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Apr 13, 2021 High Fidelity
7 min read

What Is Immersive Audio?

What is immersive audio? Is it the same thing as surround sound or a different technology altogether? As a leader in real-time spatial audio technology, it’s a question that we get a lot.

Today, thousands of developers and audio engineers leverage the power of immersive audio to deliver powerful audio experiences in virtual or augmented reality. However, other unique use cases of immersive audio exist beyond gaming. From virtual meeting spaces to podcasts, immersive audio supports thousands of unique applications. 

Moreover, immersive audio, including real-time spatial audio, has changed the way consumers experience and process sound. Apple’s AirPods Pro and Max support spatial audio automatically. In this way, a growing number of consumers expect their favorite applications and games to come equipped with immersive audio. Without it, the audio-visual experience feels a bit empty and stale. As a result, thousands of developers are throwing out stereo audio in substitute for immersive, spatial audio.

Is immersive audio right for your unique audio-visual project?

In this article, we’ll uncover some of the unique advantages of immersive audio, as well as the benefits that immersive audio provides to game and app developers.

Example of Immersive Audio

To the uninitiated, immersive audio delivers audio to a listener’s headphones in a similar way to how you would hear sounds in real life. Each audio source sounds like it’s coming from a different location relative to the listener. For example, a fire engine’s siren might sound like it’s a block away and south of you.

 

In the example above, notice how much easier it is to understand who is speaking when spatial audio is activated. It sounds as if each of the meeting attendees are in the same room, right? As consumer preference changes in favor of these and other lifelike experiences, immersive audio offers a new way to draw in audiences like never before.

Are you prepared for the audio-visual revolution?

Related Reading: 4 Major Advances in Audio-Visual Technology in 2021

How Immersive Audio Works

We know that sounds reflect off surfaces, hitting our ears at different times. Unfortunately, accurate reflections are lost in stereo, surround sound, and other traditional audio capturing techniques. In this scenario, audio is directed to our ears from a fixed position. 

However, when we hear a sound, distance and our ears’ position influence what we hear. We then localize those sounds based on their volume (amplitude). Additionally, room reflections give us clues on the sound source.

The physical space we’re in plays a significant role in how we hear sounds. Immersive audio brings height and space into the audio-visual experience by placing sound above or below us in a three-dimensional sphere. This gives gamers a significant advantage. In fact, immersive audio makes fantastic worlds more realistic.

Related Reading: The Best 3D Audio Experience Examples

Explore Spatial Audio API Now

Immersive Audio vs. Surround Sound: What’s the Difference?

You might be wondering – what’s the difference between immersive audio and surround sound? Are they the same? Not entirely. To illustrate this point, let’s talk about traditional stereo audio and a little bit of geometry.

Stereo audio is limited to 90-degrees. When listening to recorded music, the music sounds like it’s in front of you. Unfortunately, sound cannot be placed behind you using stereo audio. To our ears, stereo audio is only a quarter of a complete circle. Now, imagine that you’re in the center of a circle. An audio engineer can position a sound anywhere – front, back, left, and right with surround sound. However, it’s still not entirely immersive.

Enter immersive audio.

In real life, we hear sounds spherically. As a bird chirps from a tree or our phone rings from our desk, we don't hear that sound from a limited horizontal field. With surround sound, even with the state-of-the-art sound system, the sounds are on a horizontal plane. Think of immersive audio as a ball. Instead of a flat circle, it's a three-dimensional sphere, creating a more realistic “sphere” of sounds. 

Related Reading: 3 Major Benefits of Spatial Audio

Immersive Audio Software

Major sound formats, including Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D offer powerful digital mixing environments that allow audio engineers to place sound within a spherical soundscape.

Dolby Atmos is a sound format technology that creates immersive audio. It allows you to isolate and mix sounds with incredible depth and clarity. Besides a traditional 5.1 setup, height speakers are becoming popular to add vertical depth to music and movies. Instead of breaking audio into discrete channels, like how audio is mixed in surround sound, Atmos groups sounds into objects that can be arranged anywhere in a 3D field, improving mixing flexibility and experience in both the home or theater.  

When mixing, you can place sounds in an exact location instead of panning them to a specific channel. This helps create a more consistent experience across a broader range of setups. 

Auro-3D is another 3D audio solution software that you can use to create three-dimensional sound. The Auro-codec format works with various projects from cinema, av systems, automotive, and gaming, making it a versatile choice among developers and audio engineers. For home use, it makes the system easily accessible and customized to your space. For gaming, Auro-3D is used to transport the player into the center of the action. 

Auro-3D offers the highest quality audio with real-time conversion with uncompressed PCM with little to no latency. It uses a layered approach to audio, extending a system by adding lower, top, and height channels to create an immersive sound experience. It can create three-dimensional and enhanced mono, stereo, and surround for mobile devices, all with a single format.

Related Reading: Audio Software for Game Development: 5 Solutions to Consider in 2021

Creating an Immersive Audio Experience

To date, audio platforms like Tidal, Deezer, and Amazon Music HD have begun to support immersive audio. We can expect more developments in the coming years as immersive albums start to replace stereo albums.

Additionally, you can already see the relationship between realistic visuals and immersive audio for video games. In recent years, virtual reality has been rooted in delivering impressive visual experiences. However, virtual reality is just starting to place its focus on enhanced audio. Like musical albums, game developers see the unlimited potential to bring their game chat or mobile application to life with 3D audio.

Moreover, digital event teams have begun to use spatial audio to create digital meeting spaces. Recently, Hubbub, Soundstage, Skittish, and SpatialWeb have partnered with High Fidelity to create immersive audio experiences inside virtual event venues where event attendees can interact live and really feel present with the other attendees.

Related Reading: What is 3D Audio? 5 Amazing Use Cases

Getting Started with Immersive Audio

With more brands and developers pursuing immersive experiences, audio is a fantastic way to connect with users’ emotions and place them into an environment that mimics real life. Today, developers have the opportunity to make their projects stand out with immersive audio techniques. 

So, what’s the best way to get started with immersive audio?

High Fidelity’s real-time Spatial Audio API is purpose-built for app and game developers interested in bringing cutting-edge audio to their projects. It’s easy to set up and it only takes a few lines of code to activate. In minutes, you can create a simple web application – it’s that easy.

Create a competitive advantage with spatial audio.

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Add Spatial Audio to your app, game, or website.

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Published by High Fidelity
April 13, 2021
High Fidelity

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