Spatial Sound in Virtual Reality

5 Range Cues

When it comes to localizing a source, we are best at estimating azimuth, next best at estimating elevation, and worst at estimating range. In a similar fashion, the cues for azimuth are quite well understood, the cues for elevation are less well understood, and the cues for range are least well understood. The following cues for range are frequently mentioned:

  • Loudness

  • Motion parallax

  • Excess interaural level difference (ILD)

  • Ratio of direct to reverberant sound

The physical basis for the loudness cue obviously stems from the fact that the captured sound energy coming directly from the source falls off inversely with the square of range

  • Combination of the perception of loudness and knowledge about the sound

  • Experience

Motion parallax refers to the fact that if a listener translates his or her head, the change in azimuth will be range dependent. For sources that are very close, a small shift causes a large change in azimuth, while for sources that are distant there is essentially no azimuth change.

In addition, as a sound source gets very close to the head, the ILD will increase. This increase becomes noticeable for ranges under about one meter.

The final cue listed is the ratio of direct to reverberant sound. As we mentioned above, the energy received directly from a sound source drops of inversely with the square of the range. However, in ordinary rooms, the sound is reflected and scattered many times from environmental surfaces, and the reverberant energy reaching the ears does not change much with the distance from the source to the listener. Thus, the ratio of direct to reverberant energy is a major cue for range. At close ranges, the ratio is very large, while at long ranges it is quite small. Fortunately, this is a relatively easy and effective cue to manipulate for HCI applications.