5 Months, 3 Weeks, 12 Hours, 1 Minute ago.
8D Audio - what's it all about?!
In the past week, 8D audio seems to have gone viral with everyone wanting to know exactly what it’s about and if it’s something new they can use in their advertising, content or music.IRIS seemed to kick things off and it wasn’t long before I was sent the 8D Spotify playlists.
At SNK Studios along with our partners at Red Apple Creative, we’ve been producing ‘immersive’ or ‘3D’ audio for years. One of my favourite campaigns was a collaboration with Spotify and BBC Studios for Sir David Attenborough's Seven Worlds, One Planet nature documentary.
We produced seven spots using the distinctive sounds from each continent to create a disruptive and wildly immersive campaign, an example of which can be heard here (best experienced through headphones).
So when I heard of another dimension being added, I asked the experts who make music and immersive audio everyday, what they thought.
Here are some of our sound engineers’ responses on 8D audio:
Ben Darier - Sound Engineer, Red Apple Creative and SNK Studios:
Here is a quote from IRIS website: “This is achieved through a proprietary algorithm which splits out and increases the phase information sent to the brain”. So we know that they’re playing with phase. Listening to their A/B tests, it sounds like they’re boosting the mono signal and giving it a bit more warmth, making the voice sound a bit closer. As far as I’m concerned, it’s very similar to binaural synthesis (creating “3D” sounds from regular stereo sounds, like we do at Red Apple Creative). Nothing “8D” to it.
The 8D Tunes channel uses the same process but in a lot less subtle way, panning around the head of the listener (it actually sounds to me like it’s pendulating at the back of my head for some reason). It is just a little audio trick and doesn’t add anything to the music in this context as far as I’m concerned.
There is apparently 9D, 10D, 11D music on the market too, which could mean these musicians (or marketing directors) have found the remaining dimensions to make string theory valid?
More seriously, how can it be 8D when there are only 3 spatial dimensions as far as today’s science goes?
Rob Baker - Sound Engineer, Red Apple Creative and SNK Studios:
To my ears, it sounds like it is using a very similar technique to our “immersive” or “3D” mixes. They have used a room reverb / impulse in a few examples with a mono source which gives the listener the sense of listening in a specific space. This method allows the sound source to move more noticeably around the space. We usually avoid this feature of the software when mixing for our immersive 3D audio as it doesn’t sound as clean and polished for an advert.
I’m confident 8D is a buzzword for an existing technology (and one that we already use). There seems to be a fair amount of audio processing going on - spatial processing using phase effects, room reverb / impulse response, EQ and overall signal / level balance. Some of the 8D audio is nicely detailed and well treated, but it’s more showing off the effect than improving the music. I would imagine Dolby Atmos to binaural downmix is being used in a few cases.
Personally I don’t see much point in 8D music where it’s slowly panning around the listener’s headspace as, for me, this makes the track sound a lot worse. You also have to create a mono source from the original stereo audio which detracts from the music just to create the 8D effect.
Chris Bristow - Sound Engineer, Red Apple Creative and SNK Studios:
Yeah this just seems to be moving effects with essentially the same treatment we currently use for 3D audio. Whilst it might make it feel maybe more engaging as your brain is forced to follow the sound, there’s definitely nothing going on that is technically different from what we use for current spots, it’s all just turned up to 11 as they say. I think it’s safe to say that this is a marketing buzzword - I think overall it just takes away from the music a fair bit!
Al Bolt - Sound Engineer Red Apple Creative and SNK Studios:
I’ve never heard of it. I’ll caveat this by saying I’m usually pretty cynical with stuff like this, so apologies if anything comes across bluntly; but to me it’s not founded in any science and it’s just a bit of a marketing gimmick. I can’t find anything on the site that says what it actually does which is always a red flag - anything really geared towards high fidelity always wears details like this on its sleeve. Using my ears, turning on the ‘IRIS’ function just applies a bassier EQ, turns it up and gets rid of any panning (making it mono), their example of Wish You Were Here doesn’t do it any favours. This takes out any intricacies in the work that the mixer and mastering engineer would have done. On certain tracks it might sound more impressive, just because the EQ is more favourable to headphones, but this could be achieved by the EQ in your phone settings if you desired.
The 8D Spotify playlist seems to me to be just ‘3D audio’ (binaural) - someone has spun the track around and added their own sound design, just a bit of a fun idea really, much less disagreeable than ‘IRIS’ (the name is just a bit misleading).
There’s no indication of what IRIS is actually doing - there’s nothing we couldn’t do with existing spatial audio techniques that we use for our ‘3D audio’. The 8D playlist is just someone having fun with a spatial binaural panner. It’s just buzzwords.
So there’s the verdict: 8D audio is nothing new and in some cases, it’s making binaural or standard immersive and stereo sound worse.
Finally, I decided to put it to the test and asked our resident composer superstar and sound engineer wizard, Ben Bell to make one of our SNK Publishing Library tracks 8D.
Listen to the original here and the 8D here.
To quote Flight of the Conchords, that’s too many ds on the dancefloor for me.