BBC Radio experiments in surround sound
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BBC Radio experiments in surround sound

BBC Radio is launching an experiment that will offer surround sound through standard headphones.

From today, a Christmas service from the BBC archives will be available online in a ‘binaural’ format that creates realistic surround sound through ordinary headphones.

The Radio 3 website will offer a recording of Nine Lessons and Carols from 2007 in binaural sound until the end of the Christmas period. The service was recorded in surround sound as an experiment by BBC engineers and processed to create binaural audio by BBC Research and Development.

Listeners can simply plug their standard headphones into any computer with a stereo output and then stream the specially processed audio, which should make them feel as if they are hearing the music from speakers around them, not just their headphones. There are six different surround settings to choose from, to suit different types of headphones and head shape.

Tim Davie, Director of BBC Audio & Music, said: “We have stepped up our innovation within the BBC so that listeners can enjoy an even better experience of radio. If successful, our intention is to offer surround sound on a whole range of BBC programmes. This is part of an exciting series of trials such as HD Sound, and personal control of crowd versus commentary audio during events such as Wimbledon.”

Rupert Brun Head of Technology BBC Audio & Music said: “This experiment is an attempt to enhance the standard ‘stereo’ sound headphone users have had for over 50 years and, although it is only a trial at this stage, if listener feedback is positive it could offer a significant improvement to audio quality in the future.”

The trial is part of BBC Radio’s continuing innovation in audio, including the launch of HD Sound, the Wimbledon NetMix experiment and ongoing trials of ‘3D Sound’ technology.

This year’s ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ will be broadcast live on Radio 4 on Christmas Eve and will also be available online in HD Sound.

0 2 831 22 December, 2011 Industry News Thursday, December 22nd, 2011


  1. Alex @ Kall Binaural Audio

    I’m so glad BBC is bringing back some binaural audio to listeners. Even with a “faux binaural” set like this recording uses (re-recording the original quadraphonically, and capturing it binaurally for headphone playback), the added sense of space is great.

    Looking forward to more binaural content!

  2. Dallas Simpson

    The problem, as I see it, is that the BBC wants to extend its formats to surround, but has to find the cheapest solution by recording for a speaker format to stereo and 5.1 surround sound (possibly using Soundfield technology to source the speaker surround recording for live concerts, and 5.1 mixes direct from stereo/mono sources for drama?). Then, and this is where the problem is, transcoding the 5.1 speaker feed to headphone binaural. This assumes that the 5.1 speaker mix is the definitive spatial experience of the surround sound perception at the performance, i.e. sitting in the concert hall or on location where drama is recorded. So the binaural listener is apparently hearing no more than the 5.1 equatorial (horizontal plane) surround mix, with all the height information and detailed spatial realism missing, and convolved to a virtual room acoustic as part of the HRTF convolution. The result is a total lack of immersive realism of ‘being there’ when the actors performed, or at the venue of the music concert, just the illusion of sitting in a room listening to someone’s 5.1 home theatre system. Binaural audio is a distinct entity quite separate form any speaker feed presentation. The spatial information is captured at the recording stage using dummy / live head techniques and then when replayed over headphones gives stunning spherical periphonic 3-D surround sound with exceptional spatial detail with height and distance under ideal conditions. The result is a direct experience of ‘being there’. Sure, this pure headphone binaural is not easily transcoded to speaker surround sound and vice versa – so why bother introducing transcoding artefacts? Just keep the two formats optimized for best performance and totally seperate. Then we have two downloads – speaker surround sound, headphone binaural.  So, at the risk of slightly oversimplifying, but being eminently practical, at the concert venue, or for the radio drama, simply set up a Soundfield mic and a dummy / live head and record the two versions simultaneously at source. Press record. Action! Job done.I was involved in some surround sound recordings of concerts at a Cathedral in the UK some 10 years ago where we did just that and produced a multiformat release – speaker surround and binaural headphone versions of the same concert. And the critics perferred the binaural headphone surround hands down. Food for thought perhaps?

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