway, I'm steering off into another direction here...
  6. JackHenry

    JackHenry Active Member

    As an aside to this subject, when recording for headphones, what headphones should you use during the recording process.

    What pair of headphones ''in the field' gives the best or most realistic reproduction???

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