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3D Sonic Postcards Bring A New Meaning To Surround Sound

With the ubiquity of high-quality image capture tools, isn't it about time that audio caught up?

by DJ Pangburn
Oct 9 2014, 8:00pm

Given the ubiquity of mobile devices, we often take it for granted that near-instantaneous and consistently high-quality videos and still images are just a swipe away. Low quality sound from flat, tinny speakers, on the other hand, are status quo. But Binauric, a team of sonic visionaries, hope to change that with Boom Boom, their 3D sound recording and playback speaker. 

Crafted by French designer Mathieu Lenhanneur into an icosahedral shape with 20 triangular faces, Boom Boom is controllable through a dedicated smartphone app (available this November) that connects via Bluetooth. As one of Boom Boom's creators, Pierre-Henri Samion, told The Creators Project, Binauric is interested in natural hearing, so they built Boom Boom's 3D recording function to mimic as faithfully as possible the way human hearing works. All recordings are stored locally as standard AAC or mp3 files, and users can play the 3D audio back, share it by uploading it to Soundcloud, or store it on Dropbox.

As Samion noted, Binauric asked artists from around the world to take sonic postcards, photos and recordings of one minute of sound created using the Boom Boom app and device. The results, as you'd imagine, are interesting:

One user took a photo inside Huckle the Barber in London's Shoreditch neighborhood, with a 3D recording of a barber telling a story. The ambient sounds of the barbershop sound immediate and immersive. Another Boom Boom user recorded a young woman playing guitar and singing in the Paris Metro. Here the emphasis was on the 3D sound of the space, not on her actual visual performance, which is limited to a single snapshot. 

Early user Joanne Lam hosts a show called Secrets, an audio show about anonymous secrets told in a variety of locations. Above, Lam used Boom Boom app make a recording of people telling secrets in a hotel. As her single image, she chose an empty table and chairs at a random hotel, which helps set the stage for the anonymous secrets told in 3D sound. 

Another user recorded 3D sound on a Sri Lankan bus, the reclining figures of a mother and child the only visual window into the scene. Sound artist Antoine Bertin, on the other hand, struck out into Forêt de Soignes in Brussels, snapped a photograph of the Boom Boom recorder on the forest floor, and recorded nature's subtle but mesmerizing 3D soundscapes.

Binauric also runs a creative listening laboratory and magazine called Soundry, which is currently featuring select sound cards on its Tumblr and Soundcloud

I was also able to demo the Boom Boom device and app's 3D recording process, and it's definitely immersive in a way that smartphone audio is not. Audiophiles, and those hoping to experiment with 3D sound without breaking their bank accounts, will fill find the Boom Boom device and app to be great new tools in their creative arsenal. It could, for instance, enable musicians and multimedia installation artists with limited resources to create dynamic new works. The catch is that they'll have to carry a speaker around to do this, but that's a minor hurdle, considering the fact that the Boom Boom speaker is palm-sized.

As Samion noted, Boom Boom is an open platform, so its users will determine the various ways it can be deployed. Designed with evolution in functionality in mind, through crowd-sourcing initiatives, the Binauric team and users will regularly imagine new features for Boom Boom. Users have already asked for a Boom Boom stereo speaker setup (one speaker on the left, another on the right), and Binauric obliged. Other features will be rolled out twice a year, according to Samion. 

“People are empowered as far as taking photos with their smartphones, but what about audio?” Samion said. “We knew we could do much better than smartphone's current recording technology, which is mono and isn't much better than a digital recorder. We wanted to give people a simple device that could allow people to capture 3D and stereo sound with the immersive that you would expect in 2014.”

All that's required of users is that they turn the speaker on, launch the app, take a photograph to remember their surroundings (optional), and hit 'record.' The Boom Boom app and hardware then take over, allowing users the ability to record up to 15 minutes of immersive 3D sound.  

“It becomes a way of keeping moments,” added Samion. “It can be very emotional. You can record the sounds that matter to you. It can be your friends, your kids, or the countryside—anything and everything that matters to you. The idea is that when you listen to the recording, you really get to experience it again in an immersive way.” 

To learn more about the Boom Boom speaker, check out Binauric's website

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