Spatial Audio

10月 22, 2021

When Thomas Edison invented the first machine capable of recording and reproducing sound in 1877, he changed the face (or rather ‘ears’) of modern music and sound forever. His remarkably simple device introduced audio playback to the world in ‘mono’ - or ‘monophonic’ - containing one single audio ‘channel’. For example, if you were to listen to an early recording in mono through your headphones, you would be hearing exactly the same audio in your left ear, as you would in your right. Over the course of the last 144-years, the way we listen to sound has dramatically changed. A recent study by streaming-giant ‘Pandora’ shows us that, partially due to the upheaval cause by the Covid-19 pandemic, people’s listening habits have dramatically shifted to PC/Laptop listening, with a 54% increase in PC/Desktop listening. This leads us to ask the question, ‘What is Spatial Audio and how can I hear it?’ Let’s have a look - and a listen - at what Spatial Audio is, and ask ourselves if we’re on the cusp of another audio revolution.

‘Spatial Audio’ is the term Apple Music have given to their latest feature of being able to experience immersive audio through their streaming platform. Before we go any further, what is ‘Immersive Audio’? ‘Immersive Audio’ is defined by a ‘3D listening experience, providing the listener with a natural or ‘life-like’ listening experience’. Whilst mono features a single audio channel, and stereo features two audio channels, ‘Spatial Audio’ in Dolby Atmos features up to 128 channels of audio, acting as a kind of ‘super panner’ (‘Panning’ is the spatial distribution of an audio channel in a stereo or multi-channel field). Whilst ‘Spatial Audio’ is a term specifically given to any and all Immersive Audio on the Apple Music Platform, Apple have been working closely with Dolby to bring spatial audio onto the Apple streaming eco-system - so much so that the ‘Dolby Atmos’ logo now features on supported devices. In Dolby’s own words, “Dolby Atmos goes beyond the ordinary listening experience and puts you inside the song in a new spatial way, revealing every detail of the music with unparalleled clarity and depth”. With audio content mixed in Dolby Atmos - and a device that plays in Dolby Atmos (although headphones will also give you some of the experience) - you can hear this for yourself with Syn’s recent collaboration with Tatcha, ‘Indigo’ - now available in Spatial Audio on Apple Music.

Syn’s first venture into the world of Immersive Audio was in 2018 whilst composing original music and sound design for a Mercedes-Benz campaign in China via BBDO Beijing. The high-energy campaign, aimed at both cinema and home viewing, gave Syn the opportunity to explore this high definition audio format for the first time and mix the score in Dolby Atmos. This was the first commercial campaign in China to be mixed in Dolby Atmos, and the action-packed, highly cinematic spot leant itself perfectly to this immersive audio experience. With orchestral instrumentation in the original score (composed by Nick Wood), and ethereal crystal sounds in the sound design (created by Alan Mawdsley), Dolby Atmos helped bring the music and sound to life in a fresh and compelling way.

Since this initial exploration into Immersive Audio, Syn has returned again to produce another original composition with Dolby Atmos. ‘Indigo’ by Nick Wood was originally composed as part of Tatcha’s Five-Senses Calming Ritual, using musical data collected from Japanese Indigo plants using Plant Wave technology (please see our previous blog-post here for a behind the scenes look at this).

With a profoundly calming score, layered with ambient, textural sounds, Syn looked to Dolby Atmos technology once more to bring this soundscape to life. Working closely with the team at COSAELL studio, Syn’s Chief Engineer, Akaku Takashi,

and ‘Indigo’ composer, Nick Wood, visited the studio to craft this multi-channel mix. Words can only go so far when describing audio experience, and I will leave it Nick Wood’s comments to share his thoughts on the mix; “It sounds amazing”.

Ideally, you would want to listen to Dolby Atmos through a loudspeaker experience - either in a cinema or the appropriate studio/home set-up - however, for those of us without spatial audio loudspeaker hardware at home, your trusted headphones will still suffice. In the words of Grammy nominated producer, Nathaniel Reichman, “Spatial Audio is noticeably better in headphones than stereo on headphones, and gives producers new tools, but is a less startling difference when compared to loudspeakers”. In short, headphones will do the trick, but next time you’re in your local cinema enabled with Dolby Atmos, keep an ear out.

Sceptics of Dolby Atmos point to historic examples of audio fads coming and going, only to quickly drift into the realms of the dated and irrelevant. However, at Syn, we disagree and are embracing an age of audio possibilities for immersive audio mixes. From Sonic Branding, TVCs and Digital content to video game soundtracks and commercial artist releases, immersive audio opens up a range of new possibilities and ways of listening. If Pandora are right and we are indeed seeing a trend towards PC & Desktop listening, then surely all the more reason to explore the far reaches of immersive audio outside of the home, encouraging a polar-opposite listening experience that transports us from our home office spaces and work-place desks and takes us to a world of auditory magic.

‘Indigo’ is available in Stereo and Spatial Audio on Apple Music.