3D and Spatial Audio – What’s In It For You?


Thanks to the release of Sony’s PS5, which features the Tempest Audio Engine, 3D Audio is once again in the spotlight.  In a similar way, Apple’s iOS14 release coupled with the firmware update for the AirPods Pro have placed Spatial Audio with head tracking on mobile users’ radar.  The end result is that both 3D Audio and Spatial Audio (3D/SA) are more easily accessible to users than ever before

Questions you may be asking at this point:

  • What is the difference between 3D Audio and Spatial Audio?
  • Is one better than the other?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • How do I get it?

For answers to these and other questions about 3D/SA, please read on.


Our ears are the only true 360 sense we humans possess.  They are finely tuned pitch, phase and distance detection devices, which have evolved over thousands of years. Their ability to localize sound regardless of source, distance or movement is what enables us to determine the position and movement of objects around us.  Our ears enable us to detect a commercial jet flying thousands of feet in the air, though we may not be able to see it.  

Just as our hearing has evolved, so too, audio recording and playback have evolved from Stereo (2 Channel) to Surround (5.1/7.1 Channels) to 3D/SA (12+ Channels).  Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have added head tracking as an evolutionary step.  Each step in this evolution rewards the user with an enhanced level of connection, increased participation in and control over their experience – whether it’s a live stream, concert, video game or XR (VR/AR)


3D Audio and Spatial Audio are similar in that they each support:

  • Channel Based Audio – sound playback associated with a specific configuration of speakers (Stereo or Surround)
  • Object Based Audio – sound placement at any point in a 360 sphere (regardless of number of channels or speakers) 
  • Binaural Listening – listening over headphones
  • Head Tracking – the placement of sound in a 360 sphere adjusts to the orientation of the user’s ears
  • Higher Order Ambisonics – more granular detail about the location and movement of sounds in a 360 sphere

3D Audio has been developed by a number of organizations, including Fraunhofer IIS, Technicolor and Qualcomm.  3D Audio for broadcast and streaming is governed by the MPEG-H 3D Audio specification.  The Sony PS5 Tempest Audio Engine provides yet another evolutionary step in the development of 3D Audio.  

Spatial Audio is available in a number of consumer formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Apple Spatial Audio. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X offers object based Spatial Audio for home theater and mobile games.  Whereas Apple Spatial Audio is available on Apple mobile devices only.  Oculus and HTC offer Spatial Audio for their VR headsets.  Apple, Oculus and HTC feature head tracking.

Get It

3D Audio and Spatial Audio are available on the following devices and services:

TypeXR (VR/AR)MobileStreamingGame PlatformHome Theater
3D AudioSony PSRVAndroid:Hooke Audio
Waves NX
Amazon Music HDSony 360 Reality AudioSony PS5Auro-3D enabled AVRs
Spatial AudioOculus Rift, GoHTC ViveApple iPhone
AirPod Pro
Apple TVHulu, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Vudu, HBO GoXBOX Series X/STHX Spatial AudioDolby Atmos enabled AVRs and Soudbars

David Reyes is an XR Producer and Business Development Manager for Immersive Experience Studios – An XR Studio based in the Pacific Northwest.  IES’ focus is on 3D/SA as a key contributor to a great XR experience.  You can connect with him at davidreyes@immersiveexperiencestudios.com.

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