The term “3D audio” is popping up everywhere lately. It’s not enough to have surround sound or HD audio anymore, now people are looking for speakers and headphones that support 3D audio. But really, what even is 3D audio and what makes it so special and mind-blowing?
The claim is that 3D audio enhances sound by simulating a typical 3D environment so you hear sounds coming from all angles. It’s supposed to replicate what a live concert sounds like with some instruments to the left, some to the right, some even in the back and vocals permeating the room.
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If you search on Kickstarter for “3D audio” you’ll find more results now than ever before. It’s the new bandwagon to hop on. I noticed the pretty big surge began when Ossic launched its project for Ossic X in February 2016. It ended up raising over $2.7 million in funds which is the equivalent of over 10,000 backers.
Ossic bills its X headphones has the first pair of 3D audio headphones that analyze and adapt to your environment so the music you’re listening to sounds like it’s naturally coming from within the room. They have yet to ship yet and pre-orders don’t go out until March 2017, so we won’t know until then whether the technology behind Ossic X lives up to the hype.
Gimme or Gimmick?
The truth about 3D audio is that it’s probably a half gimmick. Only a half. The gimmick part comes into play because headphones are much like TVs in that most people buy them once and then neglect to ever upgrade them. They last a long time and they get the job done. Headphone companies, in order to keep sales strong, need to come up with marketing strategies that make new models seem more enticing than they are so you’ll rush out to buy a new pair.
That’s partly what is happening with 3D audio. Headphones with this feature cost hundreds of dollars, but if you already have a good pair of headphones you really don’t need to upgrade. Ultimately, 3D audio headphones are still going to play the same songs and the same game audio you’re used to and they’ll probably play them well.
The other factor is that you really don’t need new headphones to experience 3D audio. The sound is produced using a combination of hardware and software. An app like Boom already takes care of the software aspect at a fraction of the cost and another, Waves Nx, is on the way with the same intent.
The truth about 3D audio is that it’s probably a half gimmick.
Boom is an app for iPhone and Mac that has software features designed to mimic the sound of 3D audio. It has a volume booster, an equalizer and “3D Surround” on the iPhone. (A similar effect is called “ambience” on the Mac.) The app does a pretty decent job of improving the sound quality of your music, even on a mobile device. A lot of it starts to sound like a live concert is happening right in your room. Plus, as of now Boom’s full 3D Surround Sound pack is only $1.99 for iOS. Boom is $14.99 for Mac. Both are still far less than you’d spend upgrading your headphones.
Ossic gets credit where credit is due though. The technology there can’t be replicated with just software. If 3D audio is the future, then personally calibrated 3D audio is a logical step ahead and Ossic X is there already.
3D audio isn’t a reason to rush out and spend money right now. You aren’t missing out if you just bought a pair of headphones and even if your pair is a few years old, they’re still perfectly fine. If your music sounds crystal clear already, then you’re in the clear.
If your music sounds crystal clear already, then you’re in the clear.
The trend is clearly toward 3D audio and personal calibration, but right now those are just mere luxuries rather than necessities for a decent sound experience. They’re not must-haves quite yet.