Let's take a close look at the aforementioned headphone technology which is all new for '09.
Traditionally listening to surround sound on a pair of headphones meant allowing a set of software algorithms take charge of expanding the stereo signal artificially to come across to the listener as being actual 5.1 surround sound.
Well, not any more!
What we have seen this year is a couple of new products hit shelves which dare to be different; well, actually, radically different. And in doing so, they put algorithm based surround sound in headphones to rest for good, thankfully.
Replacing the old is a dedicated solution that connects just like a set of 5.1 speakers to your sound card. Yes, that's correct, headphones that are for all intents and purposes a set of dedicated surround speakers.
Let's now rewind quickly and take a look at a couple of answers given to me by one of the engineers from Psycho Headphones about this new technology they're spearheading.
TweakTown: What was your key motivation for designing a dedicated headphone solution that does not use software to create an artificial surround environment?
James Hildebrandt: The motivation started out to simply make a headphone that sounded like the game was happening in the room around you - the perfect room. I am a mechanical engineer and think in terms of the physics of sound so that leads to creating a physical surround sound system instead of a software or simulated based one.
TweakTown: Can you expand a little in simple terms; how the waveguide technology is used to direct individual channels of audio to the front and back of the users ears?
James Hildebrandt: In one sense it is exactly like a room system on your head.
Let's start by looking at how we perceive direction with a room system. When the left front speaker makes a sound it hits your left ear a bit before your right ear (by about 0.4ms). It is a bit louder in the left ear than the right. Those two elements let's you know the angle of the sound. But to tell if a sound is in front or behind you depends on how the sound flows past your ears and how it reflects around your outer ear.
Every angle around you creates a unique sound signal at your ear canal. Certain frequencies get amplified by the refection off your ear, certain frequencies get canceled. The amazing part is that everyone's ear shape is like their own fingerprint, so, that means the frequencies you use to detect sound direction is unique to you.
It's an interesting idea, isn't it? - I sure had a lot of fun talking with James Hildebrandt about the new technology.
Following my test schedule, I had been completely convinced that we had seen the end of mediocre surround on headphones once and for all.
I guess logically, the question now is, "Can the headphone market support a product or two dedicated to surround sound?" - I would say that it can and will quite comfortably.