- Sony’s 360 Reality Audio uses object-based audio to create a 360-degree soundscape and make music sound more immersive and realistic.
- Compatible hardware and services are needed to listen to Sony 360 Reality Audio, with apps like Tidal and Amazon Music HD supporting the format.
- Sony’s 360 Reality Audio works with any headphones, but using Sony’s own headphones with the Sony Headphones Connect app can enhance the listening experience. Compatible speakers are also available.
Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is a high-resolution music format that aims to make the music you listen to sound more immersive and realistic.
Developed by Sony in partnership with a number of major record labels, it’s designed to sound like music is coming from multiple different directions, instead of the standard left and right channels you’d hear in traditional stereo — putting you in the middle of a 360-degree soundscape.
With more and more devices supporting spatial audio now, how does Sony’s 360 Reality Audio work and what do you need to hear it? We’ve got everything you need to know. Read on.
How does Sony’s 360 Reality Audio work?
Sony’s 360 Reality Audio uses something called object-based audio — the same as Dolby Atmos — which means that when the sound that’s being recorded is encoded, it saves extra data, called metadata, describing the placement of the microphone in a 360-degree 3D soundfield.
In other words, the microphone recording an instrument like violins, for example, contains attached data signaling that the instrument is placed at the front left of the recording studio, while the microphone covering another instrument, like the trombones, notes that those are towards the studio’s back right. And if the trombones are on a higher platform than the violins, that extra height is also encoded. The 3D soundfield format supports up to 64 channels, and promises it can pinpoint every element of a track.
This extra data means that when you’re listening to the music, it should sound more like the way the music was originally recorded, with a greater sense of reality — as suggested by Sony’s name for this system.
The audio doesn’t just apply to music. For example, an effect like a gunshot in the background of a music track could be an object and given its own place in the soundfield, for example. Even the sounds of an audience can be captured in live performance to add authenticity to a live recording.
How can I listen to Sony 360 Reality Audio?
To listen to Sony 360 Reality Audio, you will need some compatible hardware and services that support the format, depending on how you want to listen.
First, you’ll need a compatible source that’s capable of playing mastered or remastered tracks. Apps like Tidal and Amazon Music HD support those tracks. Additionally, you can find mastered or remastered tracks via nugs.net, a service that specializes in recording live concerts.
Spatial Audio helps you get more out of Apple’s earbuds. Here’s how.
You’ll need a high fidelity subscription to one of the supported services below:
- Tidal – HiFi Plus $19.99 per month
- Nugs.net – HiFi $24.99 per month
- Amazon Music Unlimited – $9.99 per month for Prime members / $10.99 for standard users
At the time of writing, the two biggest streaming services, Apple Music and Spotify, don’t support the format. Spotify doesn’t have any spatial audio tracks just yet, and Apple uses its own Apple Spatial Audio format.
Do I need new hardware to take advantage of Sony’s 360 Reality Audio?
Perhaps the best thing about Sony 360 Reality Audio is you don’t need to buy any new hardware unless you want to listen through speakers.
That’s because Sony says its platform will work with any headphones.
The best Sony over-ear headphones and in-ear buds deliver immersive, high quality audio with a comfortable fit and thoughtful software design.
Sure, you’ll get better results with better cans, but the magic is done in the encoding, not the headphones.
Sony points out that if you are listening via some of its own headphones, you can get an enhanced result, which is thanks to its free Sony Headphones Connect app, which personalizes the audio especially for your ears and personal sense of hearing. The app is downloadable on iOS and Android, and requires you to take a photo of your ears for analysis and sound optimization.
Sony’s 2017 MP3 player has made for purposeful listening, and even though I’m a rookie audiophile, I think it’s a game changer.
Sony now has an extensive range of certified headphones that offer this, with everything from the flagship WH-1000XM5 over-ears to the budget WH-CH720 noise-cancelling headphones and the WF-C700N true wireless earbuds getting Sony’s stamp of certification for the format.
The WF-1000XM5 also joined this list, but added in head tracking support when using an Android phone. A bit like Apple’s Spatial Audio, this will mean that the earbuds can track which way your head is looking, compared to the content that is being watched or listened to. The Sony buds will then adjust the positioning to give you a more authentic soundscape.
The full model list can be found here — but you can be pretty sure that if you’re buying Sony’s headphones, they’ll support the enhanced functionality. Below are some of our favorites.
$278 $300 Save $22
Sony’s versatile wireless earbuds offer excellent noise-canceling and support for the company’s 360 Reality Audio.
$114 $150 Save $36
Sony’s affordable wireless over-ear headphones have built-in noise-cancellation, up to 35 hours of battery life, and support for 360 Reality Audio.
What speakers are compatible with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio?
While most headphones support the format, if you want to play music in Sony 360 Reality Audio through a speaker, then you need one that has the right chip embedded/ Additionally, you’ll need to play music over Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth.
The first to be released was the Amazon Echo Studio, a one-unit smart speaker, but Sony has continued to partner with other brands to create certified playback devices. So far, there’s the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar and an AV processor from McIntosh, the MX123.
Sony has, of course, released a range of compatible speakers. The range includes the SRS-RA5000 and RA3000 wireless speakers, as well as the HT-A7000 and HT-A5000 soundbars and the HT-A9 surround system.
Not all spatial audio speakers are created equal though, and a format war is beginning, between Apple’s Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360 Reality Audio. That means speakers like the Sonos Era 300 and Apple’s HomePod don’t support the format – so you will need to check before you buy.
The below speakers do support Sony’s 360 Audio:
Sony SRS-RA3000 Reality Audio Wi-Fi/ Bluetooth Speaker
$198 $400 Save $202
Sony’s wireless speaker is designed to create immersive soundscapes with support for voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Amazon Echo Studio
The Amazon Echo Studio is the company’s best-sounding smart speaker, with spatial audio processing for dynamic, room-filling sound courtesy of five directional speakers inside the casing. It also does everything you’d expect an Alexa device to do, like set alarms, interface with Ring doorbells and more.
$998 $1400 Save $402
The Sony HT-A7000 delivers an unrivalled and fully immersive sound from a simple all-in-one soundbar.
What tracks are available on Sony’s 360 Reality Audio?
At launch, Sony had 1,000 songs in the new format. As of 2022 that stood at 7,000, with more being added all the time. These include artists such as Mark Ronson and Pharell Williams plus classic tracks from the likes of Billy Joel and Bob Dylan.
Is Sony the only system to use object-based audio?
No, there are others already in place, the most well-known of which is Dolby Atmos. The Dolby Atmos Music service is a rival music platform which also aims to offer a realistic surround sound experience. The same is the case with Apple Spatial Audio. The three formats are not compatible, so studio engineers will be kept busy as more tracks are remastered for the new platforms.
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