Sony has been preaching the gospel of 360 Reality Audio for two years now. At CES 2019, the company first showed off the immersive audio platform that was designed to make it sound like you were inside the music. More specifically, artists and producers could position instruments and vocals around a sphere in Sony’s software, positioning them around the listener virtually to create the immersive effect. Thus far though, the company hasn’t remedied two key issues. First, Sony hasn’t shipped any speakers of its own that are specifically designed for 360 Reality Audio. And secondly, the library of content remains quite small. With an announcement today ahead of CES 2021, Sony is looking to remedy both.
First, the company announced that it’s planning to debut its own 360 Reality Audio speakers this spring. Details are scarce for now, as Sony only mentioned vague features and product names. The SRS-RA5000 and SRS-RA3000 are both WiFi-connected speakers that “create an immersive, room-filling 360 Reality Audio sound experience.” The company says they both employ its “unique Immersive Audio Enhancement algorithm” and can be controlled with Google Assistant or Alexa devices. At two consecutive CES events (2019 and 2020), Sony demonstrated 360 Reality Audio on prototype speakers, but those haven’t been sold. It’s also unclear if either design will be used for the models mentioned in today’s news.
You can also listen to 360 Reality Audio on headphones, so long as you have the proper streaming service on your phone. Sony plans to license its headphones personalization tech, which analyzes a user’s ears and hearing, to other companies. It will also license tech that will allow 360 Reality Audio to be played from phones and inside cars. There’s no timeline for either one just yet, but it’s clear Sony is hoping to get its immersive audio in more places soon.
Currently, if you want to listen to 360 Reality Audio music at home, you’ll need a speaker like Amazon’s Echo Studio. You’ll also need a subscription for the high-res tier of a service like Amazon Music, Tidal or Deezer. Sony debuted the platform in the fall of 2019, but only for headphones. Back then, there were only 1,000 tracks available — mostly from Sony Music artists. Now, the company says it has expanded that number to 4,000, but that’s still a small selection. Spotify, for comparison, has over 50 million songs.
To expand the library of content, Sony will begin to offer live performances with 360 Reality Audio sound. It will start with a live concert from Zara Larsson Monday, January 11th at 5PM ET through the Artist Connection app. Of course, the company is promising “a lifelike music experience,” or something that sounds like you’re actually there. Sony says it hopes to offer this option to the public since concert venues are still closed due to COVID-19. The company is working with labels and services to stream “new video content” later this year.
For there to be more content, you have to give creators, musicians and producers the tools to make 360 Reality Audio stuff. Sony worked with Virtual Sonics to build software called the 360 Reality Audio Creative Suite. The goal is to make content creation easier for the platform via this plugin software that’s compatible with “popular” digital audio workstation (DAW) applications. Through the subsidiary Audio Futures, Virtual Sonics will release the software for 360 Reality Audio later this month. Sony is also working with Music.com and The Orchard on a Creators’ Program that will offer access to the Creative Suite and stream 360 Reality Content afterwards.
I’ve been skeptical of 360 Reality Audio since its introduction. From the jump, it seemed like Sony faced an uphill climb with building a content library and convincing the public new hardware was worth the commitment. Two years in, it seems like the company finally has a clear plan — both to ship its own speakers and to expand the options for listening. The only question now is how long it will take Sony to make it all happen.
Update 2:45PM ET: Details on both the SRS-RA5000 and SRS-RA3000 speakers were revealed on the Sony UK website a few hours after this article was published. You can read about those devices here.