Spatial Headphone Mixing Plug-ins: Worth the hype?

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As the years go by and technology advances, we all eventually learn about technologies that we could not even imagine in the past to be normal and commonplace. One of these is spatial audio, a feature without which we can hardly conceive of modern games.

Spatial audio creates a sound environment that goes beyond the left and right tracks. Depending on the content you’re watching, the AirPods can create what’s called a “sound field.” Taking the device they are connected to as a reference, a directional source of the sound is created. Until now, the channel emitted from the left side was played in the left earpiece, while the right earpiece handled the sound on the right. Whatever you did, the sound always came in this way, no matter what you did with your head.

Now, this is no longer necessarily the case. If you leave your device in one place and move your head, the sound will always move with your screen as the point of origin. This makes for a much more immersive experience, especially if you are in a moving environment. The most positive aspect about this technology is that the user only has to select the actual sound output, either headphones or speakers, where after doing so the audio will be transmitted without the need for changes or compressions in the code or content.

It is possible to find Spatial Audio technology developed by Apple for AirPods Pro and MAx. It is Apple’s version of Dolby Atmos that gives users an immersive sound experience. The highlight of the technology developed by Apple here is the precise tracking of the user’s head movement to locate the sound as if it were happening in real life, and, in turn, detects the position of the device, so that the reproduced sound is located in relation to the screen of the device itself.

Microsoft is not far behind. The Windows 10 update includes an innovative Windows Sonic audio system, and this produces high-quality surround sound in stereo headphones of any kind. Actually, this feature is also present in Xbox One, offering a gaming experience never seen before in this industry.

Nevertheless, this technology is particularly useful for sound production professionals. The truth is that it is one thing to listen to sounds with headphones, and quite another to use your ears in a natural environment (in a forest, or a stadium, for example). They are different physical processes. The explanation is quite simple. A sound wave is produced and, through the air, it propagates until it reaches the eardrum. Along the way, the sound collides, is filtered, bounces, and is delayed before it arrives. This occurs not only because of the physical obstacles the sound encounters as it travels from the source to the eardrum, but when it reaches the eardrum until the brain finally interprets it as a sound and identifies it in some way. This is further intensified depending on the position of the listener.

For this reason, when translating sound to loudspeakers, some differences usually appear that the mixer was not looking for. This technology seeks to reduce these differences as much as possible to make the experience much more realistic. Laso, thanks to the spatial sound, high-quality mixes can be carried out more easily and accurately, with lower costs and less infrastructure. The VSX 2.0 headphone system, for example, produces so accurate models that allow the mixer to hear how the track would sound in different spaces: a car, a recording studio, an outdoor electronic music festival, etc., which is something particularly interesting for companies like Enhanced Media, which offers post-production services for film, television, commercials, trailers, and more.

In this way, the mixer can monitor your work accurately. In a perfect combination of headphones and plug-ins, a combination of technologies that will change the paradigms of mixing and sound editing from now on. It is impossible to create this experience with normal headphones. For this, you need to take advantage of air pressure, combined with a fully ergonomic circumaural fit, so that the low frequencies can be overloaded, and this is something that can only be done with high-quality closed drivers, such as those included in the VSX headphones.

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However, such a pair of headphones would be useless without the right plug-in. The VSX 2.0 software works with Binaural Perception Modeling technology, which allows the sound sources to be located spatially as if the sounds were objects located in a place. In this way, it is possible to create different types of models, with mathematical precision. But you would only need a good pair of headphones and a laptop. The software is not that demanding: you need MacOS 10.10 (or higher) or Windows 7 (or higher) and a minimum RAM of four gigabytes.

Worth the hype? Absolutely.

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