Also known as spatial audio, 3D audio has taken the world of music, gaming, virtual reality, and film by storm, providing listeners with a level of immersion and realism that was once unimaginable. Tech giants like Apple force the advancement with its support of Dolby Atmos, a popular spatial audio technology, and the release of earphones, allowing users to fully enjoy the immersive experience.
In this article, we'll explore the fascinating world of 3D audio and highlight some notable tracks and examples that showcase its potential.
Put your best headphones on, and let’s go!
What is 3D audio & how does it work?
Imagine being transported to a world where sound isn't just confined to left and right or front and back but envelops you from all directions, including above and below. This is the essence of 3D audio.
It seeks to recreate the way we naturally perceive sound in the real world, offering a truly immersive auditory experience. In our natural environment, we use various auditory cues, such as the time it takes for sound to reach each ear and the way sound interacts with our ear anatomy, to locate the source of a sound accurately. 3D audio technologies attempt to replicate these cues in a virtual or augmented reality environment.
3D audio, also known as spatial audio or immersive audio, refers to a technology that creates a three-dimensional sound experience for the listener. Traditional stereo or surround sound systems provide audio in a two-dimensional plane, which means that sound can be positioned left-to-right and front-to-back. 3D audio, however, adds the dimension of height, allowing sound sources to be perceived as coming from above or below the listener as well.
Here are some key scientific principles and techniques that underlie 3D audio:
- HRTF (Head-Related Transfer Function). Every person's head and ears have a unique shape, and this affects how we perceive sound from different directions. HRTF accounts for factors like the time it takes for sound to reach each ear and how sound is filtered and diffracted by the head and ears. By using HRTF data, 3D audio systems can simulate how sound sources would naturally arrive at the ears, allowing for accurate spatial localisation.
- Binaural recording is a technique used to capture sound with two microphones placed in the ears of a dummy head or a real person. This method replicates the way humans hear by recording sound from two different directions. When binaural recordings are played back through headphones, listeners experience an immersive 3D audio effect.
- Ambisonics is a spatial audio technique that captures sound from all directions in a spherical manner. It uses microphones placed in a sphere or a tetrahedral arrangement to capture the entire sound field. By decoding and processing ambisonic audio, sound engineers can position sound sources in any direction, creating an immersive 3D soundscape.
- Technologies like Dolby Atmos and object-based audio break sound down into individual audio objects with metadata specifying their position, motion, and other attributes. These objects can then be placed in a 3D space during playback. The system then determines how each sound should interact with the listening environment, creating a fully immersive experience.
7 examples of 3D audio
Take a pair of high-quality headphones or earphones and enjoy!
#1. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
The comment under the video says, 'Finally some good 3D audio that doesn’t just sound like swaying left to right,' and we totally agree. An excellent job isolating vocals and instruments and putting them in different places.
#2. Weaver of Dreams by Freddie Hubbard
One of the most notable renditions of this beautiful composition by the legendary jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. The combination of Hubbard's expressive phrasing and the rich harmonic structure of the song creates a mesmerizing listening experience.
#3. Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhansson
Known for his minimalist and emotionally charged musical style, Jóhann Jóhannsson crafted this piece as part of his album "Orphée," released in 2016. The composition stands out as it creates a profound and introspective atmosphere.
#4. About Damn Time by Lizzo
Groovy beats and uplifting lyrics seasoned with an immersive sound are what you need to cheer up and enjoy the spatial effect of sound.
#5. Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish
The minimalistic and atmospheric electronic sound used in this track has become a signature element of Billie Eilish's music. This captivating and emotionally charged song is a testament to her artistry and the creative collaboration with her brother, Finneas O'Connell, who both wrote and produced the song.
💡 Find more in the Apple Music playlist with the best spatial audio tracks in Dolby Atmos.
#6. Time by Pink Floyd
The iconic song "Time" by Pink Floyd takes on a whole new dimension when experienced in binaural audio. Close your eyes, put on a pair of headphones, and you'll find yourself inside a clock, with the ticking, chiming, and swirling effects surrounding you in a three-dimensional space.
#7. Me and Your Mama by Childish Gambino
This track from Childish Gambino's "Awaken, My Love!" album showcases the full capabilities of ambisonic audio. When played through a compatible system, you'll feel as though you're right in the middle of a live concert, with the band playing all around them and the music pulsating from every angle.
Where can you find 3D audio?
Although artists and video game developers have been exploring spatial audio to varying degrees for some time, we are now witnessing a shift towards mainstream technology embracing this innovation. Apple's third-generation AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max have introduced head-tracking support.
Android has also announced its forthcoming support for head tracking. Additionally, major streaming platforms, including Apple Music, Tidal, Netflix, and the Amazon-owned podcast network Wondery, have either already started offering content with spatial audio capabilities or have made announcements about their upcoming integration of this technology.
All this broadens the application environments of 3D audio. Here are some common places where you can experience it.
Music streaming services
Some music streaming services offer 3D audio tracks and playlists. For example, Tidal, Amazon Music HD, and Apple Music have incorporated 3D audio formats or features. Look for specific tracks labeled as "3D Audio" or "Dolby Atmos Music."
To get access to spatial audio tracks on Apple Music, you need a subscription.
Aside from having compatible headphones, you'll need songs that are designed for spatial audio. For instance, when browsing music on Apple's platform, keep an eye out for the Dolby Atmos support icon, which ensures that Apple's proprietary content will play in spatial audio, whether you're streaming it or adding it to your personal library. If you've previously downloaded a song that's now offered in Dolby Atmos, you should delete it and download it anew to get the version that supports spatial audio.
You can use specific keywords when searching for spatial audio content. Look for terms like "3D audio," "spatial audio," "immersive audio," or "Dolby Atmos" in your search queries on streaming platforms or search engines.
Dolby Atmos-enabled theatres
Many movie theaters are equipped with Dolby Atmos sound systems, which provide a 3D audio experience for films. Check with your local theatres to see if they offer Dolby Atmos screenings.
If you have a home theatre system with support for 3D audio formats like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, you can enjoy 3D audio even in the comfort of your home. Many Blu-ray and streaming content are available in these formats.
3D audio is increasingly being used in games to provide an immersive gaming experience. Consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X support 3D audio technologies. Games that support 3D audio can be played on these platforms for a more spatial and realistic sound experience.
VR & AR
Virtual reality and augmented reality applications often incorporate 3D audio to enhance immersion. VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR use binaural audio techniques to create a 3D sound environment that changes with head movement.
YouTube & streaming platforms
Some content creators on platforms like YouTube create videos with 3D audio, which can be enjoyed with headphones. These videos often mention "3D audio" or "binaural audio" in their titles or descriptions.
Specialised apps & content
There are apps and platforms, such as Sound Machine 3D-SpatialBliss, designed specifically for 3D audio experiences. 3D audio meditation apps, virtual reality music experiences, and 3D audio storytelling apps are a few to name.
The avenues of 3D audio: What we can expect
The world of 3D audio is continuously evolving and expanding. As technology advances, we can expect even more mind-bending audio experiences. Whether you're a music enthusiast, a gamer, or a fan of immersive entertainment, 3D audio is poised to take your experience to a whole new level.
As we've explored some of the exceptional examples of 3D audio tracks, it's clear that this technology is not just about creating better sound but about transporting us to new dimensions of audio perception. With 3D audio, the sound is not merely heard; it's felt, experienced, and lived.
So, the next time you put on your headphones or step into a virtual world, pay attention to the magic of 3D audio because it's not just sound—it's an entire universe waiting to be explored.