A Guide to Spatial Audio and Where It’s Heading
“Spatial and immersive audio is the present and future of music, and we’ve only scratched the surface of its potential,” writes Ross Lara, the founder of independent music production company Archipelago Entertainment.
by Ross Lara of Archipelago Entertainment
Despite the recent buzz, spatial and immersive audio have actually been around, in one way or another, for many decades. It all began with one speaker in mono–every track coming through in one channel. Then we added another speaker for stereo sound. This resulted in audio coming from two directions, yet it was still lacking depth and height. Adding three more speakers and a subwoofer developed surround sound, which finally achieved a bit more dimension, but the addition of panning and spatial audio technology completely unlocked a new level of immersion that reshaped sound design forever.
“spatial audio is becoming the new standard”
As the equipment and software to record, produce, and play back immersive sound become less expensive and more accessible, spatial audio is becoming the new standard for audio across multiple industries.
The film industry has used spatial and immersive audio for over a decade, and some TV/movie streaming services like Netflix have offered it for the past few years. Even car manufacturers are catching up with the latest sound design–now designing most high-end vehicles with spatial audio technology built into their sound systems.
The Future of Audio
Spatial and immersive audio is the present and future of music, and we’ve only scratched the surface of its potential. Music is catching up with the film industry with streaming services racing to deliver HIFI sound and spatial audio to their listeners. Within 3-5 years, all music and content released will require some form of an immersive deliverable with it.
“the capability to work with infinite space”
Where we were once limited to transmitting sound from 1-5 speakers placed around a room, we now have the capability to work with infinite space. The possibilities are quite literally limitless, and as the technology to produce immersive audio becomes even more accessible and affordable, it will reshape how storytellers, directors, composers, and artists think about their creation process and the end users’ experience.
Impact Beyond the Music Industry
Even with the massive promise of spatial audio in music, I expect video games to be the market most impacted in the coming years. Some music is not written to be heard in spatial and some cars or homes will not have the correct space or sound systems for immersive to make sense. On the other hand, the gaming industry is perfectly positioned to adopt spatial audio as the new standard. Video gamers want to be fully immersed in the world in which they are playing, and many are willing to invest in higher-quality gear for the greatest advantage to win and enjoy the experience as intended.
Universal Adoption of Spatial Audio
The technology is here, and spatial audio is attainable across a variety of mediums and environments, but we have a long way to go before it is widely available. Each party that stands between the original music composer and the end user needs high-end gear, some requiring state-of-the-art speakers that are perfectly calibrated to the particular space. In most cases, the mixing engineer and mastering engineer require access to the same technology. Once the music is complete, the digital aggregator (the companies that send content to Spotify, Netflix, Xbox, etc.) needs to be able to support the same immersive format as well as the content providers like Hulu, Apple Music, Playstation, etc.
“cheaper, smaller, and more accessible”
Luckily, hardware and software manufacturers are racing to make this gear cheaper, smaller, and more accessible. It all starts with music producers, mixers, and other sound designers welcoming immersive into their workflow. As that momentum grows, the consumer market will have more music to enjoy!
About Archipelago Entertainment: This production studio works with brands big and small to create all-encompassing soundtracks. Ross Lara, CEO and Founder, takes his inspiration from the outdoors, translating that energy into sonic work that spans music, games, branding, and film. Ross works across various industries and has appeared in the top 10 over 10 times between national and international charts, accumulating over 700 million streams along the way as a producer, writer, or engineer.