The concept of binaural recording itself is nothing particularly new. Unlike traditional stereo recording mic placement techniques (capturing left and right signal), binaural recording takes into account the natural spacing between our ears. The idea is to obtain a three-dimensional image of the sound being recorded so that the listener experiences the audio as if they were in the original space. Binaural recording is achieved by using a dummy head from a mannequin, fitted with a microphone in each ear. Recording this way captures the subtle time and level differences between the two sides. Headphones are the ideal playback environment to reproduce the spatial effects accurately.
Simply placing microphones facing away from each other 18 or so centimetres apart, to simulate the approximate distance and placement of human ears, will not create a real binaural recording. Actual binaural recording usually involves two hi-fidelity mics mounted in a dummy head using ear-shaped molds to fully capture the frequency adjustments that occur as the sound is wrapped around the human head, and influenced by the size and shape of the ears.
Over the years, there have been various attempts to facilitate remote binaural recordings using the recordists head, with clip-on binaural microphones attached to headphones. As simple as this sounds, the results were usually less than stellar. Smartphones, arguably, are the modern-day standard vehicle used for music consumption and are typically paired with either wired or wireless earbuds. Given the preponderance of Smart Phone recording software, we have the perfect storm for simple, accurate, and natural sounding binaural recordings.
Enter the Hooke Verse from Hooke Audio. Hooke Verse is a set of wireless in-ear Bluetooth earbuds capable of recording and playing back 3D binaural audio. It works wirelessly on Android, or iPhone, as well as on GoPro and DSLR cameras via a wired connection. The package ships with everything you need, including a cable for wired recording, various sized memory ear tips, two microphone windscreens, a charging cable, and downloadable recording software to capture both audio and video simultaneously. Additionally, the packaging itself is designed with perforations and folding guides in place to construct a binaural dummy head. With the microphones built in opposite the in-ear speakers, wearing them while recording guarantees accurate binaural sound capture.
Of course, they also function as standard Bluetooth earbuds for regular music playback. I always seem to have trouble getting earbuds to stay comfortably in my ears. It’s essential to maintain a relatively tight seal, to enjoy the full frequency spectrum they offer. A quick change to the smaller size foam ear tips solved that problem nicely.
I tried them with a variety of tracks in different genres on my iPhone. The response felt a little light in the low end to me, but that’s not unusual for listening devices of this form factor. The mids and highs were crisp without being tinny or strident sounding. The overall tonal balance and blend were very pleasing.
I often find learning all the functions on these sort of small multi-touch devices to be less than intuitive. Happily, the simple fold-out instruction booklet with pictograms accompanied by short boldface instructions and simple descriptive text was a snap to figure out. Powering the unit on and off and pairing with your device is a simple affair of holding down the main button for a few seconds and monitoring the state, and colour, of the embedded light. The app, happily, is also intuitive to use, with easily accessible on-screen help. Battery life is 8-9 hours for recording or 9-10 hours of playback. That’s more than enough to capture any live performance; including sound check and breaks!
Using their own proprietary dual channel Bluetooth recording codec, Hooke Verse streams 16 bit 44.1 kHz audio over Bluetooth with under 1ms latency. Binaural imaging is accurately decoded by our brains and ears as we listen back in stereo. To test it, I brought to a friend’s loft to record some jazz. The loft has exceptionally high ceilings that result in a lovely beautiful natural reverb. The Hooke Verse captured the ambiance in stunning detail. The fidelity captured by the microphones is surprisingly even and high quality.
Listen to two examples in this video. The videographer wore the Hooke Verse for binaural stereo audio capture. Despite turning and moving throughout the space, the beautiful stereo ambiance is always present in the recording in all its glory. I experimented with Logic Pro X, where EQ was added to sweeten the blend of the instruments played. But the fidelity was all there, to begin with from the Hooke Verse capture. You can’t bring out what isn’t there. The EQ merely enhanced what was already present in the recording.
Recording a live drum set up close was no problem for the Hooke Verse at its default input levels. Simple on-screen sliders are used to raise the level for quieter sound. I used a gain plug-in and limiter in Logic, to control the output level. The limiter set to only grab the peaks, with no threshold level dialled in to enhance the volume.
Hooke Verse is a well-engineered device. Hooke Verse might not be my first choice solely for music playback, but that’s more to do with the fact that I prefer the fit of regular headphones compared to earbuds. They truly shine, however, when capturing stereo recordings. I have to admit, the quality of the audio capture was better than I expected, given the size of the microphones. These things work as advertised. Combined with an iOS device with lots of space and battery power, they make for the perfect mobile recording rig. And all with no cables!