Immersive Audio Gains a Foothold in Corporate Installs
Immersive, 3D, or spatial audio systems are hardly new. But 2018 is beginning to feel like the year that immersive audio will go mainstream, with more than a handful of hardware and software manufacturers rolling out technologies that enable audiences to experience spatialized sound at locations outside the cinema, the home, or a pair of headphones.
One recent example, the ISM Hexadome, a travelling audiovisual installation incorporating video projection and a spatial audio system, featured sound and visual artists including musicians Brian Eno, Ben Frost, and Thom Yorke at a museum in Germany throughout the month of April. The mobile structure, created by Germany’s ZKM | Institute for Music and Acoustics, incorporates 52 Meyer Sound speakers driven by a choice of control software (one by ZKM and two from France’s IRCAM research institute). Intended by the Institute for Sound & Music (ISM) as the first step toward establishing a permanent museum recognizing immersive arts, sound, and electronic music culture, the installation is scheduled to visit locations across Europe and the U.S. throughout 2018.
Art installations, theme park attractions, and live performances are an obvious application for spatial sound technologies, but Sennheiser’s Brian Glasscock, a user-experience researcher who also works on the company’s AMBEO VR microphone project and is helping guide the future of immersive audio for broadcast, believes there are everyday applications, too.
“There are a lot of problems in traditional corporate AV installations where 3D audio could improve audio experiences,” he said. “I’m thinking, for example, of conferencing. If we were to enable conference experiences with 3D audio, we could improve intelligibility, improve efficiency, reduce fatigue, and improve productivity.”
Kevin O’Connor, in charge of sales and marketing for Sony’s new Sonic Surf VR platform, can also see uses for the technology beyond location-based entertainment experiences. The system, comprising multichannel active loudspeaker modules, a processor, and control software, also uses WFS to position static or moving audio objects within 3D space and will be officially introduced at InfoComm 2018.
Commercial and corporate applications might include foreign language directions in a public space or descriptions in, say, a museum, said O’Connor, who reports that Sony is already building systems for various clients, including an airline.
Several concert sound production technologies offering various spatial audio formats have started to attract attention this year. For example, the L-Acoustics L-ISA system, which generates what the company describes as “immersive hyperrealism,” uses software-driven, MADI-interfaced hardware processing to audibly match the positioning of performers on the stage with individual control of panning, width, depth, and elevation for 64 audio objects.
At ISE in Amsterdam in February, d&b audiotechnik demonstrated its d&b Soundscape system interoperating via the OSC protocol with QLab and TTA Stagetracker II. At the core of the system is the Dante-enabled DS100 Signal Engine controlled by two software modules, d&b En-Scene, handling up to 64 audio objects, and d&b En-Space, managing the acoustic environment.
Amadeus, a manufacturer of sound reinforcement systems and custom studio monitors, launched its new live sound spatialization hardware processor system, Holophonix, at Prolight + Sound 2018. The processor is based on IRCAM’s Spat engine and, similarly to IRCAM’s Panoramix software, supports a broad range of spatialization options. Holophonix’s algorithms include 2D or 3D VBAP (vector-base amplitude panning), 2D DBAP (distance-based amplitude panning), 2D and 3D Higher-Order Ambisonics, and wave field synthesis. The Holophonix system can be custom-configured for MADI, RAVENNA, or AES67 connectivity and works with show control software and DAWs supporting OSC.
“We are now at a tipping point where everyone is understanding and promoting the added value of immersive audio for fixed installs,” said Astro Spatial Audio director Bjorn Van Munster.