Binaural Beats

Heinrich Wilhelm Dove

bb2Heinrich Wilhelm Dove was born in 1803 in Liegnitz, Prussia (now Poland) at the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars. He came from a prosperous family of apothecaries (early 19th century pharmacists) and merchants. Unspecified health problems led young Heinrich to choose an academic career instead of following the family profession.

He was an open-minded, communicative student who was interested not only in science but also in politics, history, and philosophy, all of which he studied at the University of Breslau, which he entered in 1821. His doctoral thesis, on climatology, was presented in 1826 to the University of Königsberg, where he lectured until 1829.  In 1830 he became an Associate Professor at the University of Berlin, where he remained until 1845 when he became a Full Professor at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität. There he was elected rector (Chancellor) in 1858–1859, and again in 1871–1872.

While most of his 300 or so papers were in the field of Meteorology, specifically in the area of Climatology, he has a connection with Audiology thanks to his 1839 discovery of the concept of Binaural Beats. While Heinrich Wilhelm Dove (1803-1879) is credited with discovering binaural beats, others, such as Christian Huygens, had also

Christiaan Huygens, Inventor of the Pendulum Clock
Christiaan Huygens, Inventor of the Pendulum Clock

noticed the characteristics of binaural beats and had been curious about the interactions of sound and its relaxing effects. The phenomenon had been called “brainwave entrainment,” but it was not much more than a curiosity to early observers. 

It was not until 134 years later that Dr. Gerald Oster (1918-1993) took binaural beats from a scientific curiosity to a possible treatment for various disorders.  Oster, a biophysicist, wrote a 1973 paper in the Scientific American that brought credibility to binaural beats and generated further research into them. It should be noted that Gerald Oster did not invent binaural beats, nor did he use the term “brainwave entrainment.” His paper simply documented how the brain interprets frequency signals and produces the binaural beat effects.  Based bb5upon scattered relevant research,  Oster developed an argument offering new insights on binaural beats and their potential as a powerful tool for cognitive and neurological research.  He felt that these binaural beats could explain how animals locate sounds in their three-dimensional environment and pick out and focus on specific sounds in a sea of noise (what audiologists refer to as the “cocktail Party effect”).

Oster’s seminal article also pointed out that he considered binaural beats to be potentially useful  as a medical diagnostic tool, not merely for finding and assessing auditory impairments, but also for more general neurological conditions (binaural beats involve different neurological pathways from ordinary auditory processing).

Dr. Gerald Oster
Dr. Gerald Oster

For example, Oster found that a number of his subjects who could not perceive binaural beats suffered from Parkinson’s disease. In one particular case, Oster was able to follow the subject through a week-long treatment of Parkinson’s disease; at the outset the patient could not perceive binaural beats, but by the end of the week of treatment, the patient was able to hear them, suggesting some potential use in medial diagnostics and treatment.

But………What ARE Binaural Beats

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Somewhere in the bowels of classes in Hearing Science or Acoustics audiologists have heard of binaural beats.  While not of much use for hearing evaluation, these beats have been used for meditation, therapies for migraine headaches, study aids, relaxation aids, and other uses.  They have also been suggested as a method of becoming “high” with a “marijuana algorithm.”  There are such binaural beats for many other hallucinatory drugs as well. 

These beats have even been suggested as a possible  treatment for auditory processing disorders, as they are an artifact of sound processing by the auditory system.   Binaural beats or binaural tones are auditory  processing artifacts or apparent sounds, the perception of which arises in the brain for specific physical stimuli.  The effect on the bb1brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone: for example, if 500 Hz was played in one ear and 510 in the other, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 10 Hz. The brain   produces a phenomenon resulting in low-frequency pulsations in the amplitude and sound localization of a perceived sound when two tones at slightly different  frequencies are presented separately, one to each of a subject’s ears, using stereo headphones. To get the effects of binaural bets it is necessary to use stereo headphones. The frequencies of the two tones must be below 1,000 Hz for the beating to be noticeable. The difference between the two frequencies must be small (less than or equal to 30 Hz) for the effect to occur; otherwise, the two tones will be heard separately and no beat will be perceived. bb

Studies have shown that the response does not only occur in the area of the brain accountable for hearing, or only in one or the other of the hemispheres, but rather the whole brain resonates, the wave forms of hemispheres becoming identical in frequency, amplitude, phase and coherence. Binaural beats are of interest to neurophysiologists investigating the sense of hearing. Binaural beats reportedly influence the brain in more subtle ways through the entrainment of brainwaves and have been claimed to reduce anxiety and to provide other health benefits such as control over pain.

A net search reveals that binaural beats have quite a subculture.  Take a tour of the You Tube for these beats and you will see cures for virtually everything that all can be purchased. 


Wikipedia (2015)  Binaural Beats.  Retrieved February 22, 2015:

Sound Healing (2015).  Retrieved February 24, 2015:

The Daily Omnivore (2015).  Binaural Beats.  Retrieved February 24, 2015:

Klarreich, E.  (2002).  Huygens’s clocks revisited.  American Scientist.  Retrieved February 25, 2015:

Oster, G. (1973). Auditory beats in the brain.  Scientific American.  Retrieved February 25, 2015:


Ninefinestuff (2015).  9 ways to alter consciousness without drugs.  Retrieved February 24, 2015:

Binaural Brains (2015).  Binaural beats and isochronic tones.  Retrieved February 23, 2015:

Karma Jello (2015).  Retrieved February 25, 2015:


One mind (2015.  Marijuana binaural beat.  Retrieved February 25, 2015:


About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.

1 Comment

  1. If one carefully reads Jerry Tobias’ chapter in Volume 2 of “Modern Auditory Theory”, published in the early 1970s, one will come across another really interesting “use” for binaural beats. Trust me, it’s quite interesting.

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