The new format uses object-based spatial audio technology to create a full-spectrum listening experience.
Sony is making its immersive 360 Reality Audio technology commercially available in the late fall, the company announced Tuesday (Oct. 15).
The cutting-edge format — which utilizes what is known as object-based spatial audio technology to create a more immersive listening experience — was first unveiled at CES 2019 and will be made available to consumers in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. The initial launch will give listeners access to approximately 1,000 songs in the format — including more than 100 that were recorded at concerts in partnership with Live Nation — streaming services Amazon Music HD, Deezer, nugs.net and TIDAL. Available songs come from artists including Mark Ronson, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Charli XCX and Pharrell Williams, with more to be added moving forward.
In a nutshell, 360 Reality Audio allows artists and engineers to spatially map sound in the recording studio to create an immersive musical experience that replicates the aural experience of being at a live show. "Vocals, chorus and instruments [will be tagged with] positional information of distance and angle to suit their creative and artistic purpose," said Sony representatives during a demonstration of the technology at CES 2019 in January.
In its efforts to expand the 360 Reality Audio library, Sony is currently working with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, as well as Live Nation, music distribution services and studios to implement the technology and create a “musical ecosystem” around it, according to a press release. Participating recording studios include Chiller Sound, Battery Studios, Live Nation Content Studio in the US, and The Crypt Studio in the UK.
“360 Reality Audio is a proof point that innovation never stops,” said Sony Electronics (North America) president and COO Mike Fasulo in a statement. “The confluence of deep technical roots, tireless artists and forward-thinking hardware and semiconductor partners illustrates the tremendous draw of this radical new way to make music even more moving. Together with valued industry partners, Sony has architected the most powerful, realistic music experience for listeners and a new medium for artists to create.”
Listeners can experience 360 Reality Audio using headphones from most manufacturers in combination with an Android or iOS smartphone that has a participating streaming app installed. However, Sony says the experience is optimized with the use of select Sony headphones in tandem with the Sony | Headphones Connect app, which analyzes each listener’s “hearing characteristics” using images of their ear dimensions.
To experience 360 Reality Audio through speakers, users are required to purchase a system that comes with Sony’s “unique decoder” of the 360 Reality Audio format, as well as multiple speaker units and signal processing technology, with compatible songs played Amazon Music HD using Echo Studio. Sony notes that it has partnered with platforms including Amazon Alexa and Google Chromecast, and chipset providers Media Tek Inc., NXP Semiconductors N.V. and Qualcomm Technologies to make the technology usable in a “wide range of future connected devices.”
Additionally, Sony is collaborating with Napster to develop further streaming solutions for the format and is cooperating with Fraunhofer IIS — part of Europe’s largest organization for applied research — to make the format compliant with the international open audio standard MPEG-H 3D Audio and optimize it for streaming. That partnership will include efforts to expand the 360 Reality Audio content library, as well as increase the number of participating streaming services and compatible audio devices.
More information on the format can be found at 360 Reality Audio's official website. Those interested in getting a sneak peek at the technology can visit a forthcoming display at Sony Square New York City from Oct. 16-20, 2019.