User-friendly HRTF

Tiago Matono tmatono at
Wed May 21 09:48:09 UTC 2014

Ok, first of all I must explain that I had never written here and I'm not
so familiar with how it works and which kind of info is needed.
Plus, I have only very basic programming experience and could never help
implementing such a feature. I do understand very well though, how HRTF
works and its uses and disadvantages. HRTF is very popular among gamers,
specially those that play on their laptops, as it allows one to receive a
complete illusion of 3d sound through your headphones. Creative has it
implemented in its top products for many years. Always through a checkbox
This feature has been added to the OpenAL framework and that made it very
easy to activate and use on ubuntu. You either add a little line to the
".alsoftrc" file (echo "hrtf = true" >> ~/.alsoftrc), which is
user-specific, or you edit the "/etc/openal/alsoft.conf" file, also
changing the value to "true".
The problem here is that, if you don't have an easy option to
activate/deactivate it, it will remain activated whenever the audio output
is 44100hz stereo and that is not intended when the headphones are not
plugged in for example (it works like the 3d glasses to your ears - the
rigght sound can only enter the right ear for the illusion to happen).
Also, having this option permanently on, even if it's only for the
headphones, will make many users mad as people as audiophiles like to be
able to have at least the option to listen to audio without filters.

Having said all this, I posted this question originally here ( and just received an
answer. I'm thinking the user Daniel Letzeisen might be right. What can
then be done for the openal to be updated and the gui included in ubuntu?

For those not familiar with HRTF, the "virtual barber shop" video on
youtube is a good example. Btw, also with this video is clear why having
the option to have your audio pure, without filters, is important. The
audio in the video is encoded with a HRTF already. If your computer messes
with the audio with further filters on top, you lose the awesome 3d effect
they created.

On Wed, May 21, 2014 at 8:55 AM, Matthew Paul Thomas <mpt at>wrote:

> Hash: SHA1
> Tiago Matono wrote on 20/05/14 21:16:
> >
> > Hi. So today I tried the openal HRTF. It works wonderfully! All my
> > games and movies play with awesome 3d sound through my headphones.
> > To activate it I simply ran "echo "hrtf = true" >> ~/.alsoftrc " in
> > the terminal as explained here:
> >
> >
> > Why is this so easy-to-implement function not included somewhere
> > in ubuntu through a simple checkbox?
> Probably because no-one has yet had the combination of interest,
> ability, and time to do it.
> If you're trying to recruit someone to do it, I suggest being more
> specific about what it would achieve. Even the Wikipedia article is
> heavy on jargon and rightly says "[example needed]".
> > Can this be implemented? Maybe a simple checkbox under "sound
> > settings" that would only appear and be activateable when
> > headphones are connected. I think this is an awesome and easy to
> > implement feature.
> >
> > ...
> Settings are useful only as much as people can make an informed
> decision about them. So before we could design a checkbox like that,
> we would need to answer the question: Who would want HRTF turned off,
> and why? Or to put it another way, why not just have it turned on for
> everyone?
> - --
> mpt
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