What Is Immersive Audio?
3D Audio, Immersive audio, spatial audio, 360 surround sound, and binaural audio, there are multiple names for the next development in music formats.
Most music is stereo … a fact that is known by everyone, whether it’s on a physical format or streamed through the internet … and people have been developing new formats for as long as it has been possible to distribute music for listening outside of a live environment. The film industry started developing surround sound systems firstly for the cinema experience but then moving into the home environment, however, surround sound depends on speaker placement and amount, and is limited to a single plane (the positioning of the speakers.). However, your ears aren’t designed that way. You hear from all around you, left and right, up and down and back and front. In fact, your brain is wired so that it hears sounds with delays as well (a sound coming to you from your left side will be heard by your left ear first and then fractionally later in your right ear, and your brain combines these signals to make it sound correct.
Immersive audio is a way to mix audio so that it can be heard in a more natural, immersive way.
One of the best systems in development at the moment is Dolby Atmos, which you have probably seen attached to quite a few recent film releases, and listed as a feature on high-end sound systems.
To give you an idea of how it can work, we have created a short video showing how audio can move around you here:
Vigilante Studio and Immersive Audio
At Vigilante Studio, we’ve been working with various ways of accomplishing this. We are “early adopters” of immersive audio for music.
Firstly, we worked closely with Dolby to become a recognised studio to be able to create Dolby Atmos mixes. Dolby Atmos is the 360-degree audio format used by the top film companies and cinemas to give the listener the full immersive sound experience when watching a film, and have been developing the system to use for music. This results in a 7.1.4 format where you can place each audio track in a specific sound space, so you can have the vocals behind you, the drums in front, the strings swirling around your head, or however you feel you want the elements positioned. You can throw audio at your listener in the same way that old 3D horror films used to throw things out of the screen for the ‘jump’ effect, or you can be more subtle and just create a fuller soundscape that the listener may not even notice is 360, they just get immersed in it. The latter process works best for music.
Dolby Atmos is a specific file type that needs to work with a decoder, but you can listen via the Dolby-equipped source, whether it’s a speaker or soundbar setup, or on headphones. The great thing is that if you have a Dolby-equipped device, you can use your normal headphones, you don’t need special Dolby headphones.
We are also now working on mixing immersive audio in a standard file type that works on all your existing devices. We can create 360 mixes that you can hear in headphones, that can be produced on CD, via youtube, on normal streaming services etc. All the video examples we use on this page use this style of immersive audio.
Here at Vigilante Studio, we can convert your existing mixes to immersive, whether its Dolby Atmos or a standard mix, we need access to the original multi-track (it’s not something that would work from the finished master as each separate track is placed in the soundscape.) Or we can mix your music from your recordings in the same way that you would hire someone to mix in stereo.
You can hear an example of a 360 mix here. This is a track by the band Into The Unknown, called “Into The Unknown”, (yes, it’s a rocked-up Disney cover!). For best results, you should listen on headphones otherwise you may not hear the effect properly.
You do not need to turn on any spatial software to listen to it. In fact, these settings on smart phones etc are only simulating the effect and can have a detrimental effect on the audio as it seems to lose the bass end etc.
Comparisons Between Dolby Atmos and Binaural Immersive Audio – Pros & Cons
- Able to be played back on speaker systems, in venues and domestically.
- Recognised as a standard in audio.
- Requires expensive playback equipment to work, and Dolby set up speaker arrangements.
- Not easily mastered or edited in the final form. Very expensive and time-consuming processes.
- The final file format is proprietary to Dolby and has massive file sizes.
- Playback on all audio systems, no specialist gear is required.
- Can be mastered and edited as a standard audio file.
- The final file format is a standard existing format (wav/MP3 etc).
- Playback is designed for headphone listening.
- It does work on surround sound speaker systems, but not guaranteed.
- Although it plays on a stereo sound system, The 3D effect won’t be heard.
The 3D effect is not heard on headphones by all listeners due to some very complicated scientific reasons but everybody’s hearing is different. The layout of your ear is as unique as a fingerprint, so there is an extensively researched algorithm embedded in the audio that recreates an average environment. Your brain translates what it hears, as it does in everyday life to place the sounds where it thinks they should be, however, unlike in “real life”, your brain has no second point of reference (i.e. seeing the source of the audio, seeing someone speaking, etc.) so may position the audio incorrectly in a headphone mix.