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Understanding the binaural audio genre in 4 critical clips

Reach for your most expensive headphones.


Luke Winkie


Posted on Jul 19, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 8:10 am CDT

Binaural audio is probably the biggest endorsement of our brains on the Internet. You take two sensitive microphones, set them up in the same place your ears would be, and create a scene. Viewers at home can put on their headphones and be immediately transported to wherever you’re taking them, all through the power of audio. 

Our ears are diverse, complex molecular machines that can track ridiculous amounts of information without us even noticing. Binaural audio exists for us to celebrate our latent super power.

This is probably something better experienced than explained, so let’s start with a classic. If you were a real head, you might remember this from the early ‘00s off of O.G. aggregators like ebaumsworld. It’s a virtual haircut. Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and enjoy the next five minutes.

Pretty cool right? Binaural audio can feel like legit magic at its best, and with the rise of YouTube there are literally hundreds of people crafting new experiences. Here’s Ephemeral Rift, who spends a solid hour touching, brushing, and prodding a pineapple lined with microphones, which is far more enthralling and relaxing than it has any right to be.

These binaural videos are the cousins of another, equally weird YouTube scene called ASMR. That’s short for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” which basically means any sound that triggers a tingling sensation up and down your spine. You’ve probably experienced some form of ASMR before, my best example might be the soothing exhilaration during a check-up or massage.

Of course the Internet is all about escalation, let’s check out Heather Feather’s binaural ASMR hour-long opus, “Tap Scratch Fever.”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that lady is making a living touching things and whispering. Pretty weird right? It only feels weirder when you put on your headphones and realize how much you’re enjoying it.

There are also people out there who use binaural technology to craft “binaural beats,” which allegedly use tones and sounds to resonate with our brainwaves and lead to lucid dreaming. It sounds a lot like that pseudoscientific website, I-doser, which seriously advertised hours-long audio tracks that build “heroin highs,” and “orgasms” thanks to the power of “delta waves” or whatever other vague buzz terms they were using. 

I don’t know if it works, but maybe try this video next time you sleep and see what happens.

Isn’t it great we live in the 21st century where every subculture, no matter how niche, is fingertips away? Not everything is bad y’all.

Photo via carolynwill/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 

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*First Published: Jul 19, 2015, 10:00 am CDT