Although modern headphones have been particularly widely sold and used for listening to stereo recordings since the release of the Walkman, there is subjective debate regarding the nature of their reproduction of stereo sound. Stereo recordings represent the position of horizontal depth cues (stereo separation) via volume differences of the sound in question between the two channels.
When the sounds from two speakers mix, they create the phase difference the brain uses to locate direction. Through most headphones, because the right and left channels do not combine in this manner, the illusion of the phantom centre can be perceived as lost.
Hard panned sounds will also only be heard only in one ear rather than from one side. This latter point is of particular import for earlier stereo recordings which were less sophisticated, sometimes playing vocals through one channel and music through the other.
Binaural recordings use a different microphone technique to encode direction directly as phase, with very little amplitude difference (except above 2 kHz) often using a dummy head, and can produce a surprisingly life-like spatial impression through headphones. Commercial recordings almost always use stereo recording, because historically loudspeaker listening has been more popular than headphone listening.
It is possible to change the spatial effects of stereo sound on headphones to better approximate the presentation of speaker reproduction by using frequency-dependent cross-feed between the channels, or–better still–a Blumlein shuffler (a custom EQ employed to augment the low-frequency content of the difference information in a stereo signal). While cross-feed can reduce the unpleasantness that some listeners find with hard panned stereo in headphones, the use of a dummy head during recording, with artificial pinnae, can allow on playback through headphones, the experience of hearing the performance as though situated in the positron of the dummy head.
Optimal sound is achieved when the dummy head matches the listener’s head, since pinnae vary greatly in size and shape.
Headsets can have an ergonomic benefits over traditional telephone handsets. They allow call center agents to maintain better posture instead of tilting their head sideways to cradle a handset.
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