The tech-sphere is buzzing about a new audio format. It’s described as “revolutionary,” “a game changer,” and the beginning of something new. It’s called spatial audio and promises to make the music you listen to sound like it’s coming from all around you. This technology uses the time it takes for sounds to reach your ears to create directional effects. It works on the X and Y axes and the Z axis so that a sound can be above or below you. Then, it’s possible to create the sensation of a helicopter flying over your head or the sound of a bullet whizzing past your head. You can listen to immersive spatial audio in your home with headphones and speakers. Most modern headsets support this feature. But you’ll still need a compatible device, TV, or streaming box. And it’s important to get content that has been mixed for spatial audio.
What is Spatial Audio?
Spatial audio is a surround sound that uses headphones and accelerometers to track your head movements. This creates the illusion that sounds surround you, even if you’re sitting on the couch. It’s similar to the technology used in virtual reality headsets but less expensive. It’s important to note that spatial audio requires content that has been mixed for it. Classic albums and vintage recordings won’t work, but many newer songs receive this treatment. Using your device’s built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes, the feature detects when you’re moving around and adjusts the playback accordingly. This allows for a more immersive experience while watching supported videos.
How does it work?
Spatial audio — sometimes called 3D Audio — recreates the cinematic experience of surround sound when listening to music, podcasts, movies, and video games on your headphones. It takes a 5.1 7.1 mix of audio and applies directional audio filters to make it sound like different tracks are coming from the front, next to you, behind, below, or above your head. Other implementations of spatial audio also use directional audio filters and head tracking, but they typically have less sophisticated effects. Some rely on personalized HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function) filters that adapt to your unique ear anatomy. These personalizations are not universal and can cause sounds to ring out or be silenced. To enjoy a spatial audio experience, you need a device that supports it, the right headphones, and content mastered with spatial audio in mind (you can listen to spatial content without the experience, but it won’t be as immersive). It also requires a speaker system or headphones with built-in support for Dolby Atmos, common on recent TVs, streaming devices, and some speakers.
Why is it important?
Spatial audio combines head-related transfer function (HRTF) and advanced math to trick our brains into hearing sound from different directions, even above or behind us. This technology is becoming increasingly popular in smartphones and headphones, as it adds new depth to virtual reality content and can create a more immersive listening experience. Spatial audio has been around for a while now, with early versions separating the audio into multiple channels that could play through individual speakers. These systems were used in cinema and eventually found their way into home theaters, but they were limited to playing sounds from two directions (right and left). This system uses the same type of sound engineering as traditional surround. Still, it allows engineers to design sound objects that can be played from a more significant number of speakers and at different levels. The catch is that you must have the suitable media and the appropriate hardware to enjoy spatial audio.
What are the benefits?
Spatial audio opens up a whole new dimension of immersive Audio. Unlike stereo, where sounds are limited to a linear plane in front of you, spatial audio makes it seem like the sounds are coming from all around you, above and below. It makes a digital world sound more accurate and gives the user a more immersive experience. In addition to a 3D sonic landscape, spatial audio can capture acoustic effects like room reflections and environmental sounds. This allows listeners to feel immersed in the scene and better understand what’s happening in the story or song. To work, spatial audio requires content that’s been mixed for it and the right headphones to play back the soundtrack. Many of the latest earbuds and headphone models have accelerometers and gyroscopes that track your movements concerning the anchor device (your phone or tablet, the TV, etc). This allows them to play back spatial audio to match your position within the 3D space in that the content is being played.