We’ve talked a lot about spatial audio here on MajorHiFi. This modern virtual soundstage has made its way into many different mediums, such as music, film, TV, and gaming. However there is one more medium that isn’t discussed as much when it comes to spatial audio, and that’s podcasts. Just like genres of music or games, there are many different types of podcasts, many of which, could plausibly benefit from spatial audio integration. You might not be sure why it would even make sense for certain podcasts to get spatial audio integration. After all, why would you need spatial audio for something so simple like people having a conversation?
Movies and gaming are already mixed with surround sound, so it makes the most sense why spatial audio would work for those mediums. Music is mainly stereo, but spatial audio integration with steaming services such as Apple Music and Tidal, more people have been experiencing what 3D audio has to offer. Dolby Atmos has delivered a new experience for music lovers, and according to and interview will Billboard, Apple Music Vice President Oliver Schusser in Feburary of last year said:
“We now have more than half of our worldwide Apple Music subscriber base listening in spatial audio and that number is actually growing really, really fast.”
Do Podcasts Need Spatial Audio?
So why would podcasts need spatial audio if they’re mainly made up of mono voices? Well, there are genres of podcasts like audio drama, and audio fiction that integrate stereo mixes with many elements like sound effects and music playing integral roles in listener immersion. Spatial audio can be used to push these shows, which some have called “ear movies,” into something even greater. Unlike movies or games, podcasts are a mostly audio only medium, so showcasing audio design in this way could be used to call even more attention to its importance. In podcasts, sound design and music set the tone and can portray the emotional significance of the story. The illusion of the narrative can be better realized, putting you right in the middle of the action, and making you apart of the world like movies and games do.
Spatial Audio For Audio Fiction
Imagine a story playing out completely inside of your head, where dialogue and Foley effects are properly spaced out and distanced according to where they are in the story. Podcasts that center on genre fiction like sci-fi and horror would really come to life, and deliver true immersion like you’ve never heard before. The sound design can be used to really get under your skin, almost like putting on a soundtrack to your imagination.
Going even further outside the realm of audio fiction, news and general talk shows with high production value could also see something out of spatial audio. Usually all voices should be heard straight down the middle, but what if the show uses archival footage with environmental sounds like a nature show? Hearing those sounds in spatial audio would surely engage you more in the shows topic. One show that springs to mind is a show called “Podcast But Outside,” where the hosts interview random pedestrians around LA. Hearing the bustling soundscape of the city in 3D could add to the obscure comedy the show presents, capturing the almost uncomfortable realism in a new way.
Music podcasts could use spatial audio clip, which might forge even greater interest in the artist that’s being featured. Even in general interview shows, spatial audio can be used to put you in the center of the room, like you’re more involved with the conversation. There are a lot of live talk podcasts where the 3D effect can be used to simulate the live environment, like you’re part of the audience and not just listening to recording.
What Platforms Would Have Spatial Audio Podcasts?
As of right now there are very few podcasts that implement spatial audio techniques. Many podcasts operate on a DIY notion, with not much budget to really invest in the proper equipment, like microphones and plug-ins. While spatial audio has become more available for people to hear, mixing with it is a different story. Big studios are sure to already be experimenting with spatial audio podcasts, and popular shows like The Daily have already been testing the format. I would think that Apple Podcasts would be the first platform to feature something like this, with spatial audio being such a huge part of their service. Other big streamers like Tidal and Amazon Music could also theoretically start producing spatial audio podcasts, as they already feature 360 tracks for Sony headphones.
Podcasting could be seen as still in its infancy, and spatial audio technology could only be used to bring the medium to the next level.