Spatial Audio is any audio which gives you a sense of space beyond conventional stereo, allowing the user to pinpoint where sound is coming from, whether this is above, below, or a full 360 degrees around you. Stereo allows you to hear things in front left and right, but you can’t get a sense of surround, height or sounds from below you. With the introduction of the 3rd dimension, you have a sense of the exact location of sound sources from all around.
Immersive, Surround or 3D Audio?Immersive audio, 3D sound, surround, binaural, Dolby Atmos, object based audio, 360-sound, spatial audio, gaming audio. Right now, you’re probably seeing a variety of different terms and multiple opinions regarding sound beyond stereo. Here at Abbey Road Studios, the home of audio innovation and the birthplace of stereo, we're attempting to demystify the 3rd dimension of sound and lead the way into a fully immersive, spatial audio experience for listeners. As part of our mission, we have set up The Abbey Road Spatial Audio Forum which, alongside practical experiments and academic projects, aims to help artists navigate the space and deliver the best possible experience.
How did it happen?Do you remember hearing a helicopter flying from behind you in the cinema? Films were how spatial sound was introduced to a wider audience as far back as the 1950s, with special speaker arrays in the auditorium. You could hear sounds directionally, happening behind you, and more recently, above you. Many tried to replicate this experience at home with multiple speakers and specialist surround systems, however it was a demanding and specialist set-up. It soon became clear a more convenient delivery method would be needed for the wider audience.
The introduction of various wireless speakers and sound bars slightly lowered barriers and, while they didn’t offer full surround sound, some did a good job in delivering a sense of spatialisation.
But the real breakthrough happened within the development of gaming audio delivered via headphones, the same technology now being deployed via Virtual Reality. The reason is simple: while you are interacting with 3D images, the sound should also give you the sense of space to compliment the immersive experience. This makes perfect sense, as the human field of vision is at best around 110 degrees. So, as in real life, in the 3D virtual world we rely on audio to tell us where we should be looking and what we should be interacting with. Full 360-sound is possible via headphones and sound bars by tricking the ear into thinking it can hear from all around the head.
Whilst our everyday devices will soon be able to give us three-dimensional sound whenever we are watching a film, playing a game or listening to music, there is a limited amount of content delivery methods which we can listen in 3D. Non-film or gaming spatial audio experiences are even rarer. You can find some music-only content mixed in 5.1 surround sound and a few more experimental groups like Kraftwerk releasing headphone 3D mixes in recent years. To enhance the music experience in game, film and your living room, we’d love to see more clarity on the creation methods for spatial music to help change this. At Abbey Road, we are investigating how today’s audio should best be produced, recorded and mixed to achieve that sense of space.
The Spatial Audio ForumIn 2017, we brought together the expertise of artists, producers, engineers and academics from the world of Music, Film, Broadcast, VR and Gaming to create the Abbey Road Spatial Audio Forum here at the studios.
The Forum meets regularly and shares research and results of practical experimentations, with the main objective being to find new creative approaches within three-dimensional sound. We aim to ensure that musicians and engineers know how best to approach recording and mixing for 3D and, by sharing the results of our investigations, we hope to inspire the creation of next generation immersive spatial music. Click here for a list of Forum members
Where Do I Start?
Spatial Audio News & Updates25th Apr 2020Abbey Road’s Head of Audio Products, Mirek Stiles, assesses the hype and reality behind so-called ‘8D’ audio.Read more17th Apr 2020
Mixing on Headphones with Abbey Road's Mirek Stiles and Waves Audio Studio 3 PluginMaking critical mix decisions on the centre content of a stereo image is amongst the hardest things to achieve when working with headphones. Our Head of Audio Products, Mirek Stiles, explains why this is so important and how the Waves Abbey Road Studio 3 plugin can help.Read more9th Oct 2019
Spatial Audio Forum at Imperial College LondonLast week we held the Abbey Road Spatial Audio Forum at the esteemed Imperial College, London, hosted by the awesome Dr Lorenzo Picinali, Senior Lecturer in Audio Experience Design.Read more11th May 2019
Composer Stephen Barton Returns for Spatial Audio ExperimentsLast month film and video game composer Stephen Barton returned to Abbey Road Studio One for some experimental Spatial Audio sessions.Once again we pushed things beyond our comfort zones and got some spectacular results!Read more8th Apr 2019
Founder of the Abbey Road Spatial Audio Forum, Mirek Stiles, Visits the York AES 2019 ConventionMirek Stiles spent 3 days at York University last month for the Audio Engineering Society International Conference on Immersive and Interactive Audio.Read more12th Mar 2019
Mirek Stiles on his time with Abbey Road Studios at SXSW FestivalMirek Stiles, Head of Audio Products, Abbey Road Red Board Member, and founder of the Abbey Road Red Spatial Audio Forum, joined the team out in SXSW to showcase and discuss the latest innovations in music technology. Mirek takes us through his time with Abbey Road over in Austin, Texas.Read more