Immersive sound has been making its way to the general public for a few months now, thanks in part to the introduction of this new feature on streaming platforms. Initiated by Apple Music via Dolby Atmos technology, then followed by other major players in online music, the movement towards spatial audio is rapidly gaining a foothold.
This trend makes perfect sense: technologies are improving, and 5G and ease of delivery allow us to share uncompressed files. Immersive listening is becoming more and more accessible. So where are we headed? Are we at the beginning of a real sound revolution? Where do we want to be in five years?
The Audio Metaverse: Complete immersion
Not surprisingly, immersive audio is already a big part of video games and the metaverse. Sound contributes to proprioception – that is, it helps us to place ourselves in space. We listen with our whole body, so it is necessary to recreate this sensation using different sound sources. In an immersive experience, it is not enough to create a complete immersion for the eyes; we must also pay attention to the ears. With immersion on its way to becoming the format of the future, immersive audio is key to its success.
Spatialized audio makes it possible to develop virtual environments in a more efficient way. Audio is also less “heavy” than video, which makes it less difficult to broadcast and less subject to network and connectivity lags. Could the audio metaverse become the most efficient and viable immersive experience for the near future? Could it also be less resource-intensive and therefore more environmentally friendly?
The research staff at IRCAM is convinced that this is one of the ways forward. The creation of immersive sound experiences is gaining ground, and the technologies necessary for their development and acceptance are rapidly improving. Several ongoing projects such as Binaural Listening (BiLi) are related to the creation of content, in conjunction with major media groups. Ircam Amplify relies on the most advanced research innovations to think about our day-to-day uses of sound, in order to gain a head start in knowing what the future holds for us.
Beyond immersion through sound quality, we must also take into account that storytelling and engagement in an experience also depend largely on what reaches our ears. Being able to understand behavior and to anticipate and hear external cues contributes to our ability to craft and follow stories.
Immersive Audio: Will Our Immersion Be Social or Not?
Indeed, to immerse ourselves in a world also requires that we listen to it. This is one of the conditions for feeling part of it. This is one of the main areas of development for virtual worlds: the creation of a feeling of community. The future of immersion is social, and sound has everything to do with it – with the feeling of cohesion. Without sound, we are home alone.
This is very simple to explain. Among the basic needs of human beings is the desire to belong and feel attached to a community (according to the concept of Maslow’s pyramid of needs). If, in the future, sound is regarded as a technology tailored to humans, the metaverse must do the same. Audio participates in the creation of interactions, creating spatial positioning and environmental structuring.
In a practical way, the creation of one’s own universe can engender new and more solid connections. Brands, especially those operating on digital channels, have every interest in creating these polysensorial experiences, complementary to their physical and online experiences. Sound allows a new way to connect to your community, to your audience. This audience, in fact, is more receptive and engaged thanks to immersive, high-quality audio. Our minds are more easily projected into communities and other worlds. This is the power of pure sound: the ability to travel without visual input. Our way of life is likely to be transformed by these changes, and a better connection to each other in our virtual worlds may be the net result.
Audio for Music: Rally Round the Sound
One of the fields most closely associated with these questions is that of music. Bringing communities together in virtual worlds imposes an ever more important relationship to sound. Being at the crossroads of sound and community, music is a key segment for the future of our audio applications.
In IRCAM’s laboratories, research on 3D audio spatialization is combined with motion capture to explore the possibilities of musical, sound and multimedia interactions. This is precisely what awaits us in the future. The notion of space, the coordinating of our senses, and the perception of space are the focus of our experiments. The Acoustic and Cognitive Spaces staff of the STMS laboratory (Ircam, Sorbonne University, CNRS, and the Ministry of Culture) is working on the influence of acoustic cues on our central nervous system for the integration of sensory information and our emotional processes.
It is on this research that Ircam Amplify is relying to develop new applications and to think about the future of our relationship to sound. Sound quality will therefore enhance our experiences, but it will also allow us to better interact with it. The evolution of spatialized audio over the next five years will deeply transform our daily lives and our relationship to sound.
Yet until now, the evolution of our listening devices has not always been in the interest of sound quality From file compression to hardware issues, why are we finally circling back around to looking to satisfy the desire for better sound?
Custom Audio: The Renewed Interest in Quality Sound
Spatialized audio is a technology that is much better suited to our brains. Immersive sound, designed with human morphology in mind, enables us to reduce the effort required to listen to it. By contrast, high-quality visual content tends to tire users quickly and to be bandwidth-intensive. Spatial audio will have its place in our listening experience in the future. Spatial sound is by definition respectful of its environment and easy on the ears, and this confers on it an ecological interest in the broadest sense.
All the more so as the difference can be heard. The advantage of spatialized sound is the fact that any user can hear a change in the perception of sounds, whether listening through headphones or on speakers. The effect is immediate and quickly justifies the efforts made, it is an improvement that all people looking for quality sound can access.
In the near future, spatialized audio will become increasingly important. There is no doubt that the 21st century will be a sonic one, with a focus on the quality of the sounds around us. Sound is entering a new era of immersion, bringing with it the respect for our well-being and affording an ever richer level of connectedness.