What is Spatial Audio and Why is it Important?
18th June 2020
Do people still care about sound quality? Is spatial audio that important? We know it is, and audiences would too if it suddunly disappeared in places where they value good sound (events and cinemas to name a few). But why do so many neglect high fidelity audio in their everyday listening? With the slow demise of the common household HiFi in favour of smaller portable speakers, coupled with the low quality streaming standards we have acclimatised to, sound quality is often be an afterthought in entertainment today. For too long, companies have been getting away with selling mediocre products through misleading marketing campaigns, and at The Music Trip, we have taken it upon ourselves to guide you in understanding what spatial sound is and you can access it - whatever the way you enjoy your media.
"Spatial audio is the virtual placement of sound sources in a 3 dimensional space, including above, below and around the listener." - 3D Sound Technology
My faith in consumer tech was recently restored when I indulged in a pair of Sony WH-MX1000M3 Headphones (NB: this is not an ad). They feature some serious noise cancelling, smooth and buttery dynamics and as an added bonus: 360˚ effect sound. Sony calls this ‘360˚ Reality Audio’ and it works with Deezer, Tidal and ‘nugz.net’. No support for Spotify yet which is disappointing, but there is however Tidal, which has a month free trial so you can give it a go. Tidal is a streaming platform focussed on sound quality, and you can tell. You can listen to 360˚ audio in all kinds of over ear headphones, but the difference here is that Sony uses AI to scan your individual ear shape. It then personalises the sound to your unique listening requirements. Whether it is the placebo effect or not, I think it works and it should be shared amongst audiophiles everywhere. It's often not until you listen to music with incredible headphones that you realise what you've been missing.
RIP to the 5.1 home cinema and goodbye to subpar sound bars. Dolby Atmos is here to change it up… well a little. Instead of the usual front, side, rear and sub set-up, Atmos adds speakers to the ceiling, offering up to 400 speakers in its cinema systems for increased point source accuracy in the sound, and that sweet ‘Atmos-pheric’, spine tingling, intensity we love in cinema audio. Of course, you cannot fit 400 speakers in your living room, unless you're Kim K or Bono… But this isn't a problem anymore! Manufacturers are offering some cost effective Atmos solutions, usually in 7.1.4 format (7 radial speakers, 1 sub and 4 overhead), so you can take the cinema home with you. If you have an HDR display or some decent headphones, check out Dolby’s Atmos demo.
Extended Reality is immersive media that utilises CGI and digital film-making techniques to viewers in virtual and augmented worlds. Whilst we disucss sound, however, we're going to look specifically at Virtual Reality (VR). Here’s what really stunts a lot of VR content right now: the 360˚ visuals are incredibly impressive, but the sound is all in standard stereo. Why haven't they spent the same amount of effort creating true to life sound that completes the imersive effect? Wouldn't it be nice for you to be able to turn your head and the sound stay in the same place? Not only is it logical, but it is imperative when 'fooling' the viewers brain into think they are in the virtual world. This is where ambisonic audio come in. Ambisonics allow recordings from the horizontal plane and the vertical - meaning sounds can be linked to their visual sources anywhere in the 360˚ sphere and they'll stay there when you look around. It's true to life sound and is made for VR. Whenever we create VR content for our clients, we don't even question the importance of true to life ambisonic audio; it's included in all of our productions - whether the audio comes to us mastered already (we spatialise it in post) or we're recording it on location.
Right: Check out one of our ambisonic microphones: The Zoom H3-VR (Available here). We use it on shoots to capture audio realistically to use in our VR experiences.
So, there we have it. These 3 exciting sound formats and their technologies are just the begginning of the sound revolution. This kind of tech trickles down into more user friendly applications, and as manufacturers increase their adoption of immersive sound types, better sound will soon be commonplace in your entertainment experiences. Artists around the world have released binaural sound pieces (or 8D as people are lovingly yet inaccurately calling it - how can 8 dimensions exist?) so I for one, am incredibly excited just thinking about how our listening experiences are going to develop in the near future.
The Music Trip are currently working on a plethora of new content options so sign up to our mailing list and subscribe to our Youtube channel to stay up to date with our new XR and ambisonic releases.