We have to say straight off the bat that the purchase of a binaural microphone for 3D audio probably won’t be high on the agenda (or even on the agenda at all) for most performing and recording musicians.
But if you have a hankering to record a performance in 360-degree 3D panoramic binaural audio splendor and then play it back and hear sound exactly as it was recorded, then you need a binaural microphone. Using headphones is the best way to experience the sonic soundstage.
You could of course shell out $8,000 on a Neumann KU 100 dummy head, but if that prospect sends your wallet into cardiac arrest then fear not because we’ve bundled together a collection of somewhat more affordable alternatives to satisfy your binaural audio desires and enhance your binaural recordings.
Using headphones, this approach to recording and playing music is often described as truly immersive and that’s an accurate definition. Imagine yourself in the middle of a jazz quartet recording the performance. If the drummer’s behind you, that’s where you’ll hear him or her on the recording. That’s binaural audio. It’s a 3D sound!
But as with everything else in life, there are always choices so we’ve painstakingly researched the marketplace and put six of the most popular binaural microphones under the microscope to help you make an informed purchasing decision and start recording. For those that simply don’t have time to read the review, our top pick is the Sennheiser Ambeo Headset.
Rode NT-USB is ideal for you if you are looking for an easy-to-use mic with great audio quality. But, if you want versatility and flexibility, this is not the one.
What Is Binaural Audio
Everyone knows what binaural audio sounds like, even if they’ve never heard the term before. That’s because humans naturally hear the world in binaural audio. Binaural literally means two ears.
Our hearing is one of our best senses, yet most of us take it for granted. Have you ever thought about how amazing it is to discern the location of a sound without seeing it? I invite you to observe this phenomenon by closing your eyes for a few moments.
As you sit in darkness, sound begins to paint a three-dimensional image of your surroundings. Notice the sounds on your right and the sounds on your left. Then, take in the sounds directly in front of you and then behind. This is all made possible because you have the binaural hearing.
How Does It Work?
Because our ears are separated from one another, sound waves reach each ear at slightly different times. This time difference is instantly decoded by our brain, which then tells us where the sound originated from.
This process is called sound localization and occurs within milliseconds. I’ve written an article with more detailed information on this process. If interested, you can read it here.
From subtle differences in the time received and volume of sounds, our brain calculates the location the sound originated from.
“Binaural” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in our industry. It’s used in everything from ASMR videos to music claiming “life-changing” abilities. So what exactly is binaural audio and how does one record it?
Who Is 3Dio
3Dio is a company that manufactures binaural microphones and accessories. Their unique selling point is that their microphones are mounted in hyper-realistic human ears made of silicone. They claim that this achieves the most realistic, binaural sound in comparison to human hearing.
This claim makes sense to me. The shape of our ears naturally amplifies some frequencies and reduces others. Theoretically, this could be done in post-production with an EQ curve, but using 3D molded human ears is not only easier, it produces better results.
The Main Criteria for Choosing Binaural Microphone
For this binaural microphone review we took four factors into consideration:
- Sound quality: for any audio product, this is always a primary consideration, but for binaural audio it’s absolutely paramount. What are the highs, mids and lows like in your binaural recordings? What are the microphones like for recording and playback? What’s the frequency (Kenneth) response? Are there any sound enhancement options?
- Features: there’s always a degree of subjectivity here, but each of these microphones has features that are designed to enhance the user experience. This review will highlight those features so you can decide if they’re important to you.
- Comfort: some of the microphones in this review are worn in the ear so comfort is an important consideration especially if they are being used over a prolonged period of time. A choice of earbuds is always good as not all ear canals are created equally.
- Value for money: commonly known as bang for your buck. Is what you’re getting worth the price you’re paying?
- Ease of use: what it says on the tin. The simple things in life are often the best.
Top Binaural Microphone
1. Best Overall: Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset
Sennheiser is a name synonymous with high-quality audio equipment so expectations are high for the Ambeo headset. Fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint on the binaural audio front. The 15-22,000Hz frequency response just about covers the entire audio spectrum.
An ingenious design means that the dual earphones are effectively two-in-one devices – they act as high-end earphones for playback but also feature high-quality omnidirectional microphones for recording in 3D for a truly immersive sonic experience.
The earphones are worn over the ear, but the sound is delivered directly into the left and right ear canals via snugly fitting earbuds. Three sizes are supplied for optimum comfort. Each earpiece houses the microphone capsules, protected via external grilles which also offer some protection against wind noise.
For greater sound enhancement, an app is available from the Apple Store and built-in features like dual recording modes (for quiet or noisy environments to avoid clipping), and ‘situation awareness’ (which controls the number of outside sounds you can hear so you can still communicate with your girlfriend/boyfriend/cat/dog should you feel the need to), serve as very welcome additions.
For the jet setters amongst you, Active Noise Cancellation functionality does what it says on the tin. Ideal for reducing engine rumble noise as you jet off on your next vacation or business trip. Don’t expect Bose’s noise canceling performance but it’s really pretty good.
A downside of the Sennheiser Ambeo headset is that currently it can only be used with iOS devices (iOS 10.3.3 or later) with connectivity to said device courtesy of a Lightning connector. That’s it. You can’t connect it to anything else. Word on the street however is that Android compatibility is planned in the near future.
- Sennheiser quality: good low, mid and high-frequency sound separation for true 3D audio
- Easy to use
- Compact, convenient all-in-one construction. The microphone capsules are pretty well protected
- A wealth of useful built-in features like Situation Awareness
- The good phone call quality (yes you can take and make calls whilst wearing the headset)
- Can only be used with iOS devices
- Comfort and quality of sound are largely dependent on how well the earbuds fit
- You have to pay extra for a protective carrying case
- Not the cheapest binaural audio device
- The Control unit is quite large (but you do get used to it)
Consider this product if:
You have an Apple device and like the convenience of a high-quality binaural microphone – or should that be microphones – coupled with an excellent playback device in the same package. The control unit/interface is bulkier than some other models but you do get more functionality.
2. Runner-Up: 3Dio Free Space binaural microphone
The 3Dio Free Space binaural microphone is unlike the other binaural audio microphones discussed in this review. Visually, it’s bordering on the bizarre – largely due to the two silicone ears that dominate its appearance. But these aren’t just for hanging Raybans on. Primo EM172 microphones are embedded into the ears that look and act like their human counterparts.
They ‘hear’ sounds in exactly the same way a person would. 3Dio has many years of experience in the binaural audio recording field so they should know their onions. The Free Space binaural microphone is a testament to that pedigree.
It’s pretty clear, due to the apparent lack of accessories provided in the box that all the development money has gone into the microphone itself – which is reassuring. The Free Space binaural microphone ships with a single 1/8” stereo jack cable and features two switches – bass roll-off and power. One end of the aforementioned cable plugs into the Free Space; the other into a camera, audio recorder, or microphone preamp.
We have to say that the supplied 8-inch connecting lead is pretty short so this could well be restrictive in certain applications. Size sometimes does matter – but you could always use your own lead. A 9V battery provides the power to feed the microphone capsules.
In every respect, this is a pro binaural audio unit. Across its 60-20,000Hz frequency response, the Free Space binaural microphone delivers a punchy, warm sound. From low bass grunt to zinging crash cymbals and singing acoustic guitars, it’s all there.
- Great 3D audio sound and build quality
- Good value for money considering its pro equipment. Expect high-quality binaural recordings
- Very few. More mounting options would be nice
Consider this product if:
You need a high-end binaural audio microphone that oozes professional quality. The Free Space Binaural microphone is fine out in the field, but this would be equally at home in the recording studio.
3. Best for Android Devices: Hooke Verse Bluetooth headphones with binaural microphones
Android users rejoice because this is the only binaural microphone in this review that’s compatible with your devices. It works with iOS as well, and, wait for it, it’s Bluetooth, offering around nine hours of playback time and eight hours of recording time on a full charge.
You’ll need to download the appropriate app from your store of choice to enable the wireless capability, but when compared to arguably its nearest rival, the Sennheiser Ambeo, the lack of wires and unbound freedom is a definite plus point.
Through the said app, you can also, for an additional $4.99, access additional sound enhancement functionality like reverb and delay and gain control. A no-brainer.
While the Hooke Verse won’t win any awards for aesthetics – the left and right ear mounts – which house the microphone capsules – look a bit like your Nan’s hearing aids if we’re honest – the recorded binaural audio quality is excellent with very good spatial characteristics. Unfortunately, the bane of most all-in-one devices such as this is the playback quality which in the Hooke Verse’s case is only average.
With the included recording cable, you can capture 3D binaural audio to any device, even if they don’t have Bluetooth, like DSLR cameras, GoPros, Field recorders, and more. And remember, once the audio is recorded in 3D, it stays in 3D – whether you’re wearing the Verse headphones or not.
The over-ear design won’t suit everyone but six different ear tip options certainly help the cause in this department. On the negative side, the phone call quality isn’t the best and as with all Bluetooth devices, dropouts are always a potential issue. In our opinion, though the unbridled freedom offered by wireless connectivity far outweighs this minor inconvenience.
- Good price for the available features
- Compatible with Android
- Bluetooth freedom and wired capability mean the best of both worlds
- Aesthetics. They’re a bit hearing aid-esque
- Can take a long time to save 4K video
- Occasional Bluetooth dropouts
Consider this product if:
In a nutshell – if you’ve got an Android device and you like the idea of Bluetooth, then this is the device for you. Good value for money too.
4. Best on a Budget: Roland CS-10EM binaural microphones/earphones
Roland gear is legendary in muso circles so it’s good to see the Japanese giant make an appearance in this review. These are extremely lightweight earphones that come with a selection of earbud sizes for optimum comfort and windshields for outdoor use. A standout feature of the CS-10EMs is that they provide combined in-ear monitoring and recording – essentially two functions in one.
To take advantage of both functions, however, you’ll need a suitable recorder. The CS-10EMs need 2-10V of plugin power from the microphone jack on the recorder and you’ll also need a line out/phone output to hear what you’ve recorded. Unlike others in this review, this unit won’t work with mobile phones.
Something like the Roland R-07 or Zoom H2n will do the trick enabling you to record what you hear and then listen back instantly. The real plus point with these earphones is the price. They represent a really cost-effective entry point into binaural audio recording and when you factor in Roland quality, we reckon it’s something of a done deal.
At this price point, there are inevitably compromises – although not too many. We thought the Sennheiser Ambeo headset had the edge in terms of sound with more balanced highs, mids and lows but the Roland offering, with its 20-20,000Hz frequency response, certainly wasn’t far behind. And, they’re kinder on the wallet.
- Awesome price
- Dual operation – record and monitor
- Respectable sonic quality producing good binaural recordings – well it is Roland
- You’ll need a dedicated recorder with the right inputs and outputs
- Not the best signal-to-noise ratio
Consider this product if:
You want to try binaural audio recording without breaking the bank. The quality is fine for the price.
5. Sound Professionals SP-TFB-2 in-ear binaural microphone
Like the Sennheiser Ambeo, the Sound Professionals SP-TFB-2 is a binaural microphone that sits in the ear – but that’s where the similarity ends. The omnidirectional mics in the SP-TFB-2s are fitted with in-ear holders that sit within the pinna – the visible folds on the outer part of the ear – without affecting the ability to hear external sounds whilst recording.
Essentially, this means the microphone capsules are placed where they should be for the best possible results – right next to the ear canal. Everyone’s pinna is different so the recordings made in your own ears will be the most realistic. Once in position, they are very comfortable although getting them there can be a bit of a challenge. Practice will make perfect.
Sonically, the SP-TFB-2 is indeed excellent with good separation and consistency across the frequency spectrum. You’ll need a recorder with plug-in power to use these microphones (Zoom H4n anyone?) and connectivity is via a 1/8” (3.5mm) mini-plug.
There are two sensitivity options available and windscreens are supplied if recording outside floats your boat. A downside with this product however is that to record loud sounds, you’ll most likely need to purchase a separate battery module. Even recorders with plug-in power may not cut the mustard on mega-loud recordings.
And that’s because recording loud and bass-heavy sounds simply require more grunt to drive the condenser mics and prevent distortion. This will effectively double the price but your binaural recordings will thank you for it.
- High-quality sound and separation
- Comfortable to wear (with practice)
- Value for money (even with the additional battery module)
- Inconspicuous (unless you’re using the windshields)
- Additional battery module required for recording loud sounds
- You’ll need a recording device with plug-in power
Consider this product if:
You want great sound, a discrete design, and ease of use. The manufacturer has recognized that not ears are created equally and incorporated the innovative ear pinna design into these microphones to compensate. Despite the additional kit you may need to buy to operate these, they still represent excellent value in our book.
6. Sonic Presence SP15C (USB-C) on ear spatial microphone
The SP15C binaural microphone from SonicPresence is a no-frills spatial sound recording device that works on both mobile and desktop devices. It’s an over-the-left and right-ear set-up but the microphones themselves are located to the front of the ear to facilitate full 360-degree recording of whatever you’re attempting to capture – a musical performance, sounds of nature, or anything else that takes your fancy.
Note that there’s no playback facility on the SP15C. This is a recording device only folks – but it does work with more than 25 audio and video apps across mobile (iOS and Android) and desktop platforms (iOS and Windows).
There’s a full list here but you do get a wide smattering of choices from Garageband and Apogee MetaRecorder through to Audacity, Logic Pro X, and WavePad. Please do check the full list for detailed compatibility information because the device you intend to record on will be a deciding factor here – as will whether you need to record video or purely audio.
Sound-wise, the microphone does a good job of capturing a wide variety of sources and boasts 24-bit/96kHz capabilities so it’s no slouch in the recording department.
But do note this is a USB-C device so it’ll work with iPad Pros (2018 or later) and iPad Airs (2020 or later) but for iPhones and older legacy gear you’ll need the appropriate adapters. And good news for non-Apple protagonists, the SP15C does work with Android devices.
- Decent true-to-life sound reproduction with good spatial sound separation
- Works with multiple platform devices
- Good value for money
- Microphones are located at the front of the ear so you could wear these and earbuds at the same time
- From our research, it seems some glasses wearers find these difficult to put on and take off
- The connecting cord could be longer
- You may well need to buy an adapter to hook this up to your device which is an extra expense (and bulk)
Consider this product if:
You want to dabble in binaural recording inexpensively and need a no-frills earphone to get the job done. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about the SonicPresence SP15C, but there’s nothing bad either. Middle of the road.
Without a doubt, 3Dio microphones are most commonly used by ASMR content creators. However, they are also used by nature field recordists and others wanting to record a soundscape as accurately as humans would hear it.
In any case, the point I want to make here is that the average consumer purchasing a 3Dio microphone is intending to use it to record very quiet sounds, whether that’s the sound of brushing one’s hair or the sound of a quiet dawn chorus.
The reason I emphasize this is because recording quiet sounds is very difficult, and certain specifications are very important in determining a microphone’s ability to record such sounds. Continue to the next section to learn more about these specifications.
When it comes to recording quiet sounds, some microphones are far better than others. The factor that sets microphones apart from one another is noise.
When microphones are turned on, they produce noise that sounds like hissing static. This sound is largely produced by electrons moving around in circuits. Since electrons need to move for electronic devices to work, microphones will always produce some amount of noise.
However, manufacturers can limit the amount of noise a microphone produces by optimizing the electronic components used for low-noise operation. For this reason, the noise levels of microphones vary tremendously.
Noise is an extremely important specification when recording quiet sounds. If a microphone makes too much noise, the hissing sound will be very loud and distracting in the final recording.
The specification to look for the signal-to-noise ratio, is often abbreviated as SNR. SNR values range from 0 dB to 94 dB with higher values indicating less noise.
DPA Releases Binaural Microphone Headset
An increasing number of projects demand “immersive audio.” What does that mean? Well, these new, specialized projects call for “360?” audio that surrounds the listener, giving them the sense of being fully embedded within a soundscape. How is this done? Most of the time this requires delivering recordings produced by Ambisonic or binaural microphones.
An earlier article explored Ambisonic and binaural field recording equipment. Since then, other manufacturers have released 360-capable gear as well. The latest to join them? Danish microphone manufacturer DPA.
Recording Immersive Audio with the DPA 4560 CORE
DPA is well respected. They are known for producing reliable, high-quality microphones with a price tag to match. The sound quality from their microphones is consistently crisp and clean. So, many professionals were thrilled to learn that DPA released a binaural headset microphone last month: the DPA 4560 ($1209).
The 4560s are actually two sonically matched miniature 4060 omnidirectional microphones. The 4060s are popular as lavaliers for recording dialogue. For the field recording crowd, they are commonly used in stealth AB recording. They produce excellent field recordings with surprising depth and clarity for their size.
I have a pair myself and I love them. (You can hear them compared to some other microphones in this Sony PCM-D100 review.) It’s not just me, though. Many pros from the Month of Field Recordist series (year 1, year 2) pack these diminutive microphones in their kit.
The 4560 mounts these 4060s onto a pair of ear hooks based on DPA’s 4266 Flex headsets. The 4060s are covered by a foam hood to provide some wind protection. The headband itself has a clever method of achieving the perfect fit:
Like many other miniature DPA microphones, the cable ends with a MicroDot connector, which requires an adapter to connect with XLR inputs needed for professional audio recorders.
DPA 4560 Audio Recordings
How does it sound? Well, I haven’t tried it myself. DPA has posted some samples in this SoundCloud playlist. None are field recordings, unfortunately. And, the samples are hobbled by SoundCloud’s audio compression. However, the recordings will give headphone listeners a good sense of their capabilities for producing immersive audio.
Possibility for Field Recording
Stealth field recording is difficult. It’s challenging to find a discrete kit that will produce evocative audio without disturbing the social environments that stealth field recordists explore. I’ve tried Røde’s i-XY ($199), Sennheiser’s AMBEO Smart Headset ($199), and a handful of other micro-field recording kits. While their form factor makes them ideal for unobtrusive recording, I’ve found the sound quality for most of them has been disappointing (with the LOM Uši Pro (€120) and Clippy EM172 (£95.80) microphones being exceptions.)
The appeal of the 4560s? They use battle-tested 4060 microphone sound quality in an easy-to-use headset. Just slip them on and you’re capturing the best possible stealth field recordings.
The real question for existing 4060 fans: can the headset mount previously purchase 4060 microphones? If so, it could provide an ideal way to switch between stealth AB stereo and true binaural recording.
UPDATE: DPA do not offer a standalone version of the headset. So, unfortunately, DPA 4060s (or any other microphone) cannot be added to the headset after the fact.
FAQ for What is the Best Binaural Microphone
What is a binaural microphone?
A binaural microphone is a device that records audio in stereo so that it can be played back through headphones or speakers. They are typically used for recording and sound editing.
What are the different types of binaural microphones?
There are three main types of binaural microphones:
- Headset microphones
- Lapel microphones
- Lavalier microphones
Each microphone has its own pros and cons.
What are the features of a binaural microphone?
Binaural microphones are designed to deliver high-quality sound that is delivered in two channels. They are perfect for recording audio-visual content and for gaming.
The microphone is also able to capture sound from both ears at the same time. This enables the user to listen to what’s happening around them, as well as hear their own voice.
Binaural microphones are perfect for recording audio-visual content such as interviews, podcasts, and lectures. They can also be used in gaming settings where you need a high-quality sound experience.
What is the best binaural microphone for beginners?
The best binaural microphone for beginners is the Audio-Technica ATR-3350US. It has a cardioid pattern, which means it only picks up sound coming from one direction, so it’s perfect for recording interviews or conversations in the studio. It also comes with a built-in shock mount, which protects the microphone from external noises like vibrations or bumps during travel or storage.
What is the best binaural microphone for recording vocals and instruments?
The best binaural microphone is the one that you can afford. There are many options out there, but some of them are more convenient than others.
The best binaural microphone will depend on what you want to do with it and your budget. The most important thing is that it has good reviews and great sound quality.
A lot of people choose to use the Sony ECM-CS3/4 or the Audio Technica ATR2100-USB for recording vocals and instruments respectively.
Where can I buy a binaural microphone?
Binaural microphones are a popular choice for recording audiobooks and podcasts. They have a number of benefits, but the most important is that they create a 3D sound experience.
For this article, we will be discussing where you can buy a Binaural Microphone and what it means to have one.
The most common place to buy one is online. You can find them in various stores on Amazon or even on eBay. If you’re looking for something specific, there are tons of websites to help you find the right microphone for your needs.
What does a binaural mic do when plugged into an audio device?
A binaural mic is a microphone that is able to capture sound from both the left and right ear.
When plugged into an audio device, it will give you a 3D sound experience that you can only get when using headphones.
A binaural mic is typically used for recording in game engines and virtual reality applications.
How does a binaural mic work in terms of sound?
A binaural mic is a microphone that is made to be worn on the user’s head. It uses two microphones, one on either side of the ear, which are positioned so that they can pick up sounds from both the left and right ear simultaneously.
A binaural mic can be used in a variety of ways, including recording live conversations and sound effects for movies.
What are the benefits of using a binaural microphone?
The binaural microphone is a device that can be placed in front of the user’s mouth to capture sound. It has two microphones that are separated by a gap of about 3-5 centimeters and are positioned at the ears.
The binaural microphone is great for recording interviews, voiceovers, and personal recordings. It provides a more natural sound than other microphones because it captures the ambience around you in addition to your voice.
Binaural microphones are also frequently used in the film industry because of their ability to record natural sound without any background noise or interference from unwanted sounds.
How can I use this microphone to improve my sound quality?
This microphone is designed to enhance the quality of your voice. Depending on the type of microphone you have, you can use it to improve your sound quality.
Some microphones require that you plug them into a device with a headphone jack and some microphones have their own built-in headphone jacks. If your device doesn’t have a headphone jack, you can use an external audio adapter or headphones in order to use the microphone.
If you are using the built-in headphone jack, plug in your headphones and then turn up the volume on your computer or phone so that it’s loud enough for both of them. You will then be able to hear yourself while recording.
What is the best type of microphone for recording podcasts and voice memos?
The best type of microphone for recording podcasts and voice memos is one that has a cardioid pattern. This makes it easier to isolate the sound source from outside noise, which results in a cleaner, more professional-sounding product.