Nine 3D Audio Terms You Should Know

What is 3D audio? How is it truly different from the current sound you hear coming out of your television or computer? If you try to look this up you’ll come across various terms and even other audio descriptions that sound like 3D audio. We wanted to break down some terms that you should know when hearing talking about 3D audio so that you can outsmart your friends and colleagues.

Breaking it Down 

Standard terms…

Sound is a mechanical wave that travels through air then through different tissues and bones in your ear.  It’s what you hear all day every day!

Example: The roar of the crowd as you enter a concert arena.

Audio is a sound you hear that is recorded, transmitted, or reproduced.

Example: The pre-recorded music you hear passing the time on the sound system before Drake comes on.

Acoustic, no we aren’t talking about your favorite acoustic ballad from Ed Sheeran, we are talking about the science that deals with the study of all mechanical waves that travel through different materials.  However, if we were talking about your Ed Sheeran ballad acoustic it would be referring to unamplified sound. What you hear here is the natural sound of the instrument.

Let’s get a little more technical…

A sound field (or soundscape if you want to get fancy) is the area or distance where something can still be heard.

Example: Think about a music venue and the microphones. How far will you be able to hear Drake, how can you amplify it to increase the sound field to reach even the attendees in the nosebleed seats?

Sound localization is your ability to recognize where a sound is coming from. This includes direction and distance. In regards to virtual reality, it can be when a placement is assigned to an object in virtual space. If you are playing a new game on the HTC Vive this means that you will be able to hear when a monster smashes through the ceiling above you so you can react quickly.

Example: You’re facing the main stage but then.. wait a minute… You think you hear, yep there’s Drake coming in to perform on the stage from behind you! That sure surprised you.

Head related transfer function or HRTF is the effect you have on the sound field just by being there.  It is measured at your ears. It takes into account many factors onhow sound waves interact with your body such asincluding the outer ear shape, inner ear, head shape, and even torso.  Everyone has a unique HRTF meaning that we all hear differently.

Let’s get into the different types of audio…

Something you may be familiar with is surround sound. Surround sound is a 2D experience created by 3 or more speakers emitting sounds around a listener to create a more realistic experience.  It does surround you, but it remains on a horizontal plane at a fixed distance, so you are unable to get height or depth.

Example: If you missed the Drake concert but watched a showing later on your television, you would get a good audio experience, but you wouldn’t feel as though Drake were in your face serenading you.

Have you ever YouTube’s the Virtual Barber Shop? If not, check it out to get a better sense of what binaural audio is. Binaural audio is a method of recording sound using 2 microphones in a dummy head with ears and other human features. It is created to make a listener feel as though they are in the room that the sound is coming from. It uses the left and right playback channels, so while it is not perfect it is getting closer to what 3D audio entails, but you still are missing the height and depth of 3D audio. Also, since the original head/ears are not yours, there can be errors in location and sound quality.

Example: If you missed the concert but they recorded it in binaural audio and watched it from your computer with headphones on you would get a much better audio experience, however it wouldn’t quite get the range of depth, and you wouldn’t get as good of an audio experience.

Last but not least what is 3D audio…

3d audio allows the user to hear three- dimensional sounds such as what’s above/below, near/far, and around them. It gives spatial location to sound, allowing us to know where the sound is coming from. Is there a door opening behind me, or bird overhead? A voice next to me or across the room? It provides an extremely realistic experience for the user.

Your anatomy matters! Each individual’s ears are shaped differently so everyone hears items differently. OSSIC is one company that is creating headphones that will enable the user to get a customized 3D audio experience. You can learn more about 3D audio in depth on a previous blog post.

Example: Missed Drake's performance? No problem you can hear it as if you were in the arena with an experience designed specifically for you!

Now use your new vocabulary to impress your friends and colleagues! 

Share now with your friends!

If you enjoyed this article here are a few more recommended posts:

5 Cool Videos about Sound

What is 3D Sound

Binaural Audio and Virtual Reality