A Binaural Microphone For The Great Outdoors

A binaural recording is designed to mimic as closely as possible the experience of listening through human ears, and thus binaural microphones are often shaped like the human head with the microphone cartridges placed where the ears would be. That’s not the only way to make a binaural microphone though, and the Crown Stereo Ambient Sampling System, or SASS, did the same thing with a pair of pressure zone microphones for outdoor recordings. [Filip Mulier] doesn’t have one of the originals, but he’s done his best to make a SASS-like microphone of his own.

The attractive thing about this design is its simplicity, making use of foam sheets for the main body, with packing board as a rain deflector and a couple of layers of non-woven cloth as a wind filter. Perhaps best of all though are the recordings, in which we hear ambient recording at its finest. Listen with headphones, we suggest the dawn chorus.

If binaural recording and stereo interests you, we’ve taken a closer look in the past.

15 thoughts on “A Binaural Microphone For The Great Outdoors

  1. Best set of binaural mics I made are a matched pair of small electrets hacked into a set of earbuds. Gets the mics in the right position surrounded by correct (ish!) human ear and head geometries. Stealthy too.

    1. My own hack was to attach the electrets to the legs of a pair of eyeglasses, with the mics close to and pointed at ears. The cords from the mics looked like a retaining cord for the glasses, so these were also stealthy — well before the age of the ubiquitous earbuds. For those who have never listened to a binaural recording — you should try it. The effect is uncanny. With headphones and earbuds being used now more than ever, you would think this recording technique, especially for live performances, would be more common.

      1. I have some mid-to-high-end in ear monitors and a good headphone amp that are truly amazing and sound better than nearly any non-audiophile stereo set up. Dollar for dollar best money to spend on gear. BUT. Spend about 10x more on a real stereo and the extra bit added by your own ears is transformative. I totally agree that “mixed for EarPod listening” should be a thing. I guess confirmation that people don’t actually care about music sounding , well, good. The market has spoken.

  2. Since 1881 the audio version of VR. Clement Ader went on to make airplanes. The Jules Chéret Théâtrophone! Lots of advanced ideas in the late 1800’s. The main reason this not commonplace is the engineering to be done is nil, just pick the best seat and record vs. monkey around and get paid. That and speakers in a room vs. phones. Holeywood has done a lot of damage as well to mess around with odd numbers of channels.

    I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I have an AKG head that I replaced the dynamic mics sunk into the neck connected by long canals to the sides with electret mics level with the surface. The mic pickup shouldn’t have twice the pathway for the total path. I need to integrate binaural to a HD camera that has stereo mics in a thumb sized pickup that someone gave me. This project is a quick way of doing this if not to hollow out my older styrofoam wig stand head model for the camera.

  3. Hmmmm….. I have been thinking about this, and wonder, “Could a full 8 channel 7.1 microphone be made?” . Yeah, 8 mics, 2 for the front, 2 for the sides, and 2 for the rear, 1 for the center, and 1 for low frequency effects. All mics are recorded on 8 separate channels. The final 8 channel recording then could be encoded to Dolby 7.1, and played out on a standard home theator system.

    1. In most cases the low frequency channel can be derived from other mics, either the center or the fronts.

      The reason that speaker systems have a low frequency channel is to limit the number of big boxes in a system. Deep base speakers cannot be both small and efficient. The same limitation does not apply to microphones, because microphones do not have to be efficient.

  4. I did a version of his in 2001 using my own head as the dummy head. I got a couple little lav mics from Radio Shack and stuck them in my ear canals (facing outward, of course).

    I hadn’t heard of binaural recording at the time, I just was trying to figure out if it was possible to record something and be able to hear if it was behind you. I figured the shape of the ear had something to do with that ability.

    I was recording to mini stereo cassette tape, and the hiss is pretty bad. Although it was not possible to hear if something was behind the listener, it was still a pretty cool sounding technique.

    Here’s me rollerblading around the French Quarter of New Orleans, 2001. I love how one piece of sound or music fades naturally into another as I move around the streets, a kind of nature’s mixing board.


    1. It’s fairly well known that our hearing “radar” fails at about a 90 degree sector behind us. Sounds heard there will sound like they are in the front sector. All of this depends on a 0 to 800 microsecond delay. Multiple reflections can enhance the awareness of the rear as such, but outdoors in a field it’s minimal.

    1. electret – dumb spelling “corrector”…
      The low noise cartridges are Primo EM172, but I bought them a few years ago- I think there’s a lower noise cartridge available from them now.

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