The company added a calibration feature to its headphone app in the fall of 2019. With this tool, Sony says the software can adjust the settings after taking some pictures of your ears. My experience with this has given subtle differences from standard 360 Reality Audio sound, but that’s fine. The platform alone is certainly more immersive than regular stereo tracks.
“Everyone has different hearing aids for listening to music on headphones,” Okazaki said. “How they listen is deeply related to the shape of the ear, so we have developed the app that recognizes the best hearing properties.”
In October 2019, Sony was ready to launch. Unfortunately, it did so with a small content library: the company mustered only 1,000 songs at the time. In addition, it did not have its own speakers that supported 360 Reality Audio. The new platform it was trying to evangelize the masses about was only available on the headphones – like the then flagship WH-1000XM3. You also needed a streaming streaming subscription from Amazon, Tidal or Deezer to access initially.
These services did not wait for more immersive tracks. Since Dolby also does something similar with Dolby Atmos Music, the expensive streaming levels also give you access to their impressive melodies. Obviously, this means you have several songs to choose from, although Dolby’s library is also limited. On the hardware front, Amazon’s Echo Studio was the first speaker to support 360 Reality Audio (it also supports Dolby Atmos Music). Debuting at the end of 2019, the Alexa-enabled voice-activated speaker gave a taste of what Sony had been working on – one that you could experience at home.
At CES last year, it seemed like Sony was still trying to make 360 Reality Audio a thing. The company had several demos, including a living room layout with a soundbar and another prototype speaker. The latter would end up as the SRS-RA3000: the second speaker Sony introduced last week and plans to ship in the spring. Once again, the company had built compelling demos, but it did not seem to have a clear plan to get its immersive sound to the ears of the masses.
After being largely silent about the project for a year, Sony unveiled its strategy just ahead of CES 2021. The company clearly realizes that limited content choice is an issue (still only 4,000 tracks at this point), so it offers tools to manufacturers and producers so they can easily add 360 Reality Audio to their workflows. Sony worked with Virtual Sonics to build 360 Reality Audio Creative Suite, a software plugin that works with existing DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) applications such as Pro Tools. This supplement will be available for use later this month. Dolby is also trying to expand by opening up a bit, giving indie artists access to tools and distribution through a partnership with Pro Tools developer Avid. Both companies are doing it to expand the music library to make the extra investment more compelling.
“As long as there are strains available, or as long as we have multitrack recordings, we can mix them,” explained Jun Makino, senior manager of Sony Home Entertainment and Sound Products. “The mixing process requires the artist’s creativity and intention, so it requires some discussion.”
Sony Music Entertainment is the parent company of major record companies such as RCA, Columbia and Epic. These labels are home to Travis Scott, Doja Cat, Harry Styles and many more big names. In other words, Sony has a way with artists and producers making a lot of new music these days – because they own several big labels. The company has also expanded the number of studios equipped to capture 360 Reality Audio for new recordings. Starting in New York, it now offers skilled setups in LA and Nashville, as well as in Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.
Sony is not just trying to add more 360 Reality Audio content with studio recordings either. After all, the whole idea is to get into the music, so adding live performances – or at least archived concerts on request – to the pool makes a lot of sense. The company started this pressure with a concert from Zara Larsson this week through the Artist Connection app. As COVID-19 rages, Sony hopes this will be a substitute for personal attendance, as there is nothing to tell when we can return to arenas and other arenas. Currently, the company is focused on capturing live performances for on-demand viewing and listening, but it is certainly possible to use the audio format for live streams and concerts in the future.
“We have developed 360 Reality Audio in real time,” Okazaki noted. “It’s going to be available later.” Makino was quick to remind me that many “livestreams” that we all see from home are actually pre-recorded, but also reiterated that using the platform for real-time audio is something Sony wants to do.