The original Magic 8 Ball, a mainstay of rumpus rooms and teen parties, was never meant to record audio. Instead, it was designed to answer questions.
Now, a brand new device called the 8ball has been designed to solve the dilemma of capturing quality 360° sound in tandem with the growing number of high-resolution 360°, stereographic cameras.
The product is made by Hear 360+, based in Santa Monica California. It has been designed, purposely, to capture a completely natural sound field. It does so with eight separate microphones that are positioned at very precise intervals around its ball-shaped exterior. In fact, you could think of these microphones in the same way you think of tightly packed lenses on 360 cameras: Each microphone is taking a specific sliver of the entire 360° sound field. Then, using an eight track mixer, you balance the outputs from each of those microphones and mix it down.
The result? Pretty phenomenal, say those who’ve heard audio produced by this microphone (which you will get to sample in a moment). Among the kudos?
- “The first test audio I heard blew me away with accuracy and sound quality.” (Matt Celia, Partner, Lightsail VR)
- “I want that.” (Ross Gillard, Director of Immersive Content, Grayson Matthews)
- “Indistinguishable from the real world.” (Richard Broo, Founder, Wemersive)
The 8ball has some design features going for it that really make it stand out from the crowd.
For starters, the ball mounts with a standard vertical pole running through its centre, kind of like a speared apple. The point is that it can sit directly beneath a 360° VR camera, and largely stay out of the show. It also means it can (and is likely to be) positioned close to head height, meaning the sound field it captures is pretty much the same as what you’d hear if you were standing in the same space.
One of the cool things about the human ear, ear canal and our perception of sound is this: Despite the fact we have but two ears, we are capable of discerning sound location not only in a left-right stereo field, but also spatially. We can tell if a sound is coming from below, behind, or above us – and place it quite accurately in space in terms of source.
Often, audio engineers in the 360° world use “ambisonic” microphones and processing to achieve that spatial positioning. The 8ball doesn’t. And that, according to the company’s CTO and Co-Founder Greg Morgenstein, makes all the difference.
“It captures natural, spatial audio that is not synthesized,” he says. “Ambisonic is a great technology…but that’s a world of synthesis.”
Morgenstein’s passion for the product was infectious. By the end of the demonstration we were convinced that this type of recording system, called omni binaural, is the way to go.
Coming home from the show and hitting up the Hear360+ website was also instructive.
“HEAR360 is on a mission to make the digital world sound absolutely incredible,” it states.
“We do this by providing hardware and software solutions to today’s cinematic VR filmmakers, allowing them to deliver theatrical quality, head-trackable sound easily and affordably…
“The underlying technology H360 Core creates a “height” dimension to audio, giving the ability to place sound above, below, around, and even inside a listener’s head. When combined with omni-binaural recording the results are holographic, immediately immersing the viewer into the virtual world.”
Using FMod, Wwise, or Unity plugins, the 8ball output integrates seamlessly for everything from film editing to VR games. They’re clearly planned this out.
WANT TO HEAR IT?
Okay. Now it’s your turn. Put on a set of headphones, please. If you have a good set of headphones, those are preferable to your phone’s earbuds. Now settle down and prepare to listen to some samples of sound recorded with the 8ball. The first one requires a VR headset, or you could just close your eyes:
There are three other samples that play off the website. You can find those by scrolling down after clicking here.
And, if you find this interesting and want to learn more about the company, follow them on Twitter below. It won’t sound as good as the 8ball, but you’ll stay on top of what they’re doing.
— HEAR360 (@HEAR360sound) April 26, 2017
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