In a previous posting on Audio Musings, I described Harman’s binaural room scanning (BRS) measurement and playback system. BRS is a powerful audio research and testing tool that allows Harman scientists to capture, store and later reproduce through a head-tracking headphone-based auditory display the acoustical signature of one or more audio systems situated in the same or different listening spaces. BRS makes it practical to conduct double-blind listening evaluations of different loudspeakers, listening rooms, and automotive audio systems in a very controlled and efficient way.
I also pointed out that all binaural recording/playback systems contain errors that require proper calibration for their removal. However, removing all BRS errors can become very expensive and impractical, so some compromise is necessary. This precipitates the need to experimentally validate the performance of the BRS system to ensure that the remaining errors after calibration do not significantly change listeners’ perceptual ratings of audio systems evaluated through the BRS system as compared to in situ evaluations.
To this end, Todd Welti, Research Acoustician at Harman International, and I recently presented the results of a series of BRS validation tests performed using different equalizations of a high quality automotive audio system . You can view the Powerpoint presentation of the conference paper here. For more detailed information on this experiment, you can view the proceedings from the recent 36th AES Automotive Conference in Dearborn, Michigan, when they become available in the AES e-library .
To assess the accuracy of the BRS system, a group of trained listeners gave double-blind preference ratings for different equalizations of the audio system evaluated under both in situ (in the car) and BRS playback conditions. For the BRS playback condition, the listener sat in the same car listening to a virtual headphone-based reproduction of the car's audio system. The purpose of the experiment was to determine whether the BRS and in situ methods produced the same preference ratings for different equalizations of the car's audio system.
Listeners gave preference ratings for five different equalizations using 4 different music programs reproduced in mono (left front speaker), stereo (left and right front channels) and surround sound (7.1 channels). The three playback modes were tested separately to isolate potential issues related to differences in how the BRS system reproduced front versus rear, and hard versus phantom-based, auditory images.
The listening test results showed there were no statistically significant differences in equalization preferences between the in situ and BRS playback methods. This was true for mono, stereo and multichannel playback modes (see slides 21-23). An interesting finding was that these results were achieved using a BRS calibration based on a single listener whose calibration tended to work well for the other listeners on the panel. This suggests that individualized listener calibrations for BRS-based listening tests may not be necessary, so long as the calibration and listeners are carefully selected.
In conclusion, this validation experiment provides experimental evidence that a properly calibrated BRS measurement and playback system can produce similar preferences in automotive audio equalization as measured using in situ listening tests.
 Sean E. Olive, Todd Welti, “Validation of a Binaural Car Scanning Measurement System for Subjective Evaluation of Automotive Audio Systems,” presented at the 36th International AES Automotive Audio Conference, (June 2-4, 2009).