L-Acoustics interview: Immersive audio is transforming events and venues

Immersive audio is transforming venues and wowing audiences. Tim Kridel explores the technologies and trends pushing this field forward when he talks with Julien Laval, application project manager, consultant liaison at L-Acoustics.

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.

JL: There is no doubt that the need for spatial sound, fed by increasing processing power and availability, is growing into industries outside of the pro audio, video games and audio consumer industries which were early adopters. Depending on the context, end-users have different expectations from spatial sound, and the technical, as well as the supply challenges, can also be entirely different.

Two large trends are evolving simultaneously. The first is at an individual level where consumers are looking to spatial audio to standardise the experience via personal equipment like headphones and computers for entertainment, video calls and soon the metaverse. The second is providing an immersive experience to a large group of people and deliver diverse content in venues, theme parks etc. The growing synergies between those two trends are driving overall expectations.

Today, spatial audio is being used in varied live events and this is opening entirely new perspectives in the design of experiences that is only bounded by the imagination. These new immersive experiences require interaction between artists, the performance space and the audience and when it all works well together, it can create a singular experience within a unique space. 

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?

JL: The technology is allowing new types of live events to emerge, such as ABBA Voyage in ABBA Arena London [pictured above], where advanced motion design of the main artists are rendered by high-resolution screens. The digital version of Abbatars is merged with real musicians, merging the limits of the real versus the virtual. As another illustrating example, Outernet in London is also an interesting multimedia space where incredibly large high-resolution screens are covering the massive wall and ceiling areas. All these visual experiences can only be optimised by also delivering sound that goes beyond stereo. I believe the challenge lies in pushing the design experience industry out of the comfort zone, in a smart way. The top manufacturers can only achieve this by designing appropriate product that delivers that the right technology awareness.

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

JL: Effective immersive experiences have to be conceived as a whole and not in bits that are added together. Spatial audio needs to be coherent with the visual intention as well as with other human senses to multiply the magic spark. That is why bringing immersive into the design of experiences requires new ways of working to really grasp the potential disruptive changes brought by the technology. This takes a little time, but it’s already in motion, and we can’t look back. Along with new types of experiences, the industry is evolving, and new job roles are emerging.

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?

JL: In the last few years, we have seen the rise of professional sound system manufacturers developing immersive technologies for live and entertainment purposes by extending their full system approach rather than reintroducing a sole processing technology. Indeed, in an industry such as pro-audio where venues are all unique and singular, the best results can only be achieved by combining high-quality loudspeakers with optimised deployment and with smart tools that are well-designed to interact with other technologies, as well as for managing audio content control and creation.  It is important to understand the exact end-user need to propose an immersive audio solution that meets qualitative as well as functional expectations.


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