Sony Launches `360 Reality Audio’ Streaming Ecosystem
Fans of multi-channel surround sound music have a new option following the official launch of Sony’s spin on the 360 Reality Audio ecosystem it first demonstrated at CES 2019 last January.
Sony kicked off the new format’s launch Tuesday at a press conference in the Sony Theater in New York City’s Broadway neighborhood where it said the new surround sound streaming audio format will become available to consumers this fall through popular streaming services Amazon HD, Tidal, Deezer, and nugs.net, with others to come.
Unlike other multi-channel music platforms of the past, the new 360 Reality Audio (360RA) experience won’t require the purchase of any special devices to enjoy the benefits of music that completely surrounds the listener wearing headphones as it does in a live performance. In time, Sony expects to expand the capability for use with home speakers for elaborate 360 surround sound systems.
The 360RA system is based on object-based audio (like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D surround sound for theatrical content) to expand the boundaries of conventional 2-channel and even mono music mixes.
360 Reality Audio is designed to expand the sound space and create a dynamic environment for both the creator and the listener, where the artist is able to freely map vocals and instruments in up to 128 locations within a circular space, Sony said.
Through the technology, music is no longer limited to left or right, but is moving above, below and all around the listener 360 degrees.
To make the experience more attractive at the start, Sony said the effect is designed to work with regular headphones using specially produced music files and a special Sony Connect App that maps and tailors the listening experience to the user’s ears.
The app, which is available for both iOS and Android smart phones, leverages the device’s camera to take pictures of the listeners ears and analyze the ear structure, and send the data up to the cloud where the necessary adjustments are made for the best experience. The set-up process only has to be performed once, Sony said.
“Sony made 360RA technology for everyone,” said Sony Electronics North America president and COO president Mike Fasulo. “We’re working with all areas of the industry from music labels to streaming services to hardware manufacturers to platforms and semiconductor brands. And all of this is to accelerate the expansion of an industry-wide ecosystem.”
Fasulo said consumers today are changing the music-listening culture and showing a high level of interest in high-quality experiences with headphones and wireless speakers, adding that according to the Recording Industry of America music distribution services are on a clear trajectory for growth with market share increasing 18% in the first half of 2019 yielding $5.4 billion.
Sony, which announced it continues to collaborate with music labels, artists, distribution services and technology developers to further expand the 360RA ecosystem, brought to the system launch event executives and engineers from many of the participating companies and organizations so far as a show of support for the new technology.
In addition to using regular headphones to hear 360-degree music, Amazon announced last month that its new Echo Studio home-based smart speaker, with multi-directional drivers and woofer, will play specially produced 360 Reality Audio content streamed from the Amazon HD and 3D music service.
Sony is also collaborating with Google to create a Chromecast platform for speaker manufacturers to easily develop 360RA experiences and with Fraunhofer to make 360RA compatible with MPEG-H 3D Audio as an international audio standard optimized for music streaming.
Specially produced or remastered audio selections at launch will include approximately 1,000 360 Reality Audio songs from participating music labels including Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. More songs are to be added going forward.
The initially available music consists of both new and legacy selections, many of which have been available as 2-channel Hi-Res Audio files and/or multi-channel SACDs and DVD-Audio discs in the past, like Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing and Miles Davis’s Freddy The Freeloader. Additional selections are also available from Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Jeff Beck and many others.
But unlike earlier multi-channel music formats, 360 Reality Audio songs change the focus from high-resolution 2- or 5.1-channels to a more encompassing experience that surrounds the listener from all directions. This creates the sensation of listening a live performance, with sound reflected from a venue’s walls, ceilings and floor in addition to straight on from center stage.
To promote this capability, Fasulo said Sony has partnered with streaming service Live Nation, which has captured more than 100 songs recorded from live concerts by performers like AJR, Kodaline and Charli XCX.
Sony said it is also partnering with international streaming music distributors Deezer, Napster, Nugs.net, TIDAL and others to soon launch 360RA-music streaming apps of their own.
In addition to re-purposed multi-channel selections, new music is being produced by current stars including Pharrell Williams and Mark Ronson. Sony brought Ronson, a multi-award-winning music producer and artist, out on stage during the press conference to speak to the benefits of 360 Audio Reality before playing a selection of his own live on stage.
“We work so hard on getting the song up to the (two-dimensional) mix so by the time the engineers take it over and add their own… it’s kind of lovely. I let go of it and say, ‘Okay, now it’s in your hands’ and to hear it kind of expand on this extra playing is really amazing,” Ronson said about the music creation process for the new system. “Any time there’s a convergence of technology and art and there’s a chance of doing something interesting with it, I’m all for that. The first time I listened to music was on my Sony record player and now with 360 Reality Audio headphones it just seemed like evolution.”
Ronson said the technology allows the artists and producers to give listeners a new perspective on the sound.
“Sometimes when we record we do these giant string sections of maybe 40 or 50 people so we can place someone as if they are standing in the middle of the orchestra. I heard a live jazz recording when I first heard the demo of 360 stuff and I really felt like I was right in the venue. Some of that is missing from some other music so it’s nice to be able to do that with the way we used to record,” Ronson said.
By Greg Tarr
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