How the New Pixel Buds Could Have 3D Audio

Late to the party

Key Takeaways

  • Google’s acquisition of a 3D audio startup could mean spatial audio support for future Google devices.
  • Many other headphone manufacturers already include some form of spatial audio support within their earbuds.
  • Many believe that Google could bring 3D audio to the next Pixel Buds, further improving the 3D audio options available to consumers.
New Google Pixel Buds ear pods are displayed during a Google launch event.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

3D audio support could bring more immersive audio to the next set of Google Pixel Buds, finally giving them a chance against Apple’s Airpod Pros.

In December 2020, Google quietly acquired Dysonics, a 3D audio startup. Before its acquisition, Dysonics successfully created the Rondo Motion, a device that allows users to add spatial awareness to audio-wearables without built-in support—like those old headphones you’ve had for five years.

Now that Google has acquired the company, many believe it could mean a real push towards the next evolution of audio immersion in headphones, 3D audio—often referred to as spatial audio.

"Spatial audio is the future," Anthony Fernandez, founder and CEO of Pro Audio Nerds, told Lifewire on a call. "It’s more immersive than surround sound, which is why so many companies like Sony and Netflix are already pushing it."

What’s the Point?

If you’ve ever been to a movie theater, then chances are you’ve experienced Dolby Atmos, which works off of the same basic ideas of 3D audio. The goal with 3D audio in headphones is to bring that same level of immersion and clarity to a pair of headphones or earbuds, so users can experience that directly from their smart device.

Plenty of companies already are experimenting with 3D audio support. Streaming giants like Netflix offer content with Dolby Atmos—one of the most popular and well-known 3D audio systems available right now.

"Spatial audio is the future. It’s more immersive than surround sound, which is why so many companies like Sony and Netflix are already pushing it."

Apple unveiled its version of 3D audio with the Apple AirPods Pro, and Sony, itself, has been pushing the technology quite a bit with the PlayStation 5 and its suite of accessories.

With Google’s next conference scheduled to take place in May, many have been speculating that the acquisition of Dysonics could mean Google is preparing to unveil a set of Pixel Buds with spatial audio support.

Adding in support for 3D audio seems like a no-brainer, especially if Google is trying to keep up with the competition. Furthermore, the company already has integrated support for spatial audio in YouTube, and it’s an integral part of the platforms’ 360-degree video content.

Adding it to its own hardware seems like a logical next step towards furthering the support that Google already has laid the foundation for.

Offering the same features as competitors is important for users who gravitate to Google products. The immersive benefits that 3D audio brings only add to the appeal of full spatial audio support.

Turn It Up

One of the key ideas behind spatial audio is to surround the user with the content they are experiencing. This allows for a more realistic audioscape and a more immersive experience, overall.

Unlike modern stereo or surround-sound systems, 3D spatial audio works off fixed object locations, which means the sound is emitted from specific points instead of general directions.

Apple’s system uses much of the original ideas behind 3D audio to make its spatial audio system work based on the location of your device—the iPad, iPhone, etc.—and the location of your AirPods Pro.

With it activated, you can watch a video on your iPhone, and when you move away from the phone, the audio will start to fade, as if you’re listening to the audio from that device.

According to Fernandez, the basis of spatial audio comes from incorporating height into the sphere that surrounds a user. It’s also based on a technology called ambisonics, which originally was created in the 1970s.

"When you look at images, historically speaking, an image would be wide and tall. That’s how we perceive it. It’s in front of us—it’s a certain width and a certain height," he explained. 

"With audio, we perceive it as forward and back, left and right. Spatial audio lets us tap into another perception: height. That is really where the science lies for spatial audio—addressing height information so that things like a helicopter can truly appear to be above you, while water could appear to be below your ear."

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