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£100k project to understand how the brain hears 3-D sound

Listening vertically as well as horizontally -- Dr. Hyunkook Lee aims 'to do for the ears what 3-D cinema has done for the eyes'

University of Huddersfield


IMAGE: A University of Huddersfield researcher is poised to develop new technology that offers the ultimate listening experience. The £100,000 project aims to do for the ears what 3-D cinema... view more

Credit: University of Huddersfield

A UNIVERSITY of Huddersfield researcher is poised to develop new technology that offers the ultimate listening experience. The £100,000 project aims to do for the ears what 3D cinema has done for the eyes.

It could mean that in the near future, filmgoers, music lovers and home cinema enthusiasts will more easily be able to experience three-dimensional recorded sound. This is perceived vertically as well as on the horizontal plane - horizontal being the sole plane with conventional 2D sound - leading to an experience that completely envelops the listener.

Dr Hyunkook Lee is a Senior Lecturer in Music Technology in the University of Huddersfield's School of Computing and Engineering, and he has been awarded a grant of £100,077 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for a two-year project entitled Perceptual rendering of vertical image width for 3D multichannel audio.

"If you are at a live concert you hear sounds from everywhere, including reverberation and reflection from the ceiling," explained Dr Lee, "but conventional surround sound systems are limited because they are effectively two-dimensional. 3D means you have an additional height dimension."

The new, two-year, EPSRC-backed project aims to arrive at a psycho-acoustical understanding of how the human brain perceives vertical sound.

"We know how we perceive sound horizontally very well, because we are so used to stereo and surround sound, but the height dimension is the new thing," said Dr Lee.

He aims to develop software that renders the characteristics of 3D sound. It would be an "upmixing" system, so that studio engineers or home listeners could convert 2D recordings into 3D.

But first, Dr Lee must conduct a series of tests, so that he can arrive at a greater understanding of how humans perceive vertical sound. To do this, he has secured the services of one of the world's top experts to design a critical listening room that will be installed at the University of Huddersfield and equipped to the highest audio industry standards.

Once it is complete - by the spring of 2015 - a panel of trained and selected music technology students will act as the "ears" of Dr Lee's project.

Installed in the listening room, they will hear recordings of music, assess the quality of the sound and provide perceptual patterns that can be analysed by Dr Lee, who will be assisted by a postgraduate researcher for the project.

Dr Lee is convinced that there will be a burgeoning demand for 3D audio - and there are systems capable of playing it - but there is a need for more content, so that sound catches up with vision. His research aims to speed up this process.

"The 3D version of Avatar is very popular, but its audio is still 2D. So we need some new technology for making 3D audio."


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