Chesky Goes Binaural

With the release of their first Binaural+ high-resolution downloads, Chesky Records and HDtracks intend to take music lovers one step closer to the real musical event. Made possible by work that composer David Chesky, founder of Chesky Records and cofounder of HDtracks, has been doing at Princeton University with Dr. Edgar Choueiri, Chesky's Binaural+ downloads make possible the playback of binaural recordings on both headphones and a pair of loudspeakers.

The Binaural+ masters are captured in high-resolution (24-bit/192kHz) sound using a Binaural head or Kunstkopf nicknamed "Lars," who has specially calibrated microphones placed where his ears would be. (To explain the process, Chesky has posted two short videos on the Web here and here.) Not only does Chesky Records claim that Binaural+ downloads enable headphone listeners to experience three-dimensional sound and imaging; they also contend that those listening through a pair of speakers will experience "even more spatial realism . . . bringing you one step closer to the actual event."

To make evaluation possible, the label has followed the release of an all-drums-and-percussion disc, Explorations in Space and Time, available as 16/44.1, 24/88.2, and 24/176 downloads), with its first Binaural+ demonstration disc, Dr. Chesky's Sensational, Fantastic, and Simply Amazing Binaural Sound Show. Currently available for download at HDtracks in 16/44.1, 24/96, and 24/192 FLAC formats (a CD version was promised for later in the summer), the recording comprises 18 tracks of music and 8 of sound tests, several of the latter designed to test the bass response of headphones.

"We want to capture a performance and put you there," David Chesky told Stereophile by phone. "These recordings have the spatial feel of actual performances because we record only in concert spaces: churches, halls, and other real, three-dimensional spaces."

As Stereophile contributor Steve Guttenberg elaborates in the liner notes, the ambience conveyed by Binaural+ recordings is real, not artificially simulated. Recordings are captured using only the two B&K HD 4100 mikes in Lars's ears, with the dummy head placed farther from the source than is usual with close-miked recordings.

The sessions were recorded in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at the Hirsch Center (formerly St. Elias Church), and in Manhattan's Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Because no processing was used, not all tracks are pristine—Lars was clearly having a bad day during the Choir of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament's performance of J.S. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," which is afflicted with a lot of electronic noise—but most of the tracks, including Amber Rubarth's wonderful "Storms Are on the Ocean" and some fabulous Dixieland jazz—sound stellar in every respect.

I'm not a regular headphone listener, so I'll leave the final word to Tyll Hertsens, editor of our sibling online publication Inner Fidelity. However, I found the spatial realism of the Binaural+ recordings quite convincing, and can say with certainty that listening to the same recordings through speakers yielded some of the most convincing hi-rez, two-channel sound I've ever heard.

In explaining the origins of the Binaural+ technology, David Chesky said, "Ralph Glasgal has a place called the Ambisonics Institute, where he's been working on crosstalk filters from a theoretical perspective. Choueiri went from there, and developed the BACCH [Band-Assembled Crosstalk Cancellation Hierarchy] filter, an amazing filter that operates to audiophile standards."

Professor Choueiri writes that BACCH "refers to the mathematical technique I developed to design optimal crosstalk filters that are free from spectral coloration (ie, the filters do not affect the tonal content of the audio). The basic technique is described in detail in a technical paper that can be downloaded from my lab's website" (the 3D3A Lab at Princeton University).

"In the future," says Chesky, "when these filters are made available in consumer products, audiophiles will be able to decode binaural recordings out of two speakers and make them sound truly three-dimensional. I have the technology here, and it's blowing me away. In the meantime, we have recorded our new Binaural+ series with filters that allow you to play them on loudspeakers."

Chesky contends that we're used to listening to standard two-channel recordings and letting our brains fill in whatever sense of space is missing. In the future, he says, you'll be able to listen through a pair of speakers and feel as if you're actually in the original recording venue.

"Surround now sounds like a hula hoop—you experience the perimeter of sounds around you, but they lack realistic density. Once the BACCH filters are available in commercial products, we'll be able to really put you into space, where sound has density. This will be the next generation for playback. But for now, it will blow you away on headphones, and sound really good on two-channel stereo systems."

In addition to Dr. Chesky's . . . Binaural Sound Show, future releases in Chesky Records/HDtracks' Binaural+ series include Explorations in Space and Time, with Lenny White, Jamey Haddad, and Mark Sherman Wycliffe; Gordon's New Orleans Project, with Wycliffe Gordon and band; and folk singer Amber Rubarth, accompanied by David Eggar.

"I'm going to do all new Chesky recordings this way," says Chesky. "We've done this two-microphone stereo thing for 50 or 60 years. We need to start doing things differently. I absolutely believe we can put you right in the center in Carnegie Hall, with all the perspective and density of the live experience."

dalethorn's picture

I got the Chesky download. Two of the tracks I got (FLAC format) will not play in Foobar2000 or Windows media player because they're 4-channel, the Bach and Mozart CCBS recordings. I contacted Chesky after the purchase about this, but got no response. I tried everything I could to get a FLAC plugin for Windows Media player, no luck. No luck finding a plugin for Foobar2000 either for 4-channel playback.

A few of the tracks that do play are:

Amber Rubarth: A nice acoustic ballad.
Organ Pedal Scale: Tracker organ? There's more growl than low frequency weight in the low notes.
Bach/D'Agostino: Decent but rather relaxed recording of Toccata & Fugue in D minor.
Bach/Eggar: Cello suite - it's just cello.
Mozart/MCE: Divertemento in D - nice string ensemble.
West NY Spirit Choir - This Little Light of Mine: This is where I get the best sense of real space, and it might be because I hear this type of singing live - this format - more than the other samples here. Excellent.
Westside Jazz Quartet - Westside Blues: Low-key straight jazz.
White/Sherman/Haddad - Tranquility: Get the download for this if nothing else. A real treat. There are moments of real surprise when certain sounds occur - you think it's somewhere not in the recording, but in your room.
Wycliffe/Gordon - Back Home Again in Indiana: Dixie jazz. Good tuba, trumpet, banjo(?)

This might actually sound better on a good loudspeaker setup. It probably is also better on a good open-back headphone than closed-back.

wkhanna's picture

I run the same files from my NAS with no issues through my system via speakers (i have no cans).

It is configured using ASIO4ALL v2 as the driver.