Spatial Audio is a specific concept to VR and AR environments, because it places sounds in a specific location in the physical environment around you.
As an avid proponent for UX considerations in the VR world, I often come across articles or videos on necessary visual considerations for people within virtual reality. This is of course incredibly important to anyone looking into developing a VR product. However, because virtual reality is so holistic in it’s experience, many forget the importance of audio. In an ever-growing combination of games and theatre, VR represents some of the most prominent sound technology of the modern day.
Spatial audio in particular is particular to 3D games, but is also a newly emerging field of VR. It places sounds in physical locations around you in order to represent the virtual environment you’re experiencing. For example, if a bird is on the right side of the screen, then a song or chirping can be heard predominantly in the right headphone and a soft reverberation in the left. This is more natural to a person’s actual experience in reality as sounds echo, grow, lessen, and reverberate depending on location and proximity to the user.
Image Source: http://vr.amp.amsterdam/what-is-spatial-audio/
So what considerations should UX Designers take when designing an audio/visual experience? I asked my friend and co-founder of Noctvrnal, Anna Wozniewicz, who specializes in Immersive 360-Degree Sound Design. In my interview with her, she allowed me to understand the intricacies of spatial audio and how she creates worlds of sound.
What are the three most important things you consider when designing sound for an environment?
How do you design for spacial audio? What is your process?
What considerations do you take into account from the environment?
Are there many differences between speech audio and atmoshperic audio? If so, what are they?
Do you believe sound to be a good cue to the audience within VR? How have you observed users respond to audio cues? Do you believe certain scenarios lean towards users listening for cues?
Are there specific atmospheric sounds that you have to include in an outdoor versus an indoor environment?
What specific sounds do you believe lend most to a user’s immersion? Why?
Do you normally address direction or reverberation of a sound? Do you believe this to be important in a VR environment?
How do you account for speech or sound in different kinds of spaces (outdoor versus indoor versus concert hall)?
Is there anything you specifically utilize in the physics of audio to recreate it in a virtual world (not much of a science buff but I’d like to learn more about it)?
Is there anything else that you believe to be important to your audio work?
Noctvrnal is an LLC co-founded by Anna Wozniewicz and Helena McGill, based in the Greater Los Angeles Area. They are bringing immersive, spatialized sound design to the forefront of the virtual and augmented reality movement. They provide complete post-production audio services for virtual, augmented, and mixed realities, including Foley and additional field recording.
They can be found at their twitter @Noctvrnal_VR, and their LinkedIn Noctvrnal LLC.