Illusonic puts spatial audio for headphones to the test


Illusonic conducted a panel test to find out if there is a preferred method for creating spatial audio.

Virtual surround is hot. That’s thanks to the rise of new technologies like Dolby Atmos and MPEG-H. To make these surround signals ‘experienceable’ through headphones, they must be converted to a binaural signal.

Previously, the results of this were not great. In 2013, the BBC did research on about a dozen binauralizers. The result of that research was not very encouraging: the best binauralizers from those days did as well as downmixing to stereo at best. The Swiss Illusonic wondered what the state of affairs is in the year 2021.

Remaining questions

Various tracks were presented to a panel. Partly as a stereo downmix, partly as binaural virtual surround. A total of 18 listeners reported their findings. In doing so, it became clear at least that none of the participants had a preference for a particular method. What is at least assumed is that level alignment and loudness influence the experience of spatial audio.

Despite the research, Illusonic still has many questions. Among them: is binauralization the most important preference limiting factor for spatial audio formats when using headphones? To what extent does the quality of the original spatial audio source material play a role? Does the relatively low bit rate of Dolby Atmos affect the final quality? And: what is the influence of the quality of the headphones used? Enough material for further research, it seems to us.

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