Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person experiences must be translated to the digital world. This includes movies, meetings, school, and more. They have been replaced by streaming, Zoom, and platforms like Schoology, respectively. These often emulate the in-person experience by providing the same sensory details to mainly our eyes through the screen. However, there may be new innovations concerning our ears, which may heighten the level of audio quality, and accessibility.
Many performances focus on audiovisual input to the viewer. Darkfield Radio is an example of an immersive audio experience. This project delivers a mesmerizing experience by utilizing daily sounds, from the closing of a refrigerator to the flipping of a light switch to help fully immerse the user. Darkfield originally provided this experience in theatres, with the focus shifted completely to audial experiences, as users sat in pitch darkness. With the help of an app and some good headphones, users can buy tickets to Darkfield Radio and experience a 360o production.
Immersive audio is slowly but surely gaining popularity among technology companies. Facebook stated that audio will be a main priority for their AR glasses coming out sometime in the future. Additionally, Apple has announced new plans for a spatial audio feature, which we will dive into later. However, nailing the audial experience for a user is a multi-faceted problem. Bose’s attempt, as a company focusing on aural delivery, was BoseAR, AR glasses that simply failed due to low accessibility and audience size. Other companies making similar pursuits can learn that making easy-to-access experiences like Darkfield is the way to go when developing at-home aural pleasures.
While Bose could not succeed with BoseAR, they have decided to introduce audio sunglasses. Priced at $249, the Tenor, Soprano, and Tempo frames promise to deliver easy and impressive audio. The Tenor and Soprano are geared towards fashion, with sleeker form factors than before, and improved sound quality. The main selling factor of the frames is as an alternative to earbuds while still providing a personal audio environment for music, podcasts, and more. Additionally, they are sold with the pro/con of ambient noise being let in, making sure the user will not be surprised. The Tempo sunglasses are the “sporty” frame, with different types of nose pads, and audio drivers that can support music while cycling at 25 mph. All the new frames have improved microphone systems, potentially allowing for voice calls on the go, while maintaining a stylish appearance.
Apple’s Spatial Audio
Apple has filed multiple patents in their new audio developments. Spatial Audio is a concept that Apple plans to utilize with the AirPods Pro, most likely bringing dimensional sound(input from various locations). Specifically, it “applies directional audio filters, [adjusts] the frequencies that each ear hears so that sounds can be placed virtual anywhere in 3D space”. In other words, Apple is attempting to make their own version of Dolby’s surround sound.
A unique addition brought by Apple’s idea is the integration and utilization of accelerometers and gyroscopes inside the AirPods Pro. By tracking the movement of the head, and the device, Apple can accurately place the sound relative to both of the positions. Most likely, this new feature will be released with iOS 14 or iPadOS 14, and apps will also release media making use of this.
Many companies are taking this pandemic as an opportunity to transfer their in person experiences to the digital world, and are now focusing on the sound aspect of the process. As someone who listens to music 24/7, even when writing articles, I definitely believe that sound input is a major part of our lives. It’s interesting to note that lo-fi music, or low-fidelity music is gaining immense popularity, with purposeful “imperfect” elements that often incorporate surrounding sounds encountered in daily life. However, many of the audio innovations we are/will witness are going in the other direction, with the goal of reaching the same sound produced when recording. For audiophiles, these innovations will mean a whole new world of surround sound and immersing oneself through the ears, an often unexplored pathway relative to visual effects. For the regular person, I believe it will make for super hyper-realistic movie/general media, and many other cool experiences!