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A lot can be achieved with humble recordings

Spacial audio for podcasts

Spatial & Immersive Audio for Podcasts

Chris Wood, Audio Mix Engineer, The Daily, The New York Times, UK

Chris is UK based working on the podcast The Daily and makes the 6am deadlines for the East coast easier than if he was in the US!  He has been working into spacial audio for podcasts, looking to publish a guide later this month.

He explained spacial audio as if you think of stereo audio as being 2 channels, spacial audio is any number of audio around a listener's head.  Apple use this a lot, you can hear instruments placed in different places in the sound field.  A lot of new iPhone and iPads (the newer kit ones) support head tracking so as you move your head around the sonic space your perspective will also change.

There is also interest in what it offers to narrative podcasts.  It is a young field, Wondery have done some work with spacial audio using Dolby Atmos.  It offers a great deal of immersion for the listener, sounds great and is fun to work with as an engineer.

NYT has many podcasts that usually fall into the newsroom sides or opinion team, they are quite active in the audience space and acquired Serial last year.  There is lots of audio content.  Daily is news, so what can spacial audio help with the Daily.  It gives a great sense of being on the ground, all work is a conversation and work with recordings journalists have made when researching their story.  Often work backwards - don’t know what we will be covering until we work with a journalist, so no dedicated spacial recordings by anything from iPhone or zoom recordings, but not something dedicated to spacial output.

Showed examples of protol and dolby atmos rendering screens, what working on a project looks like.  Originally developed for cinemas and so the space is visualised as a cinema with sound sources.  Trick with Dolby atmos is once it leaves the software and is given to apple it is coded to meet apple delivery requirements, currently aimed to apple music, so adds quite a lot to the sound including eq. Fine but not great as an engineer, but you now can preview it.

Within the guide we have compared it to a more flexible approach.  As an engineer it is great because you hear what you are going to hear.  However the problem with this is you need to use a web player or build something yourself to listen.

Distribution - it is still emerging.  Most podcasts are distributed by RSS, platform hosts and MP3 and then podcast readers are told where to find content.

Most people work within their own distribution systems who have done this.  NYT is trialling their own app, but only for US listeners.

A lot can be achieved with humble recordings.

Written by
Rosie Smith

Tue 4th October 2022