We’re gonna break down what exactly is 3D sound, why you should care, then look at the product options in more detail.
Wait, isn’t that what Dolby Surround, DTS, THX, and every other sound production company claims to offer? Yup, sorta.
What the current offering of 3D sound offers us is 3D sound in a movie theater or in our homes. It requires a decent audio system, able to decode a variety of audio sources.
Also, you need an array of balanced speakers positioned to duplicate the perception of 3D sound. For the most part, this works well. Making that sound personal is a little challenging.
What speaker arrays have that headphones do not is, depth and perspective. A speaker behind your head can simulate a sound occurring behind you, like an explosion. If you turn to face it, that explosion stays put.
Wearing headphones, this is not the case. The sound swings with your ears, but 3D headphones adjust for that head swing.
Keeping things simple, the product from Waves is not headphones.
It’s a device that clips onto your favorite headphones, transforming them into 3D headphones. Their system comes with software too, for windows, OS, iOS, and Android operating systems.
Their target audience is the audio mixing crowd, which separates them some from the others. They are the world’s leading developer of audio plugins for the professional audio industry.
Still, for getting out of the gate fast with a product that does the job, they win a blue ribbon.
The tracker, as they call it, is a Bluetooth-enabled device that clips to your headphones. It tracks your head movement, giving the wearer 360 degrees of sound.
While I could find no specific example of users connecting this to a VR headset, it seems possible. Their site claims you can recreate 3D audio on any headset. Why not the headphones on your VR headset?
For $79, this is the cheapest option on the list.
Also beating Ossic to the game, the team at 3D Sound Labs created three products designed for the same outcome. They made a module, like the Waves tracker, and two headphone products.
One of the headphones is bundled with a mic for gaming. Clearly, they are not just targeting the audiophile crowd.
Sound Labs equipment isn’t for everyone, though. It supports windows machines for the time being but promises to cover OS X, iOS, and Android soon.
The sound environment, like the Waves technology, is 360 degrees. It uses an accelerometer combined with a powerful algorithm to track even the smallest head movements, keeping your perception of the sound three dimensional.
You’ll spend around $90 (the site is in Euros) for the module, $240 for the basic headset, and over $250 for the gaming version.
While at first glance the Ossic headphones appear to be the same product as 3D Sound Labs’, they are not.
The team at Ossic figured out how to personalize their 3D sound experience.
Their technology determines the distance from one side of your skull to the other. That way it knows how far apart your ears are.
Their headphones also come equipped with four drivers per ear. That’s like four speakers in each ear. Combining their proprietary algorithm with the drivers, Ossic personalizes your listening experience like nobody else.
Here’s the rub: they’re not yet available. You can pre-order a pair for $299 as of this writing, but they list at $399. You’ll get them in March of 2017.
That’s a lot of cash combined with a long wait for 3D sound. Worth it? Heck yeah.
What 3D sound could do for us in the future is more than just provide better entertainment. With current headphones, most arrangements work overtime to block out surrounding sounds via noise canceling or tons of bass.
This is great if you are riding the bus, not so great if you are riding your bike. Emergency vehicles, pedestrians, other cyclists, and cars can disappear in this way.
There have been some cool experiments lately with headphones that allow in some ambient sounds. A sophisticated 3D headset could not only let in sounds but track the position as you look for the source.
3D sound could save lives.