How immersive audio can impact music production

Step into a realm where sound isn’t just heard; it’s felt, experienced, and lived. In an era of rapidly advancing technology, the world of audio has undergone a profound transformation, ushering in a new era of sensory engagement: immersive audio. Immersive audio distribution is at the tip of your fingers with MusicTeam®.

Immersive audio distribution is at the tip of your fingers with MusicTeam®.

What is immersive audio?

Immersive audio refers to a sound technology that creates a more realistic and three-dimensional auditory experience for listeners. It goes beyond traditional stereo or surround sound setups by using advanced audio processing and spatialization techniques to make sounds feel like they’re coming from specific directions and distances.

This creates a sense of immersion, where the listener feels surrounded by sound, much like they would experience in the real world. The current streaming economy increased interest in immersive audio. Proprioception, a potent cognitive skill, is significantly influenced by this novel music production approach, directly enhancing our spatial orientation. The outcome yields an unprecedented and unparalleled sonic experience.

Where did it all start?

Immersive audio is not the invention of a single individual, but rather the result of collective advancements in audio technology and research over time. The concept of creating a more immersive auditory experience dates back decades and involves contributions from various researchers, engineers, and companies.

One key milestone in the development of immersive audio is the Ambisonics technique, which was pioneered by Michael Gerzon in the 1970s. Ambisonics is a method for recording, transmitting, and reproducing sound in a way that captures the full three-dimensional sound field. This laid the foundation for many later developments in immersive audio.

A word about Ambisonics

Ambisonics is designed to capture sound from a full 360-degree sphere around the listener. This includes not only horizontal directions but also vertical directions, above and below.

It employs a mathematical framework called spherical harmonics to represent the spatial characteristics of sound. By using spherical harmonics, audio engineers can encode and decode sound information to and from a format that accurately represents the listener’s orientation within the soundfield.

One of the strengths of Ambisonics is its compatibility with various speaker setups. Whether it’s a stereo system, a surround sound system, or even a custom speaker arrangement, Ambisonics can adapt to the available hardware without compromising the spatial accuracy of the audio. Recordings can be captured in different formats, such as first-order (four channels), second-order (nine channels), and higher-order formats. The higher the order, the more precise the spatial representation of sound. This scalability allows for compatibility with different production and playback setups.

Ambisonics recordings provide audio engineers with the flexibility to manipulate sound placement during the post-production phase. This means that sound sources can be positioned and moved within the 360-degree soundfield after the initial recording, enhancing the creative possibilities.

Object-based audio

In object-based immersive audio, each sound element is encapsulated as a separate entity, complete with its own set of parameters. These parameters encompass not only the audio signal itself but also information regarding the sound’s spatial coordinates, trajectory, movement speed, and acoustic properties. This metadata, often referred to as “audio object metadata”, is integral to dynamically rendering the sound during playback.

Object-based audio systems often employ real-time audio rendering engines. These engines use the metadata associated with each object to position and move sound sources according to their specified trajectories in the 3D space. This enables listeners to experience an auditory environment where sound objects seamlessly transition from one location to another, creating an immersive and dynamic sonic environment.

Immersive audio with Dolby Atmos

In recent years, companies like Dolby Laboratories have played a significant role in popularizing immersive audio technologies. Dolby Atmos, introduced in 2012, is a well-known example. It involves object-based audio and is the best-known hybrid technology that provides 3D surround sound. Originally made for movies, it is now used for music. As of August 2023, Apple Music, Amazon & TIDAL support it.

Immersive audio with 360 Reality Audio

Similar to Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio is also an object-based audio that allows artists to map individual sounds in a 360 spherical space. Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound technology is primarily focused on creating an immersive music listening experience so that listeners can be immersed in a field of sound exactly as intended by artists and creators. It was launched in 2019 and is currently supported by TIDAL, Deezer and Amazon Music Unlimited.

The impact of immersive audio on music production

During Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) 2022, MusicTeam® met with Future Phonic Studios’ founder and immersive audio producer, Richard Burki. He mentioned that the creative process for producing spatial audio can completely change. For example, producing knowing that one of the formats would be immersive audio opens the door to much more creativity. If you know from the outset that you are creating an immersive experience, your creation process may be completely different. 

Immersive audio also allows musicians to tell stories through soundscapes. They can position elements like characters in a story, creating a dynamic and engaging auditory narrative. It may certainly revolutionize music distribution by granting artists the power to sculpt intricate sonic environments in three dimensions, fostering deeper emotional connections and interactive engagement, thereby redefining the very essence of how music is composed, produced, and experienced. It could pave the way for an unprecedented level of creativity, interaction, and immersion, fundamentally altering the landscape of musical expression.

Implementing immersive audio requires equipment and software, often demanding a learning curve for producers accustomed to traditional methods. As an artist, you can use Apple’s Logic 10.7 that enables the integration of Atmos. To use 360 Reality Audio music format, you can work with Sony’s plugin software 360 WalkMix™ Creator. As long as you have headphones and a laptop, you’ll be able to create immersive music.

Unlock the future of music with MusicTeam®

In the coming months, we will be supporting the distribution of immersive music in Dolby Atmos & 360 Reality Audio format from Sony. Build your profile on MusicTeam® to start distributing your music with us.

Published On: September 18th, 2023Categories: Music

About the Author: Fiona Ham

Head of Operations at MusicTeam®. Always passionate about the music industry, she's bridging gaps between innovative technologies in music business, copyright law and users.