Immersive audio is on the rise thanks to tech developments and creative minds

Jamie Gosney, creative director at Sonosphere, talks to Tim Kridel about immersive audio trends and how technology developments on both the consumer and pro sides are driving the industry forward.

TK: What are some new/recent/emerging marketplace trends in spatial/immersive audio? For example, spatial audio is becoming more common in home theatres. Consumer experiences often set expectations for what’s possible and preferable outside the home. So is there increasing demand for spatial/immersive audio in places such as office meeting rooms, classrooms, concert venues, theme parks and attractions? The metaverse also seems to be driving interest in spatial audio.

JG: Yes, we believe there is an increase in demand for spatial audio. With Apple and Amazon delivering immersive audio on music streaming platforms, the public becoming more aware of its existence is starting to drive demand in other areas.

People have associated immersive events with the visual perspective for many years, but it’s only now they’re starting to recognise the relevance that immersive audio plays in creating the emotional connection.

We’re seeing a particular trend for spatial audio in immersive art exhibitions. For example, we recently delivered a Dolby Atmos system for Leonardo da Vinci: Genius Immersive Experience in Berlin. Aptly described as ‘Edutainment’ visitors explore Leonardo’s inventions and ideas via state-of-the-art technology, with specially composed music from DJ Sasha which we transformed into a captivating 360-degree soundscape.

Another trend, as more albums are mixed in Dolby Atmos, is that album launches are starting to follow suit. For example, for Ed Sheeran’s “=” album launch we took tracks from the album that was already mixed in Dolby Atmos and re rendered them in the studio to work on a PA system at the launch event. We created a meadow soundscape that was an underscore to the album’s creative content and the design of the set, which included wildflowers, grasses, etc, and projection of butterflies.

TK: Are there any trends on the technology side? For example, are there any capabilities and features that vendors are increasingly adding to their spatial/immersive products? If so, why those? What challenges or needs do they address?

JG: For years, people have experimented in immersive audio, but technology wasn’t available to accurately produce spatial (object based) audio. However, with digital mixing consoles and digital processing generally, the technology has caught up with people’s visions. Companies like Dolby Atmos are working at a very fast pace – Dolby Atmos for music only came out in 2018, but there are an increasing number of Dolby Atmos enabled devices hitting the market that will continue to drive consumer awareness and demand.

Modern DSP devices address the complexities of placing objects in a 3D space, as opposed to it just coming out of individual loudspeakers. It is phase and time alignment from these devices that allows the human brain to believe that an object is in a 3D space, as opposed to coming out a number of loudspeakers. Whilst beam steering has been around for almost 30 years, it’s now being fine tuned into products that are useable for a wider range of applications.

Technologies like 5G will also help with live streaming and live mixing in spatial audio, as the speed of 5G gives you much more scope in terms of transporting and controlling audio in a live situation.

TK: Are there any barriers to adoption? If so, what are they, and how might they be overcome?

JG: Traditionally, and frustratingly, audio is still the last thing to be considered in a project. This inevitably brings compromise with it, as audio products tend to have to physically fit in around the visual, rather than being considered at project conception stage, when better choices can be made to achieve good results. Cost is also a barrier, because there isn’t enough understanding of the value that audio in general, but particularly spatial audio, brings to a project. Audio is what creates emotional connection but, because you can’t see it, it’s the most overlooked discipline in the creative process. 

TK: What do AV integrators and consultants need to know about working with spatial/immersive audio if it’s a new area for them? Any tips or best practices for creating a system that wows the client? Any pitfalls to avoid? 

JG: Immersive audio is a highly specialised field and bringing in the right people at the beginning of a project is vital. As there’s more demand for spatial audio in live venues, it’s important that venues consider installing bespoke systems. Not only will this deliver a far superior result because the system can be properly tuned and aligned to the venue, but it also has the advantage of playing into the green agenda by stopping the need for tonnes of equipment to be transported from venue to venue.

A key tip for best practice is to involve the right people in the content creation process, as well as for the physical system design.

And it’s really important to remember that just because a company says they can deliver a spatial audio system, it doesn’t mean they can do it well. Make sure you employ the right people. Your team is your most important asset, and a specialised solution needs a specialist to implement it.

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