Article ID: CBB007112913

The Failure of Binaural Stereo: German Sound Engineers and the Introduction of Artificial Head Microphones (2017)


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 threedimensional. 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 radio broadcasting — was rather grounded in their listening and recording ideologies than in actual shortcomings of artificial head recording technology.

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Authors & Contributors
Horning, Susan Schmidt
Bijsterveld, Karin
Dijck, José van
Weber, Heike
Parry, Nye
Lane, Cathy
Technology and Culture
Social Studies of Science
Organised Sound: An international journal of music technology
Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television
Icon: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology
Amsterdam University Press
University of Chicago Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Duke University Press
Bloomsbury Academic
Technology and music
Sound reproduction
Engineering, audio
Robeson, Paul
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
20th century, early
19th century
United States

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