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Feb 28, 2024 | Services

Audio Localisation And Neural Network Models Of Sound Localization

Audio Localisation or sound localization is a fascinating and crucial aspect of auditory perception. It allows us to pinpoint the origin of sounds in our environment. This process includes a complex interplay of physiological and neural mechanisms. Let’s delve into how sound localization works, its importance, and the journey of sound from its source to our brain.

What Is Sound Localization?

Sound localisation is the ability to locate/identify the location or origin of a sound source in three-dimensional space. This capability is vital for our interaction with the environment, enabling us to react appropriately to stimuli, whether it’s locating a person speaking in a crowded room or identifying the direction of a siren on the street.

How Does Sound Localization Work?

 The image shows the process of sound localisation

The process of sound localisation involves several key elements:

  • Binaural Cues: Our two ears (left ear and right ear) play a pivotal role in sound localisation. The differences in the sound signals received by each ear provide crucial cues. These include the Interaural Time Difference (ITD) and the Interaural Level Difference (ILD).
    • Interaural Time Difference: This refers to the small difference in time it takes for a sound wave to reach one ear compared to the other human ear. This is particularly crucial for localising low-frequency sounds.
    • Interaural Level Difference: Due to the human head blocking some waves of the sound, there’s a slight difference in the sound intensity (level) reaching each ear. This is more significant for high frequencies.
  • Head-Related Transfer Functions (HRTFs): These are unique to each individual and describe how the ear canal, outer part of the ear, and other parts of the head affect the sounds arriving at each ear.
  • Ear Canal and Ear Drum: The ear canal carries waves of sound to the ear drum, which vibrates in response to these waves.

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Why Is Sound Localization Important?

The image shows that the left ear received 55dB and right ear receives 70 dB

Locating sound sources is crucial for various reasons:

  1. Exploration Aid: It helps explore environments safely, especially in low visibility or obstructed situations, like identifying traffic direction.
  2. Enhanced Communication: Facilitates focusing on specific speakers in noisy environments, which is important for effective conversations in crowded places.
  3. Safety and Alertness: Alerts to potential dangers by quickly identifying sound directions, which is crucial for survival in potentially hazardous situations.
  4. Immersive Experiences: In arts and entertainment, sound localisation creates more realistic and engaging experiences, such as in cinema or virtual reality.
  5. Developmental Role: Essential for language and cognitive development in children, helping them focus on sources of human speech.
  6. Technological Applications: Used in various technologies like hearing aids and smart devices, improving functionality and user experience.
  7. Spatial Awareness: Enhances understanding of one’s position relative to other objects and people, necessary for physical navigation and social interactions.
  8. Professional Importance: Critical in professions like aviation, military, or emergency response, identifying sound directions is critical for decision-making.

Mention Sound Localization Examples

 The image shows binaural hearing and monaural hearing

Crossing the Street

When crossing a street, you often use the sound of oncoming traffic to judge the safety of crossing, especially in situations where your view might be obstructed.

Finding a Ringing Phone

If your phone rings in another room, you instinctively move towards the sound, using the volume and direction of the ringtone to locate it.

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How Does Sound Reach The Brain?

The image shows how the sound reaches the brain<br />

The process of how sound reaches the brain through human ears is a fascinating journey that involves several steps, transforming sound waves present in the environment into electrical signals that our brain can interpret. Here’s a breakdown of this process:

  1. Sound Wave Creation: First, sound is created by the vibration of an object, which creates waves in the air.
  2. Travel to the Ear: These waves of sound travel in the air and reach the outer ear (pinna). The pinna’s shape helps direct the sound waves into the canal.
  3. Through the Canal: The sound waves travel down the canal until they reach the eardrum (tympanic membrane).
  4. Eardrum Vibration: It vibrates in response to the waves. These vibrations are transferred to the three tiny bones in the middle part of the ear: the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup).
  5. Amplification by Middle Ear Bones: These bones amplify the vibrations and transfer them to the oval window, a membrane at the entrance to the inner ear. The amplification is necessary to move the sound wave’s energy from the air (a medium of low impedance) to the cochlear fluid (a medium of higher impedance).
  6. Stimulation of the Cochlea: The vibrations enter the cochlea, a spiral-shaped, fluid-filled structure in the inner ear. Inside the cochlea are thousands of small hair cells on a membrane running its length.
  7. Hair Cell Activation: The fluid movement in the cochlea causes these hair cells to move, converting the mechanical vibrations into electrical signals. Different sound frequencies stimulate other parts of the cochlear spiral, allowing for pitch perception.
  8. Transmission to the Brain: These electrical signals are then transmitted to our brain via the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve carries those signals to the brainstem, where several relay and processing stations refine and filter the signals.
  9. Processing in the Brain: From the brainstem, the signals are sent to the thalamus and then to the auditory cortex in the brain’s temporal lobe. Here, these signals are interpreted as sound, such as music, speech, noise, etc.
  10. Integration with Other Senses: The brain also integrates this information with inputs from other senses, like sight and touch, as well as prior knowledge and context, to make a comprehensive perception of the sound.

What Is The Science Localize Sounds?

 The image shows the science of localising sound

The science of localising sounds, often called auditory localization, involves understanding how the brain processes the differences in sound signals received by the two ears. For instance, with low frequencies, the brain primarily uses time difference cues, while for higher frequencies, it relies more on level differences.

Moreover, the brain integrates these binaural cues with the spectral information altered by the head and outer ear (HRTFs) to create a three-dimensional auditory scene.

Sound localisation is an intricate and vital function of our auditory system. The interplay of binaural cues, the structure of our ears, and the processing capabilities of our brain all contribute to this remarkable ability. Understanding sound localisation offers insights into human hearing and has applications in designing better hearing aids and audio systems in virtual and augmented reality environments.


In conclusion, binaural hearing is crucial in precisely determining sound location. By leveraging the subtle differences in the time and intensity of sounds reaching each ear, our auditory system efficiently decodes the location of a sound, enhancing our spatial awareness and overall aural experience. This intricate process underscores the remarkable capabilities of human hearing in exploring and interpreting the complex tapestry of sounds in our environment.

Emily Chen

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