Conversations with a Dummy Head

Image: Canva / Des Hulley

A recent assignment for my MSc Audio Production course was to produce a podcast as part of a group, on an audio – related topic of our choice. I was fortunate to work with Des, Oliver and Khalid. We shared an interest in spatial audio, particularly in the form of binaural audio. Des had built herself a binaural dummy head, the ‘birth’ of Dumbert was a deciding factor – we just had to use him in a podcast about Binaural Audio!

The format of a podcast was ideal for us to discuss and demonstrate what binaural audio is: our audience would be able to experience binaural recordings and the sounds of the microphones and software plug-ins we used to record and mix them, whilst we discussed, explained and explored the subject in entertaining ways.

We chose to present our work as a “radio-style” podcast, with a group discussion interspersed by a number of short features – a history of binaural audio, a game of identifying where a binaural recording was made, information on uses of binaural in Autonomous-Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) and in medical education. The use of music, sound effects and a number of spoof ‘Dummy Head’ adverts keeping the tone lighthearted and humorous to keep our audience engaged and entertained.

Each of us researched the topic. We requisitioned the necessary equipment and we set up a podcasting studio in Des’s house.

Microphone setup. Photo: Paul Grooveside

We intended to demonstrate a range of options for binaural recording, so used the following microphones and techniques:

Each of us had a Rode NT2-A mono microphone, for individual point-source recording which we could then use for mixing and panning as desired. The NT2-As were powered and converted to digital audio by a Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 audio interface, feeding a laptop running Avid Pro-Tools, the software we used to record, edit and mix the podcast.

We wanted to demonstrate how an ambisonic microphone could be used in binaural recording so used a Soundfield ST450 microphone recorded by a Zoom H6 recorder. Its recording was converted to binaural using the Soundfield by Rode plug-in.

Soundfield ST450, Photo: Des Hulley

The star of the show, of course, was the home-made dummy head. Dumbert contains a pair of Lavaliere microphones, and was recorded by a Zoom H1N recorder. This recorded the discussion as if the listener was sitting in the room with us, in Dumbert’s place. At certain points in the podcast, the audience can hear just what Dumbert heard.

Dumbert, our home-made Binaural Dummy Head. Photo: Paul Grooveside

Some preparation was done identifying library music and preparing the sound effects ‘stingers’ and recording templates for the spoof adverts, The first day was spent usefully rehearsing and recording sections of the podcast. Having built a running order for the podcast with narrative and pace, we shaped the structure and scripting to ensure the podcast was a piece of infotainment. We scripted the ‘info-‘ and our conversations and other elements provided the ‘-tainment’.

The scripted recording was captured on our second day. It was an enjoyable time, we hope the fun we had carried over into the recordings we made and the resulting podcast is fun to hear. The podcast was edited and mixed by the team on Pro-Tools, using a number of plugins, including Waves Vocal Rider to even out the volume of each person’s voice as the energy levels raised and fell during the performance. The mono recordings from the Rode microphones were panned and positioned in 3-dimensional audio space using the DearReality DearVR Pro plug-in.

Mixing the podcast. Photo: Paul Grooveside

The podcast is available to listen to on Soundcloud. Here it is embedded in my blog. Please wear headphones to listen, this is necessary to experience the binaural audio effect. We hope you enjoy our Conversations with a Dummy Head!

Reference: (2022) Dear VR Pro

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