By Evan Ackerman
No matter how many channels your home theater system puts out, the simple fact is that with two ears a piece, we only hear things in boring old 2-channel stereo. It’s pretty amazing, then, that we’re able to tell where sounds are coming from in such detail. We can do this thanks to our clever brains, which know what our ears and head are shaped like and use that information to decipher the locations of sounds which are heard slightly differently by each ear.
This is the principle that binaural recording is based on, and why crazy looking microphones like this one from Otokinoko exist. The idea is that if the stereo microphone is shaped like a head, it’ll hear (and record) sounds in exactly the same way your ears do. Then if you play the recording back through a regular pair of stereo headphones, your brain will be able to reconstruct all that yummy directional information and it’ll sound like you’re listening to something live and in person.
That’s the idea, anyway. In order to reproduce the ideal effect, the head and ears of the listener have to be the same as the head and ears of the microphone. And, it only works with stereo headphones, not with speakers. Here’s a sample on YouTube. This particular binaural mic costs $3899, but if you paint a face on it and give it a silly hat, you can make up some of the price in giggles.