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Are 7.1 surround sound headphones possible?

  1. Jan 13, 2015 #1
    I am very much into video games. Day Z, Battlefield and stuff like that. In these games it is important to have good headphones so you can hear people sneak up on you, but recently, I have seen ads for 7.1 Surround Sound headphones that actually have multiple drivers in them so that the sound emits from multiple directions.

    I was immediately sold but in doing more research about the topic, I am now on the fence as to rather I think humans can actually pinpoint sound emitters based on ears alone, or if the brain creates our scene of where sound came from based on many factors that surround sound headphones would not aid any more than stereo headphones.

    On one hand, I hear that the shape of the ear, distorts sound that comes from the front and sound that comes from the back to help you ID the direction of the emitter but on the other hand, I hear that your brain uses your eyes and head motion in combination with your stereo hearing to compute where the sound came from.

    This morning, I was over the fence and was ready to buy a pair, but at lunch a few of my coworkers and I performed the experiment where one person closes his/her eyes and another snaps his / her fingers in-front or behind their face, turns out that no on at lunch would get the source 5 out of 5 times correct.

    When they snapped their fingers behind my head, I thought I even felt the wind on my face from the finger snap and yelled "FRONT!" just to hear people snicker and later find out that it was behind my head.

    Now I am back on the fence and I have a hard time not jumping down on the side that 7.1 headphones are BS.

    Can ears without head motion and without visual feedback get more than left and right volumes and distance? Can we tell if a sound comes from the front or the back?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and looking forward to your answer.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2015 #2
    I'm sure ear funnel plays a good part at an angle where the cone receives waves directly, but alas like you said on the centerline it could be front or rear and its hard to tell the difference. If the sound is directed inside a cup surrounding your ear and you could directly proportion the intensity to sound from "the rear of both ears" would sound drastically different than "the fronts", making it way better efficiency and quality than room systems which have room acoustics to "mess it up"
  4. Jan 13, 2015 #3
    Your question lies within the field of psycoacoustics. Hearing is complex and is dependent on many factors both within the head and related to the sound source. Basically, we can tell sound direction by the phase difference between when the sound arrives at each ear. I look at the fact that what ever the sound or from whatever direction, it ultimately strikes the eardrum, of which we have but one for each ear. So if we are able to determine direction (even behind) it is because of brain processing of the ear drum induced signal. If this is true, then only one transducer should be required for each ear. This is the basis of the "sound bars" now sold with tvs and has been Boses approach to sound creation for a number of years - trying to create large sound stages from speakers only a few feet apart. I would suggest that you obtain a DVD with audio calibration tracks - used to setup home theater systems and listen to them through both single and multiple transducer head phones.
  5. Jan 14, 2015 #4
  6. Jan 14, 2015 #5
    Thanks for the reply, in conclusion, we were told that the brain has a hard time figuring out the sound if it is something like a snap or a beep but we did another test with a voice recording of "Hello" in front and behind the person and it was always guessed right. It was not the cleanest test as some of the subjects mentioned they could hear me move the phone from one side to the other but the results where much better than the snap.

    I am now back on the fence and considering buying the 7.1 gaming headset.

    Thank you.

  7. Jan 14, 2015 #6


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    Directivity of hearing is weird and does better than you'd expect. Binaural stereo can be absolutely stunning with apparent vertical information and front/back seems to be resolved. If the model head that's used for making the recordings is the same as the listener's then it seems to do even better. But there is a difference between getting an impressive sensation of surround sound and being able to place a sound image accurately. But that can be a problem in real life, too. I have been wearing the dreaded deaf aids for a few years and my directional awareness is completely up the spout. A car starting in the road in front of me can often sound like it's behind me. But, on a bus, sometimes, I feel like Superman as I listen to a hushed conversation way at the back of the bus when I face forward. (Never heard anything spicy, though!)
  8. Jan 14, 2015 #7
    Thank you that is very interesting, In my case, it will not be recorded with the model head but it will be sound effects that go off in 3D space around my character so it will be very real 3D sound.. or as well as the game engine can do. Which is usually really awesome. When you watch people who are really good at counterstrike play, it almost looks like they are cheating, they are running and pointing their gun at a wall because they can hear people around them and as soon as they emerge from the wall they get shot, . IF 7.1 headpones are a thing, then it would give people an even better advantage if they have it.
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