FEED Issue 24

FUTURE SHOCK Spatial Audio

Words by Muki Kulhan

It promises a personalised, ambient sound-space in perfect sync with visual storytelling. But just how does this still-experimental audio tech work?

ven with a visual medium, audio can make or break the experience; when done well, audio provides indespensable

trillion to the global economy by the year 2030”. That’s a whole decade ahead of us for pumping up the spatial audio volume. THE NEXT STEP Before exploring some more of this spatial/ visual potential, let’s describe what spatial audio is, without going too deep down the rabbit hole of 3D sound vs 360° sound (vs surround sound vs Auro-3D, vs Dolby Atmos vs binaural, vs immersive audio…). In a nutshell, spatial audio – also known as ambisonics – is the cooler big sister of the 360° surround sound that most of us are familiar with. It comprises lots of strategically placed speakers in cinemas, and soundbars or cross-talk cancellation stereo speakers in the home or office. It does what it says on the tin by literally surrounding the space we occupy with sound, as we remain in static wonder. But with an intelligently produced spatial experience, the listener takes the sound with them – all around them. It’s a personalised, three-dimensional atmosphere enhanced by precision location tracking and superior audio immersion – and hopefully, some good storytelling. As you move around, the audio shifts with your movements, organically imitating how you listen to things around you in real life. Sometimes, spatial audio can guide and lead the entire experience, especially

enrichment for viewers. But getting the audio right, especially using the complex layers of new, spatial ‘sounds beyond stereo’, can be a mountain to climb. Luckily, the growing demand for immersive interactivity in video formats – across all screen shapes and sizes – has opened a path for exploring new ways of integrating innovative, spatial audio in sound and vision. Amongst industry peers, academics and R&D circles, this clever format is still in its ‘wild west’ phase, with creators and consumers experimenting with new tools and techniques in spatial production, to enhance and augment our video experiences with full, glorious, 360° surround sounds. Spatial audio now goes way beyond the VR headset and is almost, dare we say, entering the mainstream, mostly thanks to the rising popularity of Location Based Entertainment (LBE) in shopping malls, branded experiential and theme parks. Add in mobile-led, audio-enhanced augmented reality (AR) layers on social and retail platforms, and it looks like spatial audio has a bright future. A PWC report, Seeing is Believing, released in December 2019, predicts that “VR and AR has the potential to add £1.5


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