We conducted a psychophysical experiment on the perception of distance change of a continuously moving virtual source in the near field. The virtual source was rendered with two sets of generic near-field HRTFs with high distance resolution: one from direct measurement, and the other synthesized by a numerical method based on a structural model, namely the distance variation function (DVF). The aims of the experiment were to investigate how the continuous variation of near-field cues delivered by the virtual source affects the subjects’ relative distance perception and whether the measured HRTFs ensure better performance in relative distance perception than the synthesized ones. Subjects participated in a listening test in which they had to decide whether the virtual source was approaching or moving away. Results indicate that perception of source distance change was possible when only variations in near-field cues were present, while distance-related intensity changes were absent. The measured near-field HRTFs outperformed the synthesized ones under certain conditions, but overall no significant advantage was found by using the measured generic HRTFs for relative distance perception. Distance-dependent variation in HRTF magnitude was found to play an important role in relative distance discrimination of the nearby virtual source.
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