Nikhil Nagaraj: ‘3D audio is limitless’

Nikhil Nagaraj believes 3D audio simulates our natural sense of hearing. The Bangalore-based sound artist who has been working on different aspects of performance arts and sound production says that regular stereo music only tries to create a sonic image in front of the listeners. “Whereas, the 3d sound simulates what goes on above and below us,” he adds.

Scale and sensibilities

In the last few years, the Indian music industry has witnessed a significant growth in revenue courtesy experimentation of genres and languages, primarily driven by digitisation. Artistes like Nagaraj – who through his company 12 Hz Sound Laboratories – are straddling the intersection of art and science through technical solutions, by focusing on immersive media content and spatial sound. This gave impetus to independent music and artists, and has also created a need and demand for technologies like 3D audio.

Though 3D audio is certainly not new, it is still nascent in India. But it’s surely a fast-growing field in audio technology. Having started his career as a field recordist, mix engineer and composer, Nagaraj believes that the technology is more accessible today to any sound professional. “3D sound can be and is already used in many theatrical shows and opera, amusement parks, cinemas, music concerts, experimental art, etc.,” he says adding that 3D audio’s scalability provides a “limitless scope to experiment with music”.

Commercially, the use of 3D audio has risen significantly in films and especially music videos. While it has helped the trend of remixing old songs, in Nagaraj’s view, “[Songs] need to have a much greater adaptation to reach maximum audiences.”

Contrary to popular beliefs – that investment in tech is often expensive – Nagaraj is quick to clarify that 3D audio can be applied to low-cost appliances too. “For the most basic spatialisation, we could start with four speakers,” he says. “Ambisonics is a spatial audio format which can even be scaled down to binaural on headphones, making it accessible to anyone who owns a pair.”

Sharing his thoughts on making 3d audio more accessible, relevant and convenient for Indian listeners, Nagaraj says, “3D audio can be delivered in its most basic form as a binaural mix spatialised for headphones. Having the correct hardware will greatly enhance the experience of the listeners.” 

Paving the way

Last month, Nagaraj and partner Felix Deufel had held a one-day workshop on 3D audio at Bangalore’s Indian Sonic Research Organization’s (ISRO) 3D SoundLab. The duo shared concepts of spatial audio with learners from different backgrounds. “Each of them brought a different skill into the group and workshops like this help build a community of like-minded people,” says Nagaraj who is looking forward to seeing the myriad applications of 3D audio in the near future.

Addressing the comparison between other enhanced audio offerings in the market with 3D audio, Nagaraj says, “[What’s available today] is in simple words, surround sound and it places you in the centre of the audio experience. It covers four sides, and 3D sound provides audio input from above and below as well. So, I’ve always kept a lookout for new emerging technologies, and the fact that you can work with spatial audio with just a few plugins and a computer really blew my mind.”

When it comes to the gaps in adoption of 3D audio, Nagaraj has opinions, “The composer has to get used to the fact that we have a third dimension in our compositions, which until now has been left to special effects in cinema and music. Along with the bridging of the gap between audio and video, the scope of experimentation scales up exponentially.”

Testament to the potential growth of the 3D audio market in India is the fact that the market size will reach US$ 15 thousand million by 2028 at a staggering CAGR of 15.1%. With the world moving even more towards consuming media content online, gadgets like Apple Airpods, VR and AR have taken a leap to show us what could be possible in music. “We no longer think of the audio and video as two separate entities, the lines between creating the content have merged,” says Nagaraj who is working on a history podcast titled, ‘Scrolls and Leaves’ that will be presented in 3Dd audio and can be experienced on headphones in binaural. “Maybe we can expect to introduce spatial audio into applications we use every day now like Netflix or Zoom,” he laughs.

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