The music industry goes 3D

Feb 02, 2018
First 3D films, then virtual reality – visual technology has been smashing the confines of what we once thought possible since it landed on our small screens in the late 19th century. Now, it’s time for vision’s sonic counterpart to take centre stage. Join us as we explore how 3D sound is breaking boundaries in the music industry.

Bands and artists have been trying to achieve a more natural listening experience since the 50s – Pink Floyd first experimented with a quadrophonic speaker system in 1967, then Lou Reed released the first ever binaurally recorded pop album, Street Hassle, in 1978. Fast-forward to today, advances in technology have allowed us to remaster classics like The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 5.1 surround-sound – and that’s just the first big step towards a more authentic kind of audio.

Thanks to Dr Edgar Choueiri’s work at Princeton University, what was once restricted to our headphones has successfully been transferred to the speaker. Binaural audio can now add dimension and density to a whole new world of musical scenarios. Beyond the stage, every vantage point of a venue could now be an opportunity to add an extra element to a set – and Christopher Willits is one of the first musicians to help trial immersive audio in this way. Envelop in San Francisco is an exciting new space with a 28-speaker ‘Ambisonic’ system – and Envelop Satellite is a mobile adaptation made especially for music festivals. Named the future of music by fans, they make the rich shared experience of spatial audio accessible to the masses.

3D sound has been hot on the lips of audio pioneers for some time, but it’s taken until now to start developing the ultimate musical experience. This new lease of life is all thanks to the arrival of virtual reality. Iconic artists like Paul McCartney, Beck, Coldplay, Jack White and the LA Philharmonic have all tried their hand at virtual concerts – using 360-degree videos to take their fans to mesmerizing new levels. And now, the next step is to create audio materials that sound just as authentic in a simulated sphere.

With this technology becoming more commonplace, it allows for listeners to enjoy a more intimate relationship with their favourite artists – just think of what it would mean to fans to have Alex Turner or Ed Sheeran singing lyrics right into their ear. And that’s just one of the many possibilities emerging in this lucrative market. If a sell-out concert still has fans without tickets, secondary passes could be sold to a virtual simulation – like the Pink Floyd Ambeo installation recently created for London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It only took 25 speakers and some musical know-how to put one of the world’s most influential bands back on-stage.

It seems all this is just the beginning for 3D sound. In the future, the albums we immerse ourselves in could capture the very essence of each track and where it was recorded. We’ll sit in our front rooms, press play, and find ourselves sat in a live studio session, or waving our arms in the front row of the latest gig. But for now, we’ll just have to imagine.