A sneak-peak at the future of of Audio
It’s just not about how music is going to end up sounding. It’s about how songs are going to feel.
When Apple Music’s Zane Lowe sampled spatial audio on his AirPods for the first time, he was astounded by its ability to transform music. Apple’s newly launched spatial audio powered by Dolby Atmos creates an immersive audio experience for listeners.
Apple Music subscribers will be treated to a new range of audio experiences that Apple Music and Beats Vice President, Oliver Schusser, dubbed “the biggest advancement ever in sound quality.” But what is spatial audio and what makes it distinct from the stereo?
Spatial Audio: The Next Big Thing in Audio
Spatial audio can change how we perceive music and more. It creates an immersive experience for listeners, transporting them to the source of the audio. You will feel like you’re right there, listening to your favourite singer from the concert venue.
To understand the full potential of spatial audio, we need to first delve into the possible impacts of immersive technology. Immersive technology extends reality or generates a new reality by leveraging a 360-degree space. Since it uses a 360-degree space, users can enjoy a holistic experience where they encounter the content from all directions.
Spatial audio utilizes the 360-degree technique to simulate reality. Therefore, it lets you hear the audio from all directions, making it more realistic. When you listen to spatial audio, it will feel like the sound is coming from all around you.
After mono and stereo, spatial promises to be the next evolutionary step that makes audio cutting-edge.
How does spatial audio work?
There are two fundamental components to making the spatial audio experience work: how the sound is recorded and produced, and how the software processes it.
When sound engineers record the audio for music or a movie, it is mixed and optimized to ensure an immersive experience.
For films or television shows, it is usually done with a surround sound experience in mind. They intentionally adjust the recorded audio to match the source and direction.
For instance, if a gunshot occurs from the left, the sound is mixed to make it appear louder on the left as it gradually decreases towards the right. This helps to establish a sense of real direction.
To make the sound more lifelike, sound engineers record with a binaural setup where two microphones capture the audio simultaneously. It lends the audio a 3D experience. Binaural recordings help replicate the environmental sounds as our ears perceive them.
However, just like 4K in video, it is not enough to record the sound in 3D. There has to be supported software and devices that let you enjoy the spatial sound effect.
Recently, Apple made the headlines for all the right reasons, for its collaboration with Dolby Atmos to roll out spatial audio for their audience.
The Apple-Atmos Partnership
The spatial audio feature was first introduced for movies and television shows as part of iOS 14 in September 2020.
Following this, it was deployed across Apple Music on June 7, as part of the 2021 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. In the same month, the company announced a partnership with Dolby Atmos.
Apple Music caused positive industry flutter with their spatial audio launch, during which they listed the devices that support this unique feature.
This includes AirPods Pro, AirPods (3rd gen), AirPods Max, Beats Fit Pro, and MacBook Pro 2021. Android users can subscribe to Apple Music to enjoy spatial audio only if their device supports Dolby Atmos.
Other Apple devices that support spatial audio include:
- iPhone 7 or newer models
- iPad Pro (3rd gen) or later models
- iPad Air (3rd gen) or later models
- iPad (6th gen) or later models
- iPad mini (5th gen) or later models
- iOS or iPadOS 14 or later models
- Apple TV 4K with tvOS 15 models
Now, while Dolby Atmos has been available on Amazon Music and Tidal streaming services for over a year, Apple’s announcement brings to it a new dimension.
When Dolby created Atmos, their focus was to induce sounds coming from surround home speakers to deliver a more visceral simulation of movie theatre sound effects.
You could hear the aeroplane zooming past as if you were next to the runway or raindrops hitting the window sill more prominently.
What makes the Apple’s Atmos-supported spatial audio so special?
When it comes to movie soundtracks, it provides virtualized surround and Atmos sound while tracking the listener’s head movement using accelerometers and gyroscopes in the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. The added feature helps position the sound accurately.
It also tracks the position of the device so that sound is positioned relative to the screen. So, if you are watching a movie on your iPad or iPhone and turn your head or change the position of your device, the dialogue will be anchored to the character on the screen.
Now, Dolby has shifted the focus from just movies to music production. By partnering with Apple Music, Dolby Atmos plans to launch special tracks and a unique set of playlists to help listeners re-experience music of their choice.
Spatial audio along Dolby Atmos will allow users to listen to music in the highest lossless quality, mimicking a real-world audio experience with remarkable accuracy.
Today, there are millions of devices that support Atmos along with a growing catalogue on streaming platforms – the intersection between Atmos and spatial audio should give you that ideal “sweet spot.”
Is the Future of Audio Here?
Advancements in spatial audio and the Apple-Atmos alliance, Giles Martin believes, will let musicians and producers take the music lovers inside the music and curate an immersive experience.
The Grammy award-winning composer, producer and songwriter also said that the listening experience will now be transformative and the possibilities for the creator endless. In an Apple press release, he said that this was a quantum leap in technology.
Martin shared how spatial audio leaves room for a unique experience wherein creators can fully immerse themselves in familiar music with a new, exhilarating approach.
Mixing engineer Manny Marroquin also agrees that spatial audio gives the music a new identity. He candidly stated that “The future has arrived” in the press release.
It certainly opens up numerous opportunities for players – such as gaming companies that can now deploy avant-garde sound designs to create a fully immersive experience for their users.
It will also change how creators will design their content, as now, the opportunities are limitless.