At a global press event in New York City Oct. 15, Sony Corp. formally unveiled its 360 Reality Audio platform, to be commercially available later this fall in the U.S. and Europe. It was first introduced during CES 2019.
“We’re making music history in depth and dimension of sound,” said Mike Fasulo, Sony Electronics president and COO, during the event, explaining that this “is not just left and right channels; it expands sound dynamically. Immersive can’t even begin to describe this.”
The technology will enable recording artists to map sounds in 128 spots in a circular space in the course of a recording’s production. It is being described by the company as using object-based spatial audio technology that works for both content creators and for listeners.
Music creators produce the recording by, according to the description issued by Sony, “mapping sound sources like vocals, chorus and instruments with positional information and placing them within a spherical space.” Content produced in this format enables the listener to experience sound immersion that Sony says comes close to the “omni-directional landscape of a live musical performance.”
This 360 Reality Audio effect can be experienced when using headphones from most manufacturers, along with an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet which has a participating streaming services app installed (initially, Amazon Music, HD, Deezer, mugs.net and TIDAL are on board).
Further, for a customized experience using select Sony headphones, the Sony Headphones Connect app will leverage algorithms unique to Sony to, in essence, take a “reading” of the listener’s ears, using this app and any smartphone - what Fasulo referenced as a “functional selfie.” Once the listener uploads the data to the cloud, he said, in under a minute, he or she receives a unique “hearing pathway” for the Sony headphone in use.
For enjoyment of the effect without headphones, users will require a speaker system endowed with Sony’s unique decoder technology. Songs recorded that can take complete advantage of the 360 Reality Audio technology will also be playable with the full sonic benefits from Amazon Music HD streaming content when using Amazon’s Echo Studio speaker, a hardware rendering of which was displayed at the press event.
Starting in late fall, U.S.- and Europe-based listeners will be able to access approximately 1,000 songs in this format from artists such as Mark Ronson and Pharrell Williams through the aforementioned streaming services.
Sony, according to the announcement statement, is working with music labels (Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group), Live Nation, music distribution services and other music organizations to provide the technology for building a musical ecosystem around 360 Reality Audio, which will include the creation, distribution and playing of music content. Sony will also provide specifications for the 360 Reality Audio music format with the cooperation of Fraunhofer IIS, part of Europe’s largest organization for applied research.
Besides the streaming services already mentioned, Sony is also working with Napster to develop the solution of 360 Reality Audio streaming for further expansion of service providers, said the announcement.
As for the planned 1,000 songs to be released, the mix will include work by contemporary recording artists as well as classics from artists including Billy Joel and Bob Dylan. The service will also feature more than 100 songs recorded from an array of concerts by performers such as CHARLI XCX and Kodaline, captured through a partnership with select Live Nation Clubs & Theaters.
Sony said it has also partnered with platform and chipset providers to make 360 Reality Audio usable in a wide range of future connected devices that include Amazon Alexa and built-in Google Chromecast. Collaboration initiatives with Live Nation, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are expected to add even more 360 Reality Audio content in 2020.
Sony said it is also being pro-active in working with studios to prepare a content creation environment. At present, participating studios include Battery Studios, Chiller Sound, Live Nation Content Studio in the U.S., and The Crypt Studio in the U.K.