Many listeners and users often equate spatial audio with good hi-fi quality. In general, good hi-fi quality would mean hearing excellent stereo separation with no hum interference and other elements that would hinder the enjoyment of sound. But, actually, spatial audio goes a few steps further.

As Qualcomm, notes, like many other new, unfamiliar media technologies, the terminology and descriptions associated with spatial audio may seem confusing and hard to grasp at first. Very often, terms like 3D audio, 8D, or even 9D, are connected with spatial audio. So where does the come from?

Adam Levenson, Senior Director of Business Development & Marketing at Wave’s Audio explains the differences:

“Both stereo and surround sound formats such as 5.1 and 7.1 are tied to fixed speaker setups. Throughout the years, masterful works have been produced using stereo and surround including some of the most beloved music and movies. But if the real-world sound is the ideal, then these formats only provide windows into that ideal experience. Spatial audio allows listeners to step out of a windowed vantage point and into an immersive, emulation of real-world sound.”

Or, as puts it, spatial audio is the technique whereby sounds are processed to make them appear to come from their real location in space.

As Levenson further explains, there are several different spatial audio products available to consumers. The terms 3D, 8D, 9D audio mentioned above are all formats associated with spatial audio.

This post has been updated in September 2021. 

How does spatial audio work?

Essentially, spatial audio is best suited for use with headphones or earphones. This is particularly true of the wireless setups. But, as Levenson (above) explains, the acoustic principles that make perceiving spatial audio possible over a pair of earbuds also apply to technologies that produce spatial audio from two or more speakers. “Earbuds and headphones have a built-in advantage in that each speaker is acoustically isolated by the proximity to your ear and by the obstacle of your head. Over speakers, this acoustic isolation is achieved through a process called cross-talk cancellation.”

“There are “object-based” formats in which the location of a sound is baked into the position of the thing that emits the sound such as a car passing by in a movie, or violin playing stage left. Then there’s “Ambisonics” that provides a sphere of sound centered around the listener. There are spatial virtualizers, technologies that project sound into a virtual acoustic space” (Levenson).

HighFidelity (above) goes into a bit more detail. “There are two techniques used to move sounds left/right and in-front/behind you. Combined these techniques are often referred to by the acronym HRTF, which stands for “Head-Related Transfer Function.”

So to spatialize audio, we take the original sound and do two things. Shift the time delay between the two channels and adjust the loudness of the frequencies. This is done according to where that sounds needs to be relative to your head.

So where do the benefits lie? All of the following possibilities and more actually do:

  • Videoconferencing solutions,
  • social voice chat apps,
  • games,
  • live streaming events,
  • virtual reality,
  • film-viewing.

Benefits for businesses

One of the essential benefits of spatial audio for businesses starts with the opportunities by investing in new technologies. The advancements in streaming business services, videoconferencing, and games to name just a few speak for themselves.

Where do the benefits for businesses lie on the user side of spatial audio? Using spatial audio in marketing projects like audio/video ads is becoming more common. Why? Producing high-quality audio/video ads, particularly for online use and for viewing and listening on mobile devices is one of the things that will make them stand out. And such marketing is getting more competitive by the day.

Let us take a look at another benefit of spatial audio use. Many studies recently point out that the use of music at work has real productivity benefits. In its report, CBS News lists there key ones:

  • Background music improves your mood and enhances perception while working. That’s the conclusion of a study at the University of Windsor in Canada, which tested the effect of music on software developers. People in this study generated the lowest quality of work — and took the longest to complete — without any music at all. And interestingly, they noted increased curiosity when exposed to background music as well.
  • Music makes you feel calmer. According to the Journal of Music Therapy, listening to your favorite music lowers your perception of tension. That’s true even if your favorite music is energetic, which will actually raise your heart rate and respiration.
  • Music can help you focus. According to Peter Quily, an adult Attention Deficit Disorder coach, music can have positive physiological effects on patients who suffer from adult ADD. Specifically, listening to music can increase dopamine levels in your brain — which in turn can help you focus.

spatial audio

Types of spatial audio currently available on the market

Why does spatial audio work well on mobile devices and multi-speaker systems used to playback films and film/music streaming services like Netflix?

On mobile devices, users in most cases listen/view audio/video material with their headphones/earphones plugged in. There, spatial audio adds that lifelike feel that makes the material they view or listen to even more immersive.

And, as TechRadar, notes, spatial audio takes this one step further by adding height cues to film soundtracks and music. “For cinephiles, spatial audio makes films feel more engrossing, placing you right in the action.” Also, “it allows gamers to hear the sound of enemy footsteps creeping towards them from any direction.”

This specialized tech site presents a number of key spatial audio systems that are currently available on the market:

  • Dolby Atmos – This is probably the best-known of all the spatial audio formats. Its design was originally developed for cinema and later made its way to the world of music streaming.”
    The format gives the sound a more three-dimensional effect than traditional surround formats, with sound designers taking elements from a track and placing them in a virtual sphere. This allows movie makers to make sounds feel as though they are coming at you from all angles.
  • DTS:X – DTS:X is very similar to Dolby Atmos in that it creates a three-dimensional sound that moves around you as it would in real life. “The big difference, however, is that DTS:X doesn’t require overhead speakers or up-firing tweeters, working with standard surround sound speaker setups. “
    DTS:X also has the added benefit of allowing you to manually adjust different sound elements, so you could increase the volume of dialogue on the soundtrack if you’re struggling to hear them over loud music or effects.

More on the types

  • Apple Spatial Audio – Apple’s Spatial Audio is the company’s answer to Dolby Atmos for Headphones, designed for the AirPods Pro true wireless earbuds and AirPods Max over-ear headphones. “What’s unique to Spatial Audio though, is that it uses the built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes inside Apple’s earbuds and headphones to track the position of your head, as well as the position of your iPhone or iPad. “ That means that, when you watch films on your iPhone or iPad, the sound will always be placed correctly based on the action on the screen.
  • Sony 360 Reality Audio – This system is supposed to be Sony’s 3D audio answer for music streaming. It is an immersive music format designed so that users can use music streaming services over their mobile devices and play them through compatible headphones.”
  • Super X-FI from Creative – This system “relies on a proprietary algorithm and a custom chip to up-mix regular surround sound, stereo sound, and even mono audio tracks. With it, Super XFi can use the shape of your ears and head to calculate how audio needs to be tuned to give you a 3D effect by feeding it through its Super X-FI ULTRADSP chip.”

TechRadar also provides a useful list of streaming services that offer spatial audio:

  • Netflix,
  • Amazon Prime Video,
  • Apple TV Plus,
  • Tidal,
  • Amazon Music HD,
  • Other streaming services that support spatial audio in the form of Dolby Atmos include Disney Plus, Hulu, Vudu, HBO Go, and Rakuten.

All of these services mark spatial audio products with a mark of the type of spatial audio, say Dolby Atmos. It is also important to note here that quite a few of these services include ads in their programming. Something that potential businesses would have in mind.

Producing spatial audio videos, films, and audio

Quite a number of indicators say that there are obvious benefits for various businesses to try their hand at spatial audio. That is not only by investing in spatial audio itself. Using spatial audio in marketing projects and in the workplace has substantial benefits themselves.

But, spatial audio is not something that just comes out of the box which you can simply apply to, say, a video ad. In most cases, you need musicians and studios to mix and master content for 3D, or any other such spatial audio space.

So where should you look for a team of freelancers that would be able to help you out with any potential spatial audio project?

Actually, BunnyStudio might be exactly the place to help you out with that. Audio production in all shapes and forms is one of our core activities.

At the same time, we carefully select the list of our freelance audio experts to provide high-quality results. This is, of course, the case with all our freelancers, from design to writing, translation, and others. So, if along with spatial audio, if you need help with any other elements of a prospective marketing campaign feel free to contact us. We will make sure that we come up with the best possible solution.