Your Own Personal Soundfield


In this article I would like to explain more why I have attempted to build an a panoramic audio player in html5 and how I am hoping such ideas can be used. The panoramic audio technique used in my player has been around since the early 1970’s. I believe html5 along with advances in mobile and home listening systems provide the perfect showcase for the usefulness of this panoramic audio aka. Ambisonics.

Here is a video describing some investigation the BBC undertook regarding the practical usage of Ambisonics in broadcast.

Notice the relative optimism of the first presenter, David Wood. That 1st order, 4 channel method of Ambisonics is elegant as he describes and it is what my player uses. 4 channels are certainly not a stretch to achieve above the current 2 channel stereo signals most commonly used for music and video.

In second contrast, the second presenter, Andrew Mason does a good job of explaining exactly why Ambisonics has languished in relative obscurity. He is absolutely right however I’m trying to demonstrate how a simple shift in paradigm might change that.

  1. The ability to decode an ambisonic stream is on the cusp of being available in nearly all major web browsers thanks to HTML5 and the included Web Audio API.
  2. The possibility to dynamically navigate a 1st order Ambisonic soundfield offers an immensely enjoyable and unique experience which defies comparison to traditional surround.  Resolution is not a large issue when the playback system is not the only means of locating sound events in the soundfield.  In short, being able to turn your head in a soundfield makes a huge difference.
Hopefully both of these are or soon will be demonstrated in my panoramic audio player.  I’m not trying to suggest that Ambisonics in this panoramic context is a replacement for existing surround audio strategies.  What I’m suggesting is that the current strategies are well designed and suited for installation, for public exhibit.  They are not so well designed for being light-weight, accessible to individuals or easily scale-able. 
If we are willing to accept the possible resolution shortcomings of Ambisonics (let’s be honest, we’ve accepted much worse from standard stereo reproduction for decades) then it’s obvious 1st order ambisonics is light-weight, accessible to individuals (thanks to Web Audio API) and easily scale-able (from mono to stereo to multi-speaker playback).
A short list of possible uses:
  • panoramic dramatic audio broadcasts…imagine the radio dramas of the past but with the ability to turn around to follow the sound of the action
  • panoramic cinematic production with fully navigable, synced audio and video elements.
  • sound installations synced to geographic locations, accessible via a website on a mobile device
  • voip style teleconferencing with the ability to virtually spatial locate within the conference room
  • live concert recording and reproduction
  • virtual tours
  • July 8, 2013