Immersive Audio at AES

The buzz at the 2019 Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in New York was immersive audio, as it has been for the last several years. I witnessed developments that may have a big impact on the future of multichannel audio.

First, I listened to Sony's new immersive codec, developed with the cooperation of the research society Fraunhofer IIS: 360 Reality Audio allows the producer to place any individual sound source anywhere in the surround field. While I listened to binaural playback over regular headphones equipped with special decoding software, I was able to watch the placement (and movement) of sources mapped on a screen (below). With 360 Reality Audio, sources of sound are mapped in space, not defined in channels, and the codec firmware distributes them wherever they need to go in the playback system. Because of this mapping approach, the format is platform agnostic, so only one format needs to be distributed. (New Yorkers can visit a 360RA display located in the lobby of the Sony Building at 25 Madison Avenue.)

Next, I attended a session on "Recording and Realizing Immersive Classical Music for, and with, Dolby Atmos," where record producer Jack Vad explained and demonstrated the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra's recording of Henry Brant's spatial composition Ice Field. A stereo recording—or even a 5.1 or 7.1 recording—of the orchestra, organ, and several instrumental groups positioned in locations around Davies Hall would fail to convey the effect Brant demanded.

Using Atmos's facility to place the microphone feeds from each element in space—see heading image—Vad was able to present the whole soundfield and convey the "liveness" of all the instruments. Like Sony's 360RA, an Atmos recording is source-mapped and so can be enjoyed on any suitable end-point player. Although the binaural experience was effective, it paled beside immersive playback via more than a dozen ATC monitors.

What's most important is that, with both systems, a single-format release can be played on any suitably equipped system via device-specific software or firmware. Moreover, both formats can be streamed, allowing anyone to experience surround sound, whether via headphones, a conventional two-channel system, or a multispeaker setup. Amazon Music HD has announced it will start streaming both formats later this year.

COMMENTS
eriks's picture

Atmos is cute. It is technologically interesting and one of those technologies best suited for the top 1%ers and Disney World auditoriums.

As a frugal, apartment dwelling audiophile 5.1 or even 7.1 is the limit of what I'm willing to install.

The better a system can perform with 5.1 instead of 20.10 the more likely I am to take it seriously for me.

Kal Rubinson's picture

My point is that these formats produce a single file which can be streamed and, then, decoded to match up with any playback configuration from headphones to 5.1 to ??.?.??

JRT's picture

Free Lossless Audio Codec, FLAC can accomodate up to eight channels. Only four channels are needed for full spherical periphonic UHJ (PHJ). That four channel native FLAC file can be wrapped in an OGG container with added metadata, and that Ogg FLAC can be streamed.

(edited 1/6 to remove a distraction that was the mention of the alternative of streaming Ogg Opus)

jimtavegia's picture

I always loved this album, but this new technology could really be big news it seems. Is the recording going to be at 2496 or DSD, or is the plan to stay at redbook for wider marketing?

I have personally preferred my omni-mics recordings if the venue was large enough. Too often the spaces were just too small.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I don't know anything about "Amused to Death." The format can accommodate high resolution but the odds are that the bulk will be 24/48 as it is on "Abbey Road" where the 5.1 tracks are 24/96. Producer's choice, I guess.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Any formal review(s) forthcoming? :-) .......

jimtavegia's picture

It was mixed to have more "space" I believe and other spacial cues. Sit in the sweet spot and it is interesting. It was designed to produce a wider sound field.

The musical concept I don't subscribe to, but it was the recording process that interested me.

I am not sure what the SCAD version held as it was MC SACD.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Any formal reviews of what in particular? I have reported on a number of the immersive formats and recordings in my Music in the Round column (R.I.P.).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be it is more like, immersive audio for music on headphones/in-ear phones? .......May be HR and/or JA1 could do it? :-) .......

Kal Rubinson's picture

Mebbe. I am hopeful that a success for immersive audio on headphones/in-ear phones would lead to a generally greater appreciation, interest and availability of immersive audio over other devices, like speakers. I am just not interested in doing it myself. :-)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Exactly what I was thinking about popularity of immersive audio, particularly for music ....... If these new algorithms work convincingly, on headphones/in-ear phones, that could increase the sales of already existing immersive audio catalog, that could also encourage recording engineers/artists to make new recordings :-) ........

Solarophile's picture

Some articles on this recently at Archimago's blog also talking about Creative's SXFI and Redscape. Interesting headphone algorithms that can take 5.1 and 7.1 converted to binaural-like sound.

Still another step from objective-based surround sound like Atmos and dts:X. But I agree this would be an interesting step forward to get more multichannel music out there.

JRT's picture

Perhaps consider trying headspeakers such as MySphere 3.2 that do not enclose the ears or touch the ears.

When you review the Okto Research Dac8 Pro, that includes a pretty good headphone amplifier that shares channels 1 and 2.

The Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 887 balanced headphone amplifier is a better and more powerful headphone amplifier, and that could be connected to a pair of balanced XLR outputs of the DAC8 Pro to compare with the headphone amplifier built into the DAC8 Pro. If you use a pair of channels other than 1 and 2, then you could use JRiver to level match the outputs.

MySphere 3.2
https://wooaudio.com/headphones/mysphere

Woo Audio, 2219 41st Ave, Ste 502, Long Island City, NY 11101

Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 887 balanced headphone amplifier
https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=39359

You are already well aware of the Okto Research DAC8 Pro, but for others here is the link
https://www.oktoresearch.com/dac8pro.htm

Bogolu Haranath's picture

MySphere 3.1/3.2, expensive for headphones, $3,900 ........ MySphere got rave reviews from TAS and Head-Fi.Org ....... May be HR could review them? :-) .........

JRT's picture

Herb auditioned the MySphere 3.1 at CanJam NY 2019, but I suspect that was probably not enough of a length of listening session for a full review.

https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/canjam-new-york-2019-show-review

I suspect Kal may be more interested in trying the MySphere 3.2 (if any at all).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

At $3,900 price tag, there is stiff competition from reference quality, well reviewed, Focal Utopia and Audeze LCD-4/4z, both $4,000 :-) .........

JRT's picture
Bogolu_Haranath wrote:

At $3,900 price tag, there is stiff competition from reference quality, well reviewed, Focal Utopia and Audeze LCD-4/4z, both $4,000

MySphere 3.1 and 3.2 are open baffle headspeakers, whilst those that you mentioned are not.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Agreed ...... Still the others, which I mentioned, are a competition ...... HR reviewed both Utopia and LCD-4, both open-back ...... It would be interesting to read HR's review of the MySphere ...... RAAL SR1a $3,500, which were reviewed by HR could also be considered a competition, sort of :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA1 said, Audeze LCD-4 was the 'best sounding headphones' in his 45 years of listening to headphones :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HR said, Focal Utopias were 'the most accurate headphones', he ever heard ....... HR gave Utopias Class-A+ rating :-) .......

Kal Rubinson's picture

"I recall you have mentioned not liking headphones over your ears" or in my ears or, even, on my head. Thanks anyway.

FWIW, I am not opposed to the idea of such devices but I regard them as alternatives to the use of speakers in situations when speakers are not practical. For me, that means on airplanes but not in my home.

tonykaz's picture

...since 4 Channel. We've been promised wonderful experiences .

The technology is available according to proponents like Waldrip and our own KR.

But.....

People are instead trending to focus on 33.3 and all of it's space & funds suporting infastructure .

A Hallodrome of Sights and Sounds would be a magical experience like seeing Star Wars for the first time.

I sort of close my eyes and listen to beautiful music, it's my personal immersive experience. I've accomplished this magic since 1980ish. Even without chemical help it's an effective/affective solution.

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Tony .... Did you mean 'Holophonics', 'Holophonic Sound' (see, Wikipedia)? :-) .........

tonykaz's picture

I'm just getting-into the music I'm listening to.

I kinda limit the sound quality of my gear because it can be dopamine release inducing and I'm not ready for another addictive affliction.

I don't drink or smoke ( any longer ) and I don't do any happy smoking.

Music can be a powerful drug ( at least for me )

Tony in Venice

jimtavegia's picture

With the wonderful systems Dr. Kal enjoys I often wonder is there any hope for someone with my pedestrian audio? I can still hear the difference from MP3s, Cds, to 2496 and better, to SACD. That I can still hear the resolution improvement on my gear is a good thing.

I do enjoy headphones more as it helps with my HF loss and is much more affordable to gain improvement. I have said this before that no decent quality headphone would seem too bright for me.

I use my AKG K271's and my ref pair of K701s, that are certainly not up to what many of you use. I have an equalizer on my Audio Technica ATH 50X and 40X with the added weight at about 200hz they have, which is too much for me, and it overpowers the HF. With EQ reduction they are very nice.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Enjoying the perception of a resolution improvement is a good thing. Better perception of the acoustic ambiance is another. So is personal comfort.

I doubt if my HF loss is much different from yours but I would not trade off those other parameters for its correction. Those are just my personal priorities.

T-NYC's picture

KR, thank you for continuing to report on this area. I heard an Ambisonics demonstration in the Seventies that I've never forgotten. These newer codecs (including Clemens Par's work) all read to me as higher-order Ambisonics rebranded and improved. Is this how you read it also? Best regards, Terry

Kal Rubinson's picture

I do not see them this way at all. This uses multiple discrete sources which are mapped to specific locations in space (same or different from where they actually were). The decoding end re-maps that data set to apply it to the fixed number of discrete transducers in the lister's system whether it is just 2 (headphones) or many.

JRT's picture

What follows in the quoted section below was excerpted from an article titled "Whatever happened to Ambisonics?" that was quoting the original. Full text of the article is available at the following link.

https://www.ambisonic.net/ambi_AM91.html

Quote:

"In nature, sounds come from all around our ears. Reproduced sounds come from only a few loudspeakers. Directional distortion results whenever our ears can hear the difference. As other distortions in the audio chain have been progressively lessened, so directional distortion has become more noticeable.

"The earliest widely used attempt to mitigate directional distortion is stereo, which however gives a directional illusion only over a frontal sound stage. The Ambisonic technology is the culmination of over two decades of systematic research into how directional distortion can be reduced as much as possible using any given number of audio channels and loudspeakers.

"Just as the accurate reproduction of performed music is the crucial test of audio fidelity, so the ability to reproduce correctly the directionality of natural sounds is the crucial test of a surround sound system. Unless it can do this, there will not be the correct disposition of indirect sound which provides the acoustic ambience of the performance and gives the position-dependent labelling of direct sounds by their wall reflections, which is an important aspect of the appreciation of music. "If a system can cope with this difficult task, it should go without saying that it can easily deal with the relatively simple problems of synthetic source material. A system of surround sound which is able to reproduce the directionality of indirect reverberant sounds, as well as of direct sources, is termed 'Ambisonic'"

--NRDC Ambisonics brochure, 1979.

That was written more than 40 years ago, and at that time there already existed a very good solution in UHJ (Ambisonic C Format), largely a missed opportunity.

Kal Rubinson's picture

That was written more than 40 years ago, and at that time there already existed a very good solution in UHJ (Ambisonic C Format), largely a missed opportunity.

It never achieved more than fringe interest in the last century and is certainly not going to be of relevance now.

The music recording business is driven by the large companies who focus on mass distribution. Those of use who want/hope for better are forced to operate within the constraints of those who control the mass market.

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