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05 Jan

The issue with 3D audio…

In audio terms, 2017 promises to be a very exciting year for many reasons, one of them being the continuous appetite to look at the use of binaural stereo (3D sound) in radio campaigns.

The concept of using 3D audio in a campaign could be quite powerful. Used well and with discretion, it moves the power and effectiveness of audio to another level of audience engagement. But there is a problem. As is always the case with new concepts or software developments, everybody wants a piece of the action! But at what cost?

We’ve fully embraced 3D audio over the last two years. In production terms, it really does open doors to new and fantastic creative ideas. But there’s the rub – creative IDEAS. 3D audio is a wonderful new tool, but it’s only a tool to push an idea – and the idea must always come first.

We recently produced a radio campaign to promote the second series of David Attenborough’s brilliant Planet Earth. The trails, which ran across BBC national radio platforms including Radio 2 and 6Music, were produced in binaural stereo for specific reasons. The programme itself is so visually immersive. The way it’s filmed and produced creates a feeling, as a viewer, that you are really there, in the thick of the action. And we wanted to do the same with the audio trails.

We wanted to place the listener IN a jungle. We wanted the Leopard to be ACTUALLY walking around them, and make the listener feel like they were actually there and completely immerse them into the story. So whilst Mr Attenborough narrated the trails, instructing listeners to “Listen very carefully,” we took listeners on a journey through the canopies of the Brazilian jungle, just as the programme did itself.

The point being, that the creative concept must always take the lead. And if it’s relevant and can add to the effectiveness of the idea, then using 3D audio is great. But crowbarring 3D audio into an idea just because 3D audio exists can backfire. We’ve heard examples of 3D audio recently where it was clear that it was only used as a gimmick, not for a genuinely beneficial reason, and it only served to confuse the listener. In one such example, the voice moved around whilst delivering the script for no obvious reason. One minute they’re behind you, the next they’re in front of you. It was so distracting that it was easy to miss the actual point the VO was making. In other examples, 3D audio have been used recently where it was “mis-matched”. A confusing wall of noise with sounds happening, literally, right, left and centre but with no real purpose, and no picture painted for the listener.

So… 3D audio gets a great big thumbs up from us. But there is a time and a place for it. Its use must enhance the effectiveness of the creative concept, and great care must be taken in production to ensure you still have total clarity of the campaign message.

Now grab a pair of headphones, turn the volume up, and immerse yourself into our 3D Brazilian jungle here.

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