Spatial Audio: The Amplified Revolution

While businesses strive to hyper-personalize their products and services, they are increasingly turning to virtual reality experiences for customers. As this plays out, the role of sound becomes more immersive and can promote emotional engagement. Silicon Valley is currently gripped by metaverse fever, and if the buzz is to be believed, the holy grail of a virtual world appears to be within our grasp. People need real-world, lifelike experiences in the virtual world as well. As this 3D immersive environment takes shape, engineers are working around the clock to improve technologies’ ability to simulate real-life events.

This is also true for sound. The metaverse’s excitement is fueling a concentrated push to enable interactive acoustics to create more emotional, atmospheric, and dramatic experiences. As a result, new acoustic technologies can now place interactive dynamic sound all around you – a breakthrough known as “spatial audio.”

This goes far beyond simply improving your binge-watching habits. Spatial audio provides a feeling of space that goes beyond traditional stereo, allowing the listener to pinpoint where a sound is coming from, whether above, below, or all the way around you. While stereo allows you to hear items in front, to the left and right, and above and below you, it does not provide a sense of surround sound. The addition of a new third acoustic dimension that adds depth allows you to pinpoint the precise position of sound sources.


The Significance of Sound

Pandemics and global lockdowns have completely altered our sound patterns, particularly in larger cities. Nature sounds replaced highway noises, and people heard sounds they had never heard before. As individuals became more aware of the impact of sound on their mood and behavior, a new sonic-scape transformed the atmosphere of cities. Sight and sound are the two higher senses and the foundation of emotions. However, sound expresses emotion more explicitly. We may impact and alter the intricacies of emotion using the expressive features of sound to establish a more intense connection than visual processing alone.

Consider the sounds from a sporting event. As professional sports have gradually returned to empty stadiums, it has become clear that crowd noise improves sporting events for both fans at home and players on the field. Walking into a stadium without the normal fan cheers creates a sterile atmosphere that permeates the playing field. As a result, recent games lacked the fervor of past campaigns. We may detect a critical link between athletes’ attention in quiet environments and their answers in a crowded stadium with loud supporters. Broadcasters also noticed that there was something missing from the typical experience. They soon started simulating crowd noise to create a more lively mood for viewers. Surprisingly, they found their solution in the realm of gaming.

The crowd noise for the Premier League stadium audio came from the FIFA 20 console game, which was provided by a videogame publisher. They offered 13 hours of game sounds generated from 1,300 separate assets to the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga for live broadcasts using a technology called “Atmospheric Audio.” They made audio samples for various situations, such as fouls during goal scoring. The producer, who was watching the game live, then put the precise sample into the audio mix in real time to better represent how people would respond if they were watching live. To provide an even more vivid auditory scape, there are “home” and “away” versions for each side in each match. To imitate the customary location of away fans in one portion of the stadium, the away team is panned out to the side. For realism, the voice of home fans is amplified.

Surprisingly, this element was also aired via stadium public address systems for the benefit of the players. While this was effective, it caused a “audio-visual disconnect” due to crowd loudness while spectators observed rows of empty seats. Seat covers and advertisements were eventually added to stadiums to solve this issue.

An Audio Issue Is Videoconferencing Fatigue

These new acoustic advancements have the potential to alter teleconferencing. We are all experiencing call fatigue as we attend more video calls every day. We feel fatigued after a conference call with several participants because the audio mixing and voices can greatly overload the brain, continually assigning the sounds to the pictures. The brain can identify sound sources in the surroundings, link visual and audio sources, and build a “directional scene” during a real-world dialogue. Spatial audio in virtual meetings generates a natural acoustic environment, saves our brains unnecessary background cycles, and reduces cognitive burden, making meetings more efficient and less stressful.

The future of video conferencing and cooperation will be spatial audio-enabled virtual meeting platforms. Distributing each person’s voice in a 3D audio space adds life to talks and discussions while also creating a unique and engaging ambiance. It allows the angle of the sound source to adjust as your head moves, increasing immersion by adding levels and distance to simulate real-world sounds. We can employ head tracking to allow head motions and sync audio levels to further imitate a real discussion and boost sound localization.


Why Is Spatial Audio Important?

Spatial audio will enable better and more realistic virtual communication as our new world embraces remote working. As we begin to work and collaborate in 3D worlds, spatial audio will become ever more important. With spatial audio in 3D worlds allows us to navigate and engage using our natural senses rather than cognitive thinking. We use sonics to alleviate visual overload instead of visual communication as the dominant sensory mode. Natural discussions enable us to work and communicate with one another for extended periods of time while also adding a deeper emotional connection.

The aesthetic distinctions we find amongst video conferencing solutions are limited to the front-end experience. Sonics will soon fuel a revolution in collaborative media. We shall transition from a monophonic to a three-dimensional spatial universe. Voices will be locked onto the direction of the device screen due to considerable acoustic changes to video calls and center-stage cameras, thus stepping away or towards the device will automatically and quietly add the sound localization using machine learning.

A social network for audio chat recently introduced spatial audio capabilities on certain devices. This update will enable it to create a soundstage resembling a genuine room. Instead of entering an audio chat room and experiencing mono, flat sound, it will employ 3D audio to place people about the “room” to create a “café” atmosphere.

As the digital and physical worlds merge, spatial audio will be used to facilitate more natural conversation, offer a sense of presence, and decrease cognitive overload in visual contexts. Virtual reality is a multi-sensory experience, and sound is an important component in generating realistic virtual surroundings. Spatial audio will enable developers to create immersive content in which noises can emanate from any direction. Audio that responds in real time via head-tracking will become a powerful source of interaction in the future, from the water splashing at your feet to the wind blowing around you to hearing people behind you.


Entering the Metaverse

Augmented reality will provide us with new methods to sense the world that goes beyond sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. As we enter the metaverse era, the utilization of spatial audio in particular will assist us in achieving a profound sensation of presence. Realistic soundscapes will transport listeners to exotic locations while provoking strong emotions. Spatial sound will add 3D dimension to digital experiences from all around the world. We’ll feel as if we’re “there,” wherever “there” may be. Spatial sound innovations are the most important acoustic disruption since the transition from silent to talkies. We may be able to unlock the promise of the metaverse with the next acoustic revolution.


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