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Lost In Space

Spatial audio. 3D music. 360‑degree sound. Call it what you will, immersive audio is a hot topic. And while researching this month’s cover feature, I’ve had lots of conversations with people on the front line. In order of enthusiasm, they rank roughly as follows:

(1) Apple. (2) Loudspeaker manufacturers. (3) Engineers who already have Atmos rooms and are earning good money doing immersive mixes.

Sam Inglis, SOS Editor In Chief.Sam Inglis, SOS Editor In Chief.Photo: JG HardingOthers, however, harbour reservations. Notably:

(1) People who think Apple are implementing immersive audio all wrong, and would be delighted to explain why their own system is much better if only anyone would listen. (2) People who think it’s all a gimmick. (3) Engineers who don’t yet have Atmos rooms and are not earning as much money as they once were.

The most important people in all this, though, are the audience, and their verdict is still awaited. Have Apple and Dolby done enough to entrench Atmos as the new default format for music consumption? Will there be a watershed album that brilliantly showcases immersive production and carries the music world with it? Only time will tell, but it’s likely that the pressure to create immersive music will be relentless for the next couple of years. That pressure will be felt by mix engineers, with labels now expecting fully fledged Atmos mixes for no extra fee, even though many of us simply can’t afford to turn our mix room into a 7.1.2 environment.

Although Apple have lowered the cost bar dramatically, getting into immersive production is still a major commitment in terms of time and effort.

It also raises interesting questions about music itself. At present, immersive music is generated in post‑production, from projects that are otherwise finished. Apple’s implementation of Atmos within Logic 10.7 looks set to change this. Not only does it democratise the technology, it encourages music‑makers to think immersively from the start of the production process. If that takes off, spatial audio really will be a revolution.

Although Apple have lowered the cost bar dramatically, getting into immersive production is still a major commitment in terms of time and effort. Like all big decisions, it’s best made from an informed standpoint — which brings me back to this month’s cover feature. Before you can inform others you have to inform yourself, and when I tried doing this, I found it very frustrating. Consumer sources gave me reams of breathless hype. Technical manuals and standards documents produced an avalanche of impenetrable jargon. What I couldn’t find anywhere was a simple, comprehensive and accurate summary, written with musicians and producers in mind. So that’s what I set out to write in this issue's Introduction To Immersive Audio feature, and I hope you’ll come away from this issue with a clearer idea of what immersive audio could mean for you.

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief