Immersive sound and spatial audio are two names for one of the most popular trends in music, movies and home theater audio. Both terms describe the same thing: the ability to create an enveloping and immersive sonic experience which brings the listener inside the music, movie or TV program. Immersive sound differs from stereo or traditional surround sound by the inclusion of height elements. Sound comes from not just all around the listener but from above as well.
Dolby Atmos was the first immersive surround sound format, introduced in movie theaters with the film “Brave” in 2012. Dolby Atmos has expanded its footprint from movie theaters into home theater systems, wireless speakers, cell phones, laptops, headphones, soundbars and even cars. Competing formats DTS:X and AURO 3D were released later with limited degrees of commercial success.
Tip: Watch our video explaining Sony 360 Reality Audio
Sony released its own immersive sound format called “360 Reality Audio” in 2019. Our founder Brian Mitchell experienced it in a private tour at Sony Pictures Studios and was impressed by what he heard. Based on the MPEG-H 3D Audio standard, 360 Reality Audio is an object-based surround sound format which combines a standard multi-channel surround sound “bed” with sound objects that can be mapped in 3D space at playback time. This allows the format to work with a wide variety of speaker configurations and even with headphones.
Sony has been working with music studios to get the format into music releases. As of early 2023, over a thousand music tracks have been encoded in 360 Reality Audio including major releases from new artists as well as classic back catalog tracks. 360 Reality Audio tracks can be found on music streaming services including Amazon Music Unlimited, deezer, nugs.net, Peertracks and Tidal.
In order for consumers to experience this sound at home, Sony released Bluetooth speakers and sound bars which included multiple drivers, pointing in different directions to reproduce sound coming from all around the listener. The company also released headphones designed to replicate the immersive effects of 360 Reality Audio in a more private environment. The company even offers an “Ear Shape Analyzer” for its wireless Bluetooth headphones as a feature of its mobile headphones app, “Sony | Headphones Connect.” This optimizes the 360 Reality Audio headphone experience for your specific ears.
Sony claims that 360 Reality Audio can be experienced on traditional headphones as well, though our experience with immersive sound has been that it works best over speakers, and the more speakers you have, the better it sounds. To this effect, in February 2023, Sony introduced a new suite of Audio/Video Receivers (AVRs) which include 360 Reality Audio decoding. The company has also begun licensing the tech to third parties such as Denon for use in their own products.
Sony’s immersive surround sound solutions also include 360 Spatial Sound Mapping, which is different from 360 Reality Audio. While 360 Reality Audio is a codec that needs to be present in both the source material and the playback device, 360 Spatial Sound Mapping is a technology that enhances any surround or immersive sound recording by making it more seamless. 360 Spatial Sound Mapping (360SSM) can take a home theater system that has seven speakers plus a subwoofer (5.1.2) and make it sound like it has more speakers. 360SSM creates “phantom channels” in different parts of the room to make the movement and placement of sounds within the sound field smoother and more natural-sounding.
With the format making in-roads in the music industry, those considering a high-end soundbar, home theater receiver or preamp/processor should consider products that support Sony 360 Reality Audio in order to guarantee maximum format compatibility and future readiness.