Immersive Sound Experience - What's Next to Expect?

by Dror Denishman

Can you describe your experience the last time you attended a concert or live performance?
Yes. The music was coming from different directions, right? Remember the vocals, instruments, and the deafening shouts of the audience, creating a disconnect between you and the artists. That disconnect. That gap is what recent immersive audio technology is trying to close. Now, from live events, home cinemas, headphones, 360-degree film, and Virtual Reality, there's an evolution to a changing future where what we listen to will give us a much more intensive and immersive sound experience.

Over the years, innovative ways have been created to capture audio sounds and deliver them to listeners in different ways. Virtual Reality has been a protagonist driving these advancements to rotate the sounds around the human ears for a completely immersive experience.
Regardless of the device used (speakers, headsets, or AirPods) or the location (theatre, cinema, sitting room), the goal has always been to create a realistic, immersive sound experience.

An immersive sound is an experience where the listener perceives the sounds created by speakers as coming from an infinite number of points. This means the sound designer/ composer creates a multi-dimensional sound that completely envelops the listener.Close your eyes and imagine the sound of a race car speeding around a track for a moment. Immerse yourself deep into the experience. Can you see the car approaching in the distance, off on the right side of the screen? As it moves closer, it gets louder and zooms across the screen from right to left as it goes past you. The sound screams off the left edge of the screen and continues down the left wall until it disappears into the distance behind you.A sound designer could, in theory, recreate this sound carefully using three speakers - a right speaker, center speaker, and a left speaker. The designer could associate the sound of that race car with locations (coordinates) that move smoothly across the front of the room and then down the left side of the room. It is the same sound, but now with metadata telling the playback system where it should be from one moment to the next.That is the potential of Immersive sound! It is scalable because it doesn't care how many speakers you have in your room because it is not referencing a specific speaker – just relative locations. These locations can include the space above you and around you, enclosing you in a "bubble" of sound.These days, most sound enthusiasts do not want a lot of speakers and wires in their living room. Nevertheless, they want to relive the experience of hearing their favorite artists as if she was in the room with them. These days, that cinematic experience can be achieved with one soundbar with various speakers firing in different directions.

The Purpose of Immersive sound?

The aim of immersive sound is to naturally recreate the sound you are listening to as naturally as possible. If you see a movie where you are in a jungle, you will not only see the fog and the trees, but the goal is to recreate the sweeping sounds of the trees and the chirping of the birds close to your ears. And if it's a classical performance of an orchestra you are watching in your living room, to be able to identify the different sounds of each instrument in space, as if you were at the live performance.

How Immersive Sound is evolving

In 2017, Google released an audio software development kit named Resonance Audio. It is designed to make 3D audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality easier to achieve. Resonance audio brings a rich, immersive and dynamic spatial sound into your AR, VR, gaming, video, and musical experience at scale. Today, most of the songs uploaded online use similar tools.Netflix is also streaming much of its content in Dolby Atmos (a surround sound technology developed by Dolby Laboratories) so people who have the available tech devices can get a cinematic experience. The sound creates an immersive audio mix sound coming from all around you even though it might be coming from two speakers.Dolby Music took it a bit further to become the normal delivery format for new albums. Music streaming services are adopting this special immersive music technology across all digital music formats.The future of sound is in bringing quality audio to the listener but, above all, in creating more realistic and immersive experiences of what you are listening to. Expectant on how it will evolve.