With its 360 Reality Audio concept, Sony proves once again that it is an audiophile manufacturer. If it seemed a little abstract at first glance, this technology finally leaves a glimpse of nice improvements concerning the audio immersion of our helmets.
Image credits: Sony
To be honest, the Sony press conference at CES 2019 was a bit frustrating. The manufacturer has certainly presented its new TV Bravia Master Z9G and Bravia Master A9G and all his speech about the entertainment industry was really interesting. However, it missed this little bit of madness that is still expected at the Las Vegas show.
At least that's what we thought at first. Indeed, on stage, Sony spoke about his 360 Reality Audio experience and even invited singer Pharrell Williams to talk about it. Unfortunately, despite this prestigious speaker, this part of the event was rather brief and did not really offer a concrete explanation. So we quickly forget 360 Reality Audio.
Fortunately, once the show officially opened, Sony has let visitors test themselves in a dedicated space on its stand. This initiative also allowed us to learn a little more about the project and to understand how it could greatly improve the audio immersion of our helmets in the not too distant future. Explanations.
The instruments are moving
360 Reality Audio is first and foremost a new way to record music for artists. Sony offers software that can give the impression that the sound emitted by each instrument of a group or orchestra moves freely 360 degrees around the person listening. For example, while the singer's voice that you perceive just in front of you a little to the left moves circularly behind you on the right, the bass bass sound will pass over your head and the guitar will will panic under your nose. 24 tracks can be managed at the same time.
We already know the pleasantness of a surrond sound that gives the impression of being in the middle of the recording studio. With 360 Reality Audio, it's exactly the same, but the musicians move around you as they play. And since this is a software solution, the artist can have fun creating an infinity of variations from a single piece.
This evolution of the content must of course be accompanied by an evolution of the products on which they will be listened to. And Sony is working on it.
The place where I discover 360 Reality Audio is a soundproof room of 15 or 20 m². The arrangement of it is a bit special. In the middle, there are some seats surrounded by 13 speakers in total – five on a metal ring hanging from the ceiling, five arranged in a circle at mid-height and three placed on the ground in front of the stools. Two subwoofers and a monitor complete the installation.
At first, I'm listening to two songs, without headphones. Beyond the very good sound quality, I am already seduced by the way the instruments seem to move around me each time. However, this is not really surprising since I am literally surrounded by speakers.
It is when I repeat the experience with a headset on the ears that it becomes really bluffing. This impression of being encircled by musicians in constant motion is exactly the same as on the first try. So much so that I have to remove the headphones to make sure that it is he who emits the sound and not the speakers. But no; it is the camera screwed on my skull which diffuses the music and the illusion is perfect.
Mapping the ears
For this experiment, I had to put a very high-end Sony MDR-Z7M2 headphones, but a Sony official told me that 360 Reality Audio will be deployed on most of the helmets of the brand, such as the WH-1000XM3.
You also have to know that just to put on the headphones, I scanned my ears with two strange tips. Algorithms need this data to calibrate the sound so that it adapts to each user and refines over time. Sony says however that once 360 Reality Audio is deployed, simple pictures of the ears taken with our smartphone will be enough to map our esgourdes.
In conclusion, 360 Virtual Reality aims to provide artists with new creative tools and to offer users the means to enjoy them with their headsets. The Japanese manufacturer plans first concrete applications of this concept before the end of 2019.
It can not guarantee that a large number of artists will lend themselves to the game, but we can think that the very big label Sony Music Entertainment could weigh all its weight to encourage them. Finally, I suggested to a Sony official that it might be interesting to let the user manage himself the movement of the various instruments while listening to music. My interlocutor seemed excited by the idea before saying that this could be a problem for the artist if he thinks that the piece he has created must be listened to in a very specific way.
Anyway, I left the booth of Sony with the renewed conviction that this manufacturer is a true audiophile.