Spatial audio – sometimes referred to as 3D audio – offers the promise of creating an experience that puts a listener in the middle of the action. The technology has so far been mostly used for fiction series, and the New York Times says it has begun to experiment with using spatial audio for several of its short-form audio recordings.
The research and development team at the Times has teamed up with the engineers who work on the paper’s morning news podcast The Daily to conduct a series of test uses for spatial audio. In a blog post, they say they have recorded and mixed select audio content in various spatial audio formats. The focus has been on developing mixing techniques that they say will “put the listener at the center of the story.”
The Times team say their work has included development of an internal-use iPhone test app to address what they say are “playback limitations” of current Apple products. “We also built a web audio player, which we hope to make publicly available in the near future,” they write in a blog post.
Leading the effort are Jon Cohrs, a senior technical producer in R&D at the New York Times; Chris Wood, an audio mix engineer; and writer Willa Köerner. The say spatial audio standards are being defined in real time, which makes it “a critical time to experiment” with the technology and share the results with the industry.
The trio has also released their guide to creating spatial audio podcasts, created in part with a grant from the Online News Association. The guide includes their findings for what audio tools and formats work best, as well as some cautionary advise, such as telling creators they should consider how to add music, how loudness will play a role in their mix and how to incorporate a narrator.
“It’s also worth noting that this is not a be-all, end-all guide to spatial audio; rather, it’s intended to share some of what has worked for us as we’ve experimented with the medium,” the trio writes in the intro. They also note that spatial audio can be understood primarily as an aesthetic evolution in sound, and note there can also be ethical considerations especially when working in a journalistic or documentary space.
A survey released in September say there is growing interest in spatial audio, especially among younger consumers. The engagement platform Agora surveyed more than 1,500 Gen Z consumers to get their thoughts on spatial audio. It found 79% of respondents said they would pay for new headphones with spatial audio features – while over one-quarter (28%) say they would pay regardless of price.
Digging deeper into how much Gen Z consumers would be willing to pay, the survey found a quarter (26%) said they wouldn't want to pay more than $50 for new headphones with spatial audio capabilities and another quarter (25%) wouldn't want to pay more than $100.
Spatial audio got a boost last year when Apple made the higher-quality audio available to Apple Music subscribers at no additional cost. Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers also have a similar benefit.
On the podcasting front, iHeartMedia has begun using its version of the technology for series such as 13 Days of Halloween. Branded as 3D Audio, iHeart has also worked with advertisers such as Activision, Audible, and Warner Brothers with plans to deploy the technology across a variety of content.
Spatial Audio has also become available through technologies like Dolby Atmos and Fraunhofer's MPEG-H.