• The “Immersive” Audio Experience

  • The “Immersive” Audio Experience, what is it and do you really need it?

    By: Michael Petrucci, Technical Solutions Engineer

    In home theater, the word “immersive“ tends to mean adding additional loudspeakers to a surround sound set-up to create more depth and realism to movie soundtracks. There could be as many as 128 discreet channels of audio information in a Cinema and several dozen loudspeakers and subwoofers in an exotic home theater system, but 10 to 12 is more typical for a domestic application.

    DTS, NEO:X, Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D systems all play a part in creating the Cinema and home theater “immersive” experience. These systems allow the sound engineers and designers to expand the constraints of location for the individual audio track from a particular channel to a location in 3D space. Additionally, the sounds can move throughout the space seamlessly and with proper processing,  the heightened realism cam make sounds seem like they are emanating from the room or space you are seeing on the screen. Even a vehicle can have a well-designed and executed “immersive” audio experience, making it seem much larger and spacious than it really is. Automobile manufacturers do not put multiple speakers in a vehicle to make it louder, they do it to create a sense of space.

    What about all of the other spaces with audio systems that you encounter on a regular basis?  Spaces such as conference rooms, auditoriums, houses of worship, airports, and transportation terminals. Or spaces such as restaurants, coffee shops, shopping malls and department stores – or even your phone. All of these sound systems either could use or already have some form of immersive technology as it relates to what you hear.

    Providing the Best Possible Experience

    A good sound system “designer” will take many factors into consideration when doing a needs assessment for a client. One of the things that differentiate a good designer from a great one is the amount of detail used to gather the needed information that makes the sound system truly “immersive”. To make an audio system function in a way that diminishes unneeded distractions such as low intelligibility or sound quality (that doesn’t really match the aural qualities of the space) are what a great designer strives for.

    There are constraints on what a designer can do in many spaces. For instance, it would not be in the best interest of a client to use a processing heavy, multi-channel sound system in a small video conferencing room. However this type of room could greatly benefit from a talented designer to make it feel right and provide an easy and comfortable experience when people are using the room.

    In larger rooms such as auditoriums, performance spaces, and houses of worship, a great designer would implement a variety of tools to make the sound system function effortlessly and without any distractions to the audience members. For instance, for a large choral group the goal would be to sound big and full, but for lecturer the goal would be a more intimate and concise experience. An “immersive” design would allow both of them to be done successfully in the same space without taking anything away from each other, while still allowing the best possible experience for the audience or congregation members.

    The possible consequences of ignoring these qualities could result in an audio system that creates sounds for the audience that can contain miscues about the space they are in (unchecked resonances, excessive sibilance, and incorrect reverberation time). This can lead to mild cases of agitation where the audience members lose focus due to having to mentally strain to understand the content being presented. In extreme cases, a form of misophonia can be triggered and an audience member will just get up and leave rather than endure the offending audio. All of this typically happens subconsciously with various degrees of a detrimental effect.

    Proper audio system design can avoid or eliminate these issues and the “immersive” audio qualities can be fully taken advantage of.

    An immersive experience is the new standard for what a sound system design is for today’s distracted audience. Present your words or music in the best way possible way to allow people to enjoy and understand what you have to say without any distraction. Consider this – a modern cell phone will have more thought and design time in the little tiny amplifiers and loudspeakers it has inside than most corporate commercial facilities. Consider the benefits of an immersive audio experience the next time you have to add or update a sound system.

    Feel free to contact Michael Petrucci, (proud owner of a Dolby Atmos enabled home theater system) or any of the audio design professionals at ESCO Communications to discuss the “immersive Audio” possibilities in your next project.