Public history

The Failure of Binaural Stereo. Sound Engineers and the Introduction of Artificial Head Microphones

In 1973, binaural stereo was introduced to the German public during the International Broadcasting Fair in Berlin. Based on the development of artificial head microphones, binaural stereo provided facsimile sound recordings that enabled listeners, when listening with headphones, to experience the spatial acoustics of the original recording situation. During the fair, Berlin-based radio station Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) broadcast the first binaural radio play. Radio listeners and journalists praised it for its “super stereo” quality and highest fidelity, and expected that the future of radio would be three-dimensional. Despite this remarkable echo, German broadcasting stations were somewhat reluctant to adopt binaural stereo, and many sound engineers rejected to deploy artificial head microphones. They referred to certain technical shortcomings of binaural stereo in general, and available microphone models in particular. Based on contemporary publications, sources from broadcasting archives, and oral history interviews, this paper argues that recordists’ outright rejection of binaural stereo – its failure to be adopted in industry - was rather grounded in their listening and recording ideologies than in actual shortcomings of artificial head recording technology.