In praise of binaurals

It would be easy to conclude from all I’ve said that I think binaural beats are something of a waste of time. That would be reading more into my statements than has been intended.

Along with a number of respected names in the industry, I have satisfied myself that binaural beats rarely (never?) cause entrainment, or even evoked response/frequency following response in the auditory centres. I have always said, however, that this does not mean they don’t work, just that they use a different mechanism to achieve the results they achieve.

After much experimentation I have decided that binaural beats are most useful for deep meditation purposes, in fact for any purpose that requires the listener to elevate low theta/delta activity.

In all of my experimentation, with myself as subject, I have had difficulty resolving the chicken-or-the-egg problem – is the EEG response the result of otic stimulus or have I thought myself into the target range? Pulse stimulation (isochronic) literally drives the brain – a clear EEG response will be seen in the auditory centres and it is so insistent that there is a very good probability that other areas of the brain will get in on the act and be seen to be active at related frequencies. Binaural stimulation offers a gentle invitation to the engaged listener to follow its lead, with the result that EEG activity in non-auditory locations is likely to arise without being seen in the temporal region.

These conclusions are problematic. I have been messing with my brain for quite a long time and having used AVS extremely intensively for a while now, I can recall sounds and beats and self-generate targeted activity without much difficulty. In fact, in order to not ‘entrain’, I have to very deliberately think of things contrary to the intent of the session.

If my experience can be applied to anyone else, then the conclusions would have to be as follows:

  • Isochronic beats are best for “passive” AVS exercises – most therapeutic modalities require FFR/entrainment
  • Isochronic beats are best for use at higher frequencies – the virtues of binaurals diminish rapidly above low theta
  • Isochronic beats are best for energising sessions – their insistence is, of itself, stimulating
  • Binaurals are best for low frequency “active” AVS exercises – any time the listener is engaged in “higher thought” and seeking a particular mental state
  • Binaurals are most readily perceived with a carrier of around 500Hz, with more active participation required of the listener as the carrier is raised or lowered (it requires more concentration to perceive the beat)
  • With binaurals it is the concentration on the beat, rather than the beat itself, that elicits response

The greatest disadvantage of binaurals is the need for headphones, due to the requirement to deliver a discrete tone to each ear. Or is that entirely true? It is certainly mostly true, however with care in positioning of self and speakers, the binaural effect can be achieved quite readily with speakers. In fact, once perceived with speakers, the brain benefits from the absence of any sensation around the ears that reminds it that the source of the sound is anywhere other than deep in the brain. Focusing on a beat that seems to have no source other than within is a very, very powerful induction to deep thought.

The key to correct positioning for headphone-free binaurals is to position the ears at a peak node in the sound-wave interference pattern in front of the speakers. It is common knowledge that the pressure waves interact, just as ripples on water do, creating peaks and troughs in amplitude. I have had the best results with small speakers (single driver) positioned approximately 1 metre apart, turned 60 degrees inwards, with myself facing away at the apex of an equilateral triangle. Once roughly positioned, I shift myself slightly until the tone is balanced and at maximum amplitude. Initially it will sound like an ordinary monaural, but once settled, the binaural beat surfaces. An added benefit of this arrangement is that it is very good for practicing stillness – any significant movement of the head will cause the central beat to vanish.

I have been specific about the speakers having a single driver. In two-, three- or more- way speakers the pressure fronts from each driver will be sufficiently different to diminish or eliminate the effect. I get better results with a pair of very cheap Genius computer speakers than I do with my Mordaunt Short monitors. It’s also helpful to be in a well acoustically damped location – facing closed curtains with the speakers behind does a reasonable job of minimising echos that will interfere with the formation of the beat.

Of course, the great appeal of binaurals is that they sound good. It is so very, very easy to just drift away with the gentle rhythm. Bearing in mind that the very brainwave activity that we’re seeking with theta/delta meditation is exactly that associated with sleep, it’s quite a good trick to just let yourself go into freefall towards sleep, catching yourself just on the cusp and staying there.

Happy journeying.


Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: