Right now there are several new trends in surround sound. Auro-3D is one of them and it is said to be the next thing in surround audio. Its inventor, Wilfried Van Baelen, owner of the Galaxy Studios, wanted to create an immersive sound system that would be able to deliver a truly 3D sound experience.
After several years of experimenting he came up with an extra horizontal layer that can be added to a 5.1 setup. This second layer consists of minimum four speakers. They are placed on a 30 degree angle, two at the front and two at the rear. Adding this extra layer means that the sound can be placed not only horizontally, but also vertically. Elevator scenes for example can be pretty frightening in Auro-3D. But even in the musical context this extra layer can contribute to a more natural listening experience. Think of an organ that is placed behind and above the orchestra. In a standard 5.1 setup you wouldn’t hear that the organ is positioned several meters above the orchestra but in Auro-3D you can! But it’s not only the placement of the instruments, also the reflections of the ceiling contribute to a more natural listening experience.
However, this is just the smallest Auro-3D setup made up of ‘just’ nine speakers and a subwoofer. The Auro-3D protocol can contain a third layer, the so called ‘Voice of God’-channel. A small speaker has to be placed right atop the listeners' heads meaning there are actually three horizontal layers! So the horizontal and vertical placing of music sources can be very precise. But there are even bigger Auro-3D systems possible. The 3D AuroTorium Dubbing Stage in the Galaxy studios is equipped with a 22.1 Auro-3D system containing a 59-loudspeaker monitoring system. For the real world the Auro 9.1 & 10.1 systems will be the most popular systems.
Is Auro-3D a step forward?
Having more speakers doesn’t actually mean a better sound. The provided audio has to be carefully mixed and placed around all the speakers. But there are a lot of advantages. By adding more speakers, the available space for all the instruments increases. Instead of just two (stereo) or five (surround) speakers, there is an extra dimension available for engineers to place all the music sources. Since every instrument or audio source has more space it can have a larger dynamic range. Compression and limiting are not needed much anymore, providing an even more natural listening experience. All audio can be exposed in its most natural way. This immersive - or virtual - sound experience really adds something to the 3D-screens that are available these days.
Right now there are around 550 Auro-3D audio systems worldwide, mostly in theatres and cinemas. The Auro-3D library is growing and growing and it won’t take long till classical music is available in this format. Our partner and worldwide leading high resolution recording studio Polyhymnia, have already set up an Auro-3D system, with Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus speakers. B&W Nautilus 800s are used for left & right, 802s for center and the rears and 805s for the second horizontal layer. The first listening sessions were a unique experience. Now, music can be played the way it’s supposed to sound! Surround matures.
The entire classical community is watching the formation of two more legendary pairings between conductor and orchestra with great interest and there is no doubt that starting in 2018, nothing will be the same.