Technology

Sony debuts immersive 360 Reality Audio wireless smart speakers

Sony is bringing immersive audio to the living room with a new generation of wireless speakers that support its 360 Reality Audio sound system. The SRS-RA5000 and SRS-RA3000 promise a premium listening experience that uses spatial sound technology and multiple speaker drivers, to create ambient room-filling sound. 

360 Reality Audio encoded music is available through streaming services Deezer and Tidal. Sony says there are 4,000 songs encoded in 360 Reality Audio, including tracks from Alicia Keys, Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion, Noah Cyrus and Zara Larsson.

The speakers also use Immersive Audio Enhancement, a proprietary algorithm from Sony, to upscale 2-channel stereo tracks to fill the room in a similar fashion.

The RA5000 is also Hi-Res Audio certified, for superior sound quality through High-Resolution Audio playback. The RA5000 features three up-firing speakers that spread music vertically, while three middle sited speakers spread sound horizontally. An integrated subwoofer delivers deeper bass.  

Sony says there are 4,000 songs in 360 Reality Audio, including tracks from Alicia Keys and Zara Larsson…

360 Reality Audio delivers immersive, room-filling sound

The more affordable RA3000 achieves omnidirectional audio by using a full range speaker, coupled to an omni-diffuser that spreads sound throughout the room, and a dual passive radiator to produce deep bass. Overlapping beam tweeters create a wave front that goes upward.

Both the RA5000 and RA3000 will offer Sound Calibration to optimise sound performance wherever they are used. Users need only press the Immersive Audio Enhancement button on the RA5000 to automate sound calibration adjustment for optimum audio performance. The RA3000 uses a slightly less sophisticated system, auto adjusting in the background.

The speakers also have an Auto Volume feature said to ‘take the stress out of finding the perfect volume for each track. The speaker adjusts the sound, track-by-track, to make your listening experience stress-free, allowing you to focus more on those around you.’

The SRS-RA3000 can be voice controlled

The RA5000 and RA3000 are compatible with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa digital assistants. Voice control can be used to start or stop music, adjust the volume and other actions. Both speakers also support multiroom playback, when setup as a speaker group with the Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps.

Both speakers are Wi-Fi enabled, feature Bluetooth technology, have NFC, are compatible with Spotify Connect and have Chromecast built-in. The speakers will also do double duty as soundbars, able to connect wirelessly to compatible Bravia TVs.

The RA5000 comes in a black body with contrasting copper highlights, while the RA3000is available with a light grey fabric body with silver accents. 

Both the SRS-RA5000 and SRS-RA3000 ship in February, priced at £500 and £280 respectively.

The new speakers spearhead an expansion of the 360 Reality Audio format, as it gears up to take on Dolby Atmos Music.  

The technology allows artists and creators to produce music by mapping sound sources (vocals, chorus and instruments) within a spherical space, which can create the scale and ambiance of a live event, or the confines of a small music club or recording studio.

Sony offers a demo of 360 Reality Audio at CES 2021, with a live performance by Zara Larsson. You can experience this performance with the Sony Artist Connection app on a smartphone.

360 Reality Audio Creative Suite allows content creators to make immersive music

Sony has also introduced a content creation software, called the 360 Reality Audio Creative Suite, in partnership with Virtual Sonics. The 360 Reality Audio Creative Suite plugin software is compatible with popular digital audio workstation (DAW) and will be released at the end of this month.

Sony and Music.com, with distribution by The Orchard, are also launching a Creators’ Program, which makes it possible for creators to produce 360 Reality Audio content using the 360 Reality Audio Creative Suite and then stream their content.

360 Reality Audio was first shown by Sony at the 2019 CES show, in conjunction with the German research organization, the Fraunhofer Society, and is based on MPEG-H 3D.

In development for the best part of seven years, 360 Reality Audio is an encode/decode process. It’s clearly a rival to Dolby Atmos for Music, the big difference is that it’s based on an open standard, specifically MPEG-H 3D. 

The idea isn’t to recreate a live sound. The stated aim of 360 Reality Audio is to replicate what a music producer and artist can experience in a recording studio using multiple physical speakers. As Sony Music CEO Rob Stringer told me at the time: “We want to provide more creative options for artists.” 

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About Steve May

Creator of Home Cinema Choice magazine, and editor of The Luxe Review, Steve muses and reviews for Trusted Reviews, T3, Yahoo UK, Home Cinema Choice, Games Radar, Ideal Home, Louder Sounds, Channel News and Boat International. He’s also the editor of professional home cinema website Inside CI. He's on Twitter and Instagram as @SteveMay_UK

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