Music with 360 Reality Audio: Sony has big plans for your music experience. What if you could hear music as if you were really in the middle of it, instead of just in front of it? Music in 3D, as it were. At CES 2019 in Las Vegas, they demonstrated a new technique that makes this possible, and we were present at the demonstration.
The concept: 360 Reality Audio
What if music wasn’t just a few stereo channels? What if you could experience sound as if you were in the middle of it? That’s the idea that Sony pushed forward with 360 Reality Audio. And no, this is not another name for surround. The music not only comes from different channels around you, but really also from completely different spatial positions. So also for example from the height. Moreover, those positions can change during the music.
This gives artists a whole new way to bring their music to the public. Sony got Pharell Williams on stage and he seemed to be very enthusiastic about that idea.
A new codec
Sony has already introduced more than a new codec, we just think of ATRAC (for mini disk) and LDAC (for Bluetooth). For the concept of 360 Reality Audio, it designed a new codec together with the Fraunhofer IIS, based on the open MPEG-H 3D standard. This codec makes it possible to place voices and instruments around the listener as an object in space.
If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s very similar to what Dolby Atmos and DTS-X also offer. We asked Sony why it chose its own codec instead of one of these two household names. A proprietary codec (based on an open standard) would facilitate the introduction of the concept to streaming services, while also avoiding licensing costs for Dolby and DTS.
How does it sound?
We got a very special demo. In a small space, Sony had set up 13 speakers, 9 in front of us in a 3 × 3 setup at three different heights and 2 × 2 behind us. Sony then played a number of pieces of music that had been mixed using special software to give us a good idea of how spatially positioned audio sounds.
Then a very small and sensitive wire microphone was inserted into our ear to determine the response of our hearing. Then we listened to the same pieces again, but this time through headphones. The result was quite good, through the headphones we got a very similar experience to the impressive speaker setup.
What music can you expect?
According to Sony, all existing music recorded on multiple channels (we suspect that is the case for most studio music), can be remixed in 360 Reality Audio. Live concerts are of course also fantastic candidates for a 360 Reality version and so Sony works together with Live Nation clubs and theaters. Concerts from The Wombats, AJR, Good Charlotte, Chris Lane, Jorja Smith, Tritonal, Jesse McCartne and Kodaline, among others, have already been recorded.
What do you need for 360 Reality Audio?
Sony already has support from Deezer, Tidal, Qobuz and Nugs.net. Streaming from a smartphone or tablet appears to be the first choice for distribution of the new format. Sony demonstrated a wireless speaker prototype on the show floor, but headphones are probably Sony’s first target.
Because you can of course not just measure your ear at home as was done in a demo, Sony wants to use an app that allows you to take a photo of your ear. On that basis, Sony claims that it can determine the hearing characteristics (at least in part, we think).
Other product details, prices, and dates are not there. So be patient before you can listen to a concert at home.