Music becomes the soundtrack of our lives, but what if you could change the channel and experience audio in a new, more immersive way? A new example of technological innovation and creative artistry is currently transforming the audio landscape and providing new opportunities to give your ears wings to fly.
This is an exciting time for music lovers. 3D Immersive audio is not necessarily “better” than traditional stereo audio – but it is different. When you look at a beautiful painting you might prefer oils to watercolors. You might prefer the dimensional feeling of a Van Gogh or Monet to the smoothness of a Rembrandt or a Botticelli, but each format offers its unique attractions and experience.
Where It Came From
This new trend initially began with much earlier efforts to deliver multichannel audio through expensive home audio systems. The cost was prohibitive, and consumer acceptance was quite poor. As movie theaters embraced superior sound systems for cinema, the move towards developing similar audio systems for home cinema contributed to a renewed interest in this idea. This was accelerated by the ongoing development of various gaming systems combined with the emerging platforms of augmented and virtual reality systems, where truly immersive “it feels like I’m really there” audio became highly desirable.
Streaming services are the primary way in which music is being consumed. All of the major streaming services have only recently begun to offer 3D superior quality audio content. The major labels are now in the process of offering new projects by artists such as Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers in both 3D and stereo formats, and they are also working to retroactively create 3D mixes of many of the songs in their existing catalogs. Amazon is currently heavily promoting its branded Echo 3D speaker system and Firestick technology to try and capture the in-home audio market for 3D applications. Sony Music is working on a headphone based system, Sony 360 Reality Audio, to also compete in this arena.
The Nitty Gritty
In essence, 3D audio describes ways to separate a common left/right stereo mix audio track into multiple dimensions so that up/down, right/left, front/back and even behind are all possibilities! The audio field in a traditional stereo mix projects forward from the listener like a cone. By contrast, the spatialized 3D audio distributes the sound throughout all the available audio landscape such that the individual voices and instruments each occupy their own “space” or location within this immersive landscape. This more closely resembles how we actually experience sound in the real world and helps to turn listening to music into an immersive, participatory experience. An analogy is found in cooking: if you are creating a salsa or a soup by using a blender, everything tastes smooth and uniform, but it is difficult to distinguish and appreciate the individual components of the recipe. By contrast, if you take the time to cut up the individual components into discrete “chunks” you can better experience and enjoy the taste and contrast of each individual element while still enjoying the overall taste and experience of the whole blend.
The technology includes using sophisticated audio processing programs to place the various instrument tracks and vocal stems in the desired space within the audio soundscape. In addition to this, various mixing tools and techniques such as reverb, delay and panning are used on each component of the mix, and then again in the overall mastering of song, to create a finished work. This represents both a technical and an artistic achievement, as the artist and the mixing/mastering sound engineer are able to work together to create a truly immersive audio experience for the listener.
As the holiday season approaches, consider taking a trip out of your head and into your world in a way that only 3D immersive audio can offer – 3D immersive audio, you can’t leave home without it.
Dennis is one half of the duo, Raveis Kole. Check out their new 3D Immersive experimental project here at www.raveiskole.com. And see their story on page 13 in this issue, and also at