The Power of Sound: Spatial Audio - Parts I & II

From Music to Health: The Promising Frontier of Spatial Audio

· Sound therapy,Futurism,Spatial Audio,sound engineering

Welcome and thanks for sharing your valuable time and energy with this special weekly thought letter focusing on the Power of Sound.

In the first thought letter, we examined how audio-based technology is transforming and shaping the next generation of consumer and business wearables. Numerous audio-based examples were showcased including EchoSpeech, a technology developed by Cornell’s Smart Computer Interfaces group and other cross-sector tech highlights.

Notable signals of the Future(s) are steering us toward some interesting companies with brave leadership, managing a perfect storm of audio content playing on quality hardware, which can deliver immersive experiences that improve business productivity, overall well-being, and reduce stress. Nice.

Employing some basic Future(s) Thinking analysis, one would quite quickly recognize that emerging audio-based technologies and spatial audio expertise can play a crucial role in enhancing human experiences.

Sound and audio differ in their forms of energy.

Sound is a mechanical wave energy that travels through a medium, whereas audio is composed of electrical signals that represent sound electronically.

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Spatial audio refers to the technology that produces 3D audio by placing sound virtually around the listener, providing a more realistic experience in fully immersive environments.

Sound establishes your position in the universe, while audio gives you information. However, humans and animals are vulnerable to excessive noise due to our sense of hearing, which evolved to serve as an alarm system that never turns off, even during sleep.

Despite this sensitivity of our hearing, civilization still necessitated to create structures that harness harmonic resonance to enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, found in cultures worldwide using bell-like stones, bowls and rocks.  

Scientific research and clinical observations have recognized sound waves as a controllable medium to support equilibrium in various natural systems, like enhanced homeostasis in the human body, through the spatial coherence of sound waves.

In January 2022, Apple said more than 80% of global subscribers listened to spatial audio songs and monthly spatial audio listeners tripling and total plays increasing more than 1,000%.

Apple also had touted spatial audio as part of their marketing strategy for its new classical music app, which launched in the App Store the same day Sonos released its speakers.

Note: Sonos is also Apple’s first partner for spatial audio speakers.

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Speakers with spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, bring theater-like sound to the movie, game, images, meetings or classes, and let’s call all that, videos you're watching, so that sound seems like it's coming from all around you. And makes a perceptible difference in how your content sounds.

Experienced but lesser-known contributors developing spatial audio solutions for commercial platforms audio design lab HEAR360, VisiSonics and Second-Lifer Phillip Rosedale’s virtual experience venture High Fidelity.

Each offers an interesting (and Signals of the Future(s) worthy) business focus, from transportation to communications to consumer content, an evolving array of hardware and software solutions to integrate and benefit from recent demand of spatial audio. And this reality of audio is starting to take shape in critical areas across a few industries and opportunities.

Speaking of the engineering team at VisiSonics, they are adding spatial audio technology to airline flight control systems to help pilots better manage the multiple audio-based navigation signals they have to monitor simultaneously so they can reduce stress and stay more alert and focused during takeoff and landing.

HEAR360 is helping the blind better navigate their way through the day using their head tracking features and Bose bone-conducting audio glasses. More about bone-conducting in Part III of this special weekly series.

Psychologist, musician, and Cambridge University researcher David Greenberg recently shared, “The bridge between music and digital health has the potential to produce a massive net positive on the lives of millions around the world. Spatial audio and immersive environments are a promising frontier in making this bridge a reality."

It is holistically and scientifically established that spatialized audio is a more immersive and dimensional approach that mimics the way people hear music and sound in real life and demonstrating that this new phase of evolution of spatial audio could be good for our wellbeing as well.

A 2021 abstract cited in the SSI research and authored by Professor Rona Geffen (check out her sound, its groovy) proposes new and noninvasive methods using Geometric Sound (a subset of Spatial Sound) for the treatment of both physical and psychological illnesses, with an emphasis on stress-related conditions and neurological impairments, including depression, anxiety and impairments related to head injuries and trauma.

The spatial audio spotlight has brought various cross-sectors market leader’s attention back to the importance of higher resolution audio and improved personal listening experiences. Now we can measure that impact, as well as see the detrimental effects of poor-quality sound. The extra processing required for the human brain to ‘decode’ badly processed audio causes measurable stress, anxiety, and decreases cognitive and physical performances all-round.”

Among other features, high-resolution audio has a higher sampling frequency, more dynamics, and a greater bit depth than conventional low-resolution audio, such as standard MP3 formats.

“…It’s such a simple thing, but when everything is monotonous your brain has to deconstruct the different streams coming in from all the different people. That makes your brain work considerably harder and that’s one of the main reasons why you see a lot of the stuff on Zoom fatigue.” - Jim Poore, CEO Immersitech

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So, even when you have chosen some me time to recalibrate by listening to relaxing music, guided meditations or other more therapeutic content, doing so through low-res, compressed, and 2D audio sources could be somewhat counterproductive.   
This one’s on me.

A recent study tested the hypothesis and measured behavioral change, brain wave activity, heart rate and blood pressure levels of 50 subjects in response to continuous sound stimuli in an interval of an octave (272.2Hz : 544.4Hz)

These harmonic spectra resulting from spatially coherent sound projection can be inverted and enhanced by technology to bring upon homeostasis in natural systems, including enhanced physical and emotional wellbeing in humans.

As such, spatial sound technologies may provide a means for Acoustic Effector Stimulation (AES) to help restore, maintain and optimize balance in cell organisms, implying potential application for treatment and prevention of pathological conditions associated with disease and trauma.

These hypotheses may inform future(s) studies that aim to progress the clinical methods using spatial sound for the benefit of people dealing with a wide range of physiological and psychological conditions, thereby extending upon existing practices of vibratory medicine including sound and music therapy.

Another research experiment was conducted to determine the effect of spatial audio on memory, focal assurance, perceived comprehension and listener preferences during desktop conferences and results showed that spatial audio improved all measures, increasing memory, focal assurance, and perceived comprehension. These findings may also suggest that high-resolution audio induces a more relaxed state of attention, even without conscious awareness.

FYI, no strong differences were found in the visual conditions, or between the co-located spatial condition and the scaled spatial conditions.

Spatial audio, and its offspring, is a promising technology that can benefit several industries, from entertainment to healthcare, by providing a more immersive and realistic experience. With the current demand for spatial audio, more companies are working to develop new hardware and software solutions to integrate it into existing platforms.

As we witnessed the rapid evolution of AI technology, the hunger for the next wave of computing platforms is growing stronger than ever. With sound/audio emerging as a potential launching point into uncharted territories, it is imperative that individuals and businesses alike take a serious assessment of their current personal life goals and Future(s) business forecasts.

By doing so, together we can identify, today, the necessary steps and resources required to stay ahead of the curve and make your long-term vision plans a reality. As we continue to explore new and innovative ways to incorporate sound/audio into technology, the possibilities for future business models are endless.

The question is, are YOU ready to take the necessary steps to capitalize on these opportunities and shape the future???