Why can your hearing focus on one especific sound (barely listening to the rest) when you are in an open space but is unable to if you are hearing a recording?

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I get that the sound get plastered on a track by the recording device but, why can’t the ear pick out just one part of it?

In: Biology

Sounds from different locations come to your ear in different ways, changing the space of the sound waves and how they interact with the organs in your ear that process sound.

Sound from a recording loses that. Its like the difference between a 2d photo and a 3d object.

We can spoof sound so that it sounds more natural, this is what surround sound is. It processes sound in such a way as to make it sound like its coming from multiple locations as actual sound does.

The other commenter mentioned that in normal circumstances, sounds come from different directions and we can focus on sounds from one direction / location.

Partly, we can do this by just turning our heads. The shape of our ears makes it so that we hear sounds coming from directly in front of us the best. So turning to face a sound will let us hear it more clearly.

In addition, we can differentiate sounds at least partly by what direction they came from, WITHOUT turning our head, because the shape of our ears also makes sounds from different directions sound slightly different, as well as the fact that a sound on your right will both be slightly louder in your right ear AND arrive at your right ear a split second before your left. So your brain can focus on “that sound that’s coming from behind us and to the right.”

Lastly, audio in a recording has typically been compressed in a way that may affect characteristics of the sound that we might use to tell different sounds apart. Audio compression especially affects reproduction of frequencies above ~15kHz. I am not enough of an audio expert to know how those frequencies affect our ability to localize sounds or tell them apart, but it may very well be important.

This is very basic and has been addressed in more detail already but think of how a cat turns their ears depending on where they focus. We do this to a lesser degree and mostly through a type of subconscious filtering/focus as compared to physical like a cat. If a cat hears a radio and wants to focus on it, their ears will turn toward the sound but that turning/focusing doesn’t provide the ability to separate the individual parts of the single compiled source if that makes sense.