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Measurement of Head-Related Transfer Functions (HRTFs)


Head-related transfer functions (HRTFs) describe sound transmission from the free field to a place in the ear canal in terms of linear time-invariant systems. They contain spectral and temporal features that vary according to the sound direction. Differences among subjects requires the measuring of subjects' individual HRTFs for studies on localization in virtual environments. In this project, a system for HRTF measurement was developed and installed in the semi-anechoic room at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.


Measurement of an HRTF was considered a system identification of the electro-acoustic chain: sound source-room-HRTF-microphone. The sounds in the ear canals were captured using in-ear microphones. The direction of the sound source was varied horizontally by rotating the subject on a turntable, and vertically by accessing one of the 22 loudspeakers positioned in the median plane. An optimized form of system identification with sweeps, the multiple exponential sweep method (MESM), was used for the measurement of transfer functions with satisfactory signal-to-noise ratios occurring within a reasonable amount of time. Subjects' positions were tracked during the measurement to ensure sufficient measurement accuracy. Measurement of headphone transfer functions was included in the HRTF measurement procedure. This allows equalization of headphone influence during the presentation of virtual stimuli.


Multi-channel audio equipment has been installed in the semi-anechoic room, giving access to recording and stimuli presentation via 24 channels simultaneously.

The multiple exponential sweep method was developed, allowing fast transfer function measurement of weakly non-linear time invariant systems for multiple sources.

The measurement procedure was developed and a database of HRTFs was created. Until now, HRTFs of over 200 subjects have been published, see The HRTFs can be used to create virtual stimuli and present them binaurally via headphones.

To virtually position sounds in space, the HRTFs are used for filtering free-field sounds. This results in virtual acoustic stimuli (VAS). To create VAS and present them via headphones, applications called Virtual Sound Positioning (VSP) and Loca (Part of our ExpSuite Software Project) have been implemented. It allows virtual sound positioning in a free-field environment using both stationary and moving sound sources