ASMRtist with colorful hair whispering into a microphone

ASMR Audio, the Hype demystified by sound engineers


    ASMR Audio? For a few years now, a term has been buzzing around the Internet. Especially on YouTube you can find videos with the four letters in the title: A S M R. Google spits out 4.3 billion search results, a multiple of 3D Audio or spatial audio. There are some connections to immersive sound though. In addition, I have recently been involved to do commercial projects in this context. But what exactly is ASMR and what does the hype mean for future content formats?

    What happens when you listen to ASMR audio?

    ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It refers to a feeling that can be triggered in affected individuals by certain sensory stimuli (triggers). For example, such trigger sounds include gentle whispering, certain sounds such as tapping fingernails on a hard surface, personal affection, or light touches to the head.

    The sensation is usually described as a pleasant and soothing tingling (also called tingles) sensation. This sensation can be localized mostly in the back of the head. It can also spread over the neck, along the upper spine, and sometimes into the shoulder area.

    I like to describe ASMR audio as “goose bumps on the head”. However, few people can perceive ASMR at all. So don’t worry, should you listen to ASMR audio content and not feel any tingling. Because there are more than enough videos that you can enjoy like that. For me, it’s just insanely fascinating what kind of content ideas people come up with, but more about that later.

    ASMR is more than just tingling

    Many of the people who can experience ASMR like to watch so-called “ASMR videos” on YouTube. In the videos, various triggers are specifically used to trigger ASMR in the viewer and listener with sound. Such triggers can be, as already mentioned, sounds that are generated with the fingers or the mouth. There are even entire ASMR trigger lists, with words that work even better when spoken or whispered:

    • Tingles
    • Relax
    • Sleepy
    • Crackle
    • Tranquility
    • Sugar Cookies
    • Stipple

    As you can see, words that are also thematically close to ASMR work particularly well. So it is often simply formulated what the listeners should feel (relaxation, tiredness), or what is happening (crackling, smacking).

    So even quite a few people who cannot experience ASMR watch this kind of video to relax. The click numbers of the videos are sometimes in the million range, sometimes in the 9-digit range. This is really fascinating, considering that the content is quite mindless to be honest. Some people are eating something, licking objects, or tipping around somewhere. But ASMR audio has not been thought through to the end by far, so there is still a lot to discover:

    What is good and what is bad ASMR content?

    The ASMR experience is very subjective and can differ greatly from individual to individual. Whether an ASMR video really triggers ASMR, therefore, depends primarily on the individual viewer. What is a strong trigger for one person can be repulsive for another person and even trigger an opposite feeling. Of course, labeling good/bad is also difficult. However, as a content creator, I would argue that there are definitely criteria by which quality can be judged.

    Nevertheless, there are specific triggers, techniques, and sounds that are more likely to trigger ASMR. The classic triggers, like tapping and cracking sounds or whispering are effective for many people. However, it is not only the triggers that matter, but also how they are used. It’s not just the sound that matters, but also how the person triggering that sound behaves. This is because ASMR is strongly linked to personal attention and social bonding.

    Good examples of ASMR videos.

    A well-known and good example of this is “Gibi ASMR” (YouTube: 4.42 million subscribers). In her videos, she herself takes center stage and demonstrates various triggers to viewers. She often turns to the viewers, addresses them, and sometimes looks directly into the camera. Her face is in the center of the frame. She also regularly uploads ASMR roleplay videos in which she re-enacts a visit to the dentist, for example. These videos are also very popular in the ASMR community.

    Another good example is the channel “asmr zeitgeist” (YouTube: 2.46 million subscribers). Unlike the videos of “Gibi ASMR”, the ASMRtist is not the focus of the video here and is often not even visible. Instead, the focus is on the special sounds and the visual design. The videos are optimally lit and technically very well produced. Here not only the listeners have their pleasure, but also the eyes are kept happy. Channel:

    Bad demonstrations of ASMR

    Examples of rather less effective ASMR content are the videos in which celebrities try their hand at ASMR audio. Since they often don’t know anything about ASMR themselves and just trigger sounds by feel, the videos serve more for entertainment than for actual purposes. This can be seen well in the video of Paris Hilton for “W Magazine”:

    Nevertheless, it is also possible for such videos to trigger ASMR in certain people. Therefore, it cannot be said that these types of videos are generally bad. They may just work for a few people. In the end, if an ASMR video with the right sound triggers ASMR in a person, it is a good ASMR video for that person.

    In the YouTube rabbit hole

    Then there are these rather disreputable videos of mostly young, good-looking women according to European beauty standards. ASMR sounds are performed somewhere, but you quickly get the feeling that it’s not primarily about that. But rather about the secondary sexual characteristics of the performers. Most of the time, the binaural microphone is even licked, or the protagonist twerks in front of the camera.

    Unfortunately, this often casts ASMR in a flimsy light. So there are indications that the adult industry has already jumped on the bandwagon. This article is not so much about that. But it must be said that the erotic industry is very experimental and innovative with technologies – and that includes 3D audio.

    How important is 3D audio to the impact of ASMR?

    Speaking of which, you often see ASMRtists – that’s what artists who produce ASMR content are called (ASMR + Artist ) – sitting close to the camera whispering into a microphone or making certain sounds with objects. As a careful observer, one notices that binaural microphones are increasingly being used for recording.

    Here, the 3Dio brand has introduced artificial heads to the market, which enjoys great popularity. Especially among the most successful ASMRtists, these mics equipped with ear models are part of the standard equipment. But how important are binaural microphones and 3D audio to evoke ASMR in the listener?

    Expert opinion from audio engineers

    Sound designer Claudia Nader Jaime, known as Clau Nader is also investigating this question. She is part of the ASMR Research Network ASMRNet and is currently investigating what difference mono, stereo, and binaural sound make in relation to the user experience. Their study is still ongoing, so there is no final result yet. However, predictions can already be made from the findings so far.

    The opinions of the participants in the study differ. Many say they have never had such a clear and intense listening experience as with binaural audio. They get stronger reactions because of the closeness and connectedness that can be created by a binaural recording. For others, again, it is enough if the recordings were made with the cell phone microphone because it seems more realistic to them due to the way it is recorded and background noise, for example. As well as the environments that ASMRtists usually record in. More like houses, and bedrooms, rather than acoustically treated spaces like the studio where I produced my media. This is more important to them than a clear and perfect recording.

    normale microphone next to binaural dummy head

    Clau says that people who are not audio-savvy would often find it hard to tell the difference. There are many factors that play a role in the ASMR experience and possibly things that are more relevant than the format of the sound. For example, the environment in which the ASMR content is heard. Given the divergent opinions and a small number of participants, more research is needed.

    Possibly the difference between stereo and the personal individual HRTF could be bigger and more crucial than the seemingly small difference between stereo and binaural. Clau would also like to investigate this question in the future.

    The difficulty with such studies is that ASMR is a very individual feeling and can vary from person to person. Many, as already mentioned, cannot experience it at all. Others watch the videos with their eyes closed in order to fully concentrate on the audio. For still others, the sound is rather secondary, as for them the visual is the main trigger.

    Exceptions prove the rule

    As a sound engineer, I’m naturally audio-savvy, but I also like to be pragmatic. For the most part, I can agree with Clau’s statements, because for “normal people” – i.e. not hi-fi enthusiasts – the choice of microphone is less relevant. For them, the question is not which microphone was used at all.

    For them, the questions are rather:

    • Why does my head tingle with ASMR?
    • Who is ASMR for?
    • What do you need for ASMR?

    For me, the question of the best microphone for ASMR audio is more a question of context. I was happy to meet real ASMRtists during my ASMR video for Audi. They were of course amazed at my dummy head microphone. And I was surprised that they technically always took only a mono microphone.

    Somewhere, having over a million subscribers on YouTube speaks for itself, so it seems that normal microphones also work. Nevertheless, the influencers in the A-B comparison were so enthusiastic about the binaural sound that they definitely want to work with it – as many of their colleagues already do.

    asmr brain wave binaural beats

    I know an example from a similar category in the area of “binaural beats”. I’ll have to write an article about this sometime, but ultimately these sounds only work with headphones. These sounds are also supposed to relax or help you fall asleep. But there are enough people who enjoy them even without headphones. For example, they open YouTube on their smartphone and place the device next to their pillow. From a scientific point of view, there can be no binaural beats here, but hey, if it helps people sleep.

    I think it’s generally a matter of context and storytelling. If you see a microphone and hear a person talking into it, that’s directly plausible to our brain. It’s the same with an artificial head microphone. Although I would argue it’s more fun. When you see an ear being whispered into and you actually hear exactly that three-dimensionally via headphones, it’s something magical.

    ASMR Research

    With her team in the ASMR Research Network, Clau is therefore additionally working on various studies. This network is led by Dr. Giulia Poerio and Dr. Thomas Hostler. They are interested in getting as many opinions and perspectives as possible to find out what the questions are that they need to ask to better understand ASMR.

    Since ASMR is by nature a very broad, interdisciplinary topic, they try to involve as many people as possible. These include psychologists, neuroscientists, visual artists, computer scientists, and sociologists. As well as users and also ASMRtists who produce content themselves. On the one hand, the focus is on the actual definition of ASMR, since this is still somewhat fuzzy everywhere and ASMR is sometimes misunderstood. On the other hand, a main concern is to explore the neurology of ASMR audio.

    Another field study, which will be published soon, deals with this:

    • what equipment ASMRtists use for their videos?
    • what types of triggers are most common?
    • what is most effective?

    ASMR audio is being analyzed for this right now. However, Clau suspects that it might have something to do with the strong attack of the sounds, which are typical of the classic knocking or crackling sounds in ASMR videos, for example. Furthermore, low frequencies could play an important role for an effective ASMR experience.

    The Future of ASMR Audio has more possibilities

    The ASMR triggering element – the trigger – has always been there. You only have to look at Bob Ross’ TV show where he gives a painting class in his own unique way. Through his soft, soothing voice and the stroking of the brush on the canvas, he unconsciously creates ASMR triggers. The only difference is that at the time the show was on TV, the feeling of ASMR was not yet publicly known.

    Now such triggers are specifically used in videos to create ASMR audio. But ASMR-inducing content is not only found on YouTube. With the growing hype, the phenomenon has spread to other platforms like Tiktok and even its own “ASMR apps.” But there are also more unusual things like ASMR live performances.

    Since the phenomenon hasn’t been around for too long, there’s a lot of experimentation going on with it. The advertising industry and marketing agencies have also recognized the potential of ASMR audio and so ASMR triggers are increasingly used in advertising. Sometimes entire commercials are created that could also function as stand-alone ASMR videos. Here is the example of Audi where I was involved:

    ASMR as a form of therapy

    A majority of people who like ASMR audio use it to relax or fall asleep better. Studies have already proven that watching ASMR videos lowers the heart rate in people who can experience ASMR. Some ASMR users also report that ASMR videos have a positive effect on their mood and would even relieve symptoms associated with anxiety disorders and depression. According to Clau Nader Jaime, the possibilities of ASMR are limitless.

    She firmly believes that in the future ASMR audio will be therapeutically recognized in the same way as meditation and respected as a formal therapeutic tool by the health sector. She also anticipates that the hype surrounding ASMR will continue to grow.

    ASMR in commercials and marketing

    There are also many opportunities to use ASMR for marketing purposes. I was already allowed to implement project for Audi here and would like to write another article about it. So if you want to know how to use ASMR, just write me a mail.

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