How is Sennheiser’s take on 3D audio different from everybody else?
Actually, five, six years ago we saw a trend in the market for immersive audio. And that’s why we decided, let’s bring this into our company’s strategy as one main pillar; Sennheiser in the future should also stand for 3D audio. So that’s augmented reality, virtual reality sports podcast, 3D recording, and music listening.
Of course, we also had to decide what was “3D audio” for us, because there are many interpretations of 3D out there. For us, we needed the height information and we said ok, if we wanted to reproduce reality, then we have to come very close to reality.
Nothing is more real than reality. Because you hear me speaking here (gestures in a sweep around us), there’s left and right, and that’s reality. So for Ambeo, it must be close to reality. That’s why we have a 3D recording microphone, and the ambition is always to come as close as possible to reality.
Ambeo is not a codec. It’s not like Dolby Atmos, or the like. We analyze the market and our understanding is that the codecs are good enough for what we want to do. Ambeo is a kind of listening experience.
So then you needed a line of products for this experience?
Well up to a point we decided we needed a kind of listening device, because our promise is that we cover the entire chain. Thankfully, we’re a family-owned company, and both Daniel and Andreas (Sennheiser) gave the ok to proceed.
But they said, “If we do a sound bar, it has to be good enough to become a kind of benchmark. Take all the time you need, but don’t come up with type of system that costs €200 but sounds ugly because we have a lot of high-end headphones in our portfolio”.
Yes, you do have many high-end headphones already. Why go into a speaker?
Well actually, that idea came from our experience with exhibitions. So we did Pink Floyd, Bowie…and found a lot of end-users didn’t understand what 3D audio could do. Thus, we wanted to educate them and bring the exhibition-type of sound into a sound bar.
From a technical perspective, a sound bar is much easier than a headphone, because for a headphone you have different ears...
You’re talking about Head Related Transfer Function
Yup, that difference is much stronger in headphones than with a sound bar. You have that too with sound bars, but it’s also generally a more controlled environment, so it’s easier from a technical perspective. Of course, I’m not saying we won’t bring out dedicated 3D headphones in the future, but if we do, then they must be aligned with our premium approach.
Then again, even with the sound bar the (Sennheiser) family said, let’s try to get everything into one box, and it would be nice if we didn’t need big speakers and a subwoofer. But, to produce good sound, you need enough physical volume, and also good drivers and ampliflers so that all costs money.
The trend in the market is that more and more content is being produced as multi-channel or object-based, like MPEG-H and Dolby Atmos. For these purposes, the sound bar is nearly perfect. But there’s also stereo content, which is why we’ve added up-mixing capabilities.
What sort of special considerations have to be made when up-mixing for 3D audio? Won’t you need to create extra channels?
Well, that’s where our secrets lie. *laughs* But in general there are a lot of considerations; a lot of psychoacoustics to be considered. For example, if you were watching a rock and roll song on TV, and we place the singer to your back. Your brain would say there’s something wrong because why is the singer we see in front of us behind?
We have to be very careful because the one criteria for success with immersive audio is if your brain tells you this is real. If the brain tells you something is wrong, then the entire experience breaks down. Not just for pure audio, but also VR and AR applications, because you lose the localization of where the elements are and that stops everything.
Why is everyone going into immersive audio now?
It’s interesting, because immersive audio isn’t one technology. It’s more, a trend where the visual impact is limited, and you’ve got drivers like VR and AR where sound is essential.
Actually, the video part in any kind of movie was dominating for decades. It was as though visual effects and sound was nothing. With VR and AR, I’d say there’s a different role for sound, because if the sound isn’t working with the picture, than you can forget about the illusion.
For example, if we’re sitting in a café here, and have zombies coming at us from there (points to the front), then the zombie sounds and the café sounds have to blend perfectly. Otherwise, something just isn’t right.
That’s why augmented reality and virtual reality companies hire dedicated sound people and work with dedicated sound companies like us, because they realize that otherwise their customers are not satisfied.
"Nothing is more real than reality."
"Immersive audio isn’t one technology. It’s more, a trend where the visual impact is limited, and you’ve got drivers like VR and AR where sound is essential. "