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Can’t believe your ears? The surround sound ‘breakthrough’

Imagine watching a natural history documentary and feeling transported to the Amazon rainforest itself by the incredibly convincing realistic surround sound.

That’s just the hope of researchers who say they have made a major technology breakthrough which could transform the auditory landscapes of live entertainment, film, music, gaming and virtual reality.

I’ve loved it. Playing old pieces in a very new way. It’s an experience, and experimental.– Yuja Wang, Globally acclaimed concert pianist

The system has room simulators that actually sound like the spaces they are trying to emulate – whether it is a broadcast from the Royal Opera or an event at a massive sporting arena.

Current commercial surround sound systems do not really deliver, they say, whereas advanced solutions like wavefield synthesis –use hundreds of channels, making them impractical for mainstream use.

This technology is pragmatic, they say, and can be used either for recording and live broadcasting –using an array of microphones or in a ‘virtual’ form as a synthesised playback to create a convincing illusion of a certain space.

The King’s team behind the research has a number of EU and US patents for the technology and is currently in talks with major entertainment companies.

Project leader Professor Zoran Cvetkovic of King’s Department of Informatics said: ‘What we want to achieve is to reproduce the ‘real thing – a very crisp and clear auditory perspective which places you faithfully inside of that space – rather than somewhere else that sounds unreal.’

As visual technology, VR and 3D visuals rapidly advance, it is vital that sound matches what you see, he says.

*To explore the technology’s use, globally acclaimed concert pianist Yuja Wang visited King’s earlier this year in a ground-breaking experiment. With a team from renowned events company 59 Productions and members of King’s NMS, they recorded Ms Wang in an adapted space in the Great Hall and then invited an audience to witness its playback in an immersive, audio-visual experience.

Ms Wang said: ‘I’ve loved it. Playing old pieces in a very new way. It’s an experience, and experimental. They attached cameras all over me; on my arms, my shoulder, my chest.

‘The audio recordings are great quality. And they can manipulate the sound as if you are in a really small room or in the Carnegie Hall. I like the idea of being to hear what’s happening in and around the piano. And it’s King’s Audio Department who are doing all of that. Amazing.’