Simply typing a Google search for “audio gear” or “audio tech” often leads to the term “spatial audio” popping up on your screen. But what exactly is spatial audio or 3D sound, and why should you give it any thought?
Spatial audio is an entirely different approach to the traditional sound experience we’re used to, known as stereo. Spatial audio moves away from that stereo format of left-right speakers and surrounds a listener in 360 degrees of sound. When additional sound sources are placed overhead, the listener experiences a hemisphere of sound similar to what we hear in our everyday lives. It has the potential to involve and immerse the listener more fully than standard audio.
For example, if you’re watching a movie that’s compatible with spatial audio and someone loudly walks alongside the left side of the screen, if you turn your head to the left, the footsteps then sound like they’re coming from straight in front of you. And as a form of 360-degree audio, spatial audio’s effect isn’t limited to a flat axis either. Spatial audio can add a sense of height, making streaming and movie playback even more immersive. In the same movie, if a flock of geese flies overhead, spatial audio can mimic the honking and flapping of wings above, making the entertainment environment far more immersive and realistic.
How does spatial audio work?
Most movies and shows are already mixed and optimized with a surround sound experience in mind. Along with recording live audio from the set, sound designers often treat the surround sound experience as a significant consideration. Therefore, they will purposefully adjust where the sound comes from when mixing the audio track. For example, if a crash happens to the camera’s left, you will hear the crash more loudly in your left ear. Some sound designers record using a binaural setup, where two microphones record audio simultaneously to simulate a 3D audio experience.