OSSIC X - Your True 3D Audio Headphones
OSSIC is a new headphone developer founded by veterans of respected hi-fi company Pioneer and computer peripherals company Logitech – and with that pedigree, the company should know as much about hi-fi audio as it does about the very latest in digital technology. Their latest headphone, the OSSIC X, promises to bring the same hi-fi quality audio to virtual reality (VR) and gaming as it does to music and movies. With these headphones, OSSIC has put a few tricks up their sleeve in the form of innovative new technology that promises to take 3D audio to the next level of immersion, and after a successful Kickstarter, their first round of OSSIC X headphones will ship March, 2017. OSSIC is taking pre-orders now for a $299 limited time introductory price. Are these worth the price? Read on to find out.
With VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive getting massive attention for 3D graphics these days, it’s time for new technology to bring the same attention to personal audio. It looks like OSSIC, with their OSSIC X 3D Audio headphones, might be just the company to fit the bill and provide the kind of amazing 3D audio that completes your virtual reality experience.
3D Audio Headphones
When it comes to surround-sound in a headphone, the most popular are today’s affordable gaming headsets that offer “Virtual Surround”. This means the surround-sound effect is produced via Digital Sound Processing (DSP), which slightly alters sounds for the illusion of directionality. Usually, virtual surround effects are limited to front-to-back audio effects along with the left-to-right you get from any stereo headphone. The drawback is that in-game sounds, such as footsteps running up behind you, really can’t be audibly localized in 3D space in any greater detail than a flat, generic “behind you” sound with some variation left-to-right.
We’ve long had truly impressive musical surround effects accomplished in pure two-channel media, such as Dr. Chesky’s binaural recordings designed for regular two-channel headphones. Test samples on Dr. Chesky’s Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc are every bit as impressive as virtual surround DSP. But, neither binaural or “virtual surround” headphones really provide the same deep 3D audio you’d get from a static home theater audio system with speakers all over the room.
Sadly, a home theater system can’t be worn on your head as you move around in a virtual reality. But, OSSIC claims its new OSSIC X headphones will take personal surround technology to a new level of mobility, and will thoroughly surpass everything we’ve heard to this point.
How will they do it?
First, the OSSIC X headphones will feature a “True Surround” headphone experience with no less than eight built-in drivers – that’s four speakers built into each earcup. Next, OSSIC has created an advanced algorithm to personalize the audio output of its headphones to match the individual listener’s ear and head shape, using what it calls HRTF – or Head-Related Transfer Function.
Surround headphones aren’t for everyone, and for music listening, their effect is often merely a novelty at best. But there’s no denying the advantages of surround for movies, and surround headphones are great in instances where filling a room with sound simply isn’t an option.
But the killer-app for a truly advanced sonic 3D personal audio experience will certainly be as a companion to virtual reality headsets.
As mentioned, at present VR technology is all about the graphics, with sound as a distant afterthought. But OSSIC argues that when it comes to creating a truly immersive experience, sound is crucial. I think we’d all agree. Visually, you’re able to experience only a sliver of the virtual environment at a time. But you’re capable of hearing in a complete 360-degree range all the time. This presents a serious challenge for VR audio playback.
Using today’s audio/video technology, a movie on a static two-dimensional screen can be accompanied by a compelling 3D audio effect because the focal point is always straight ahead, never moving. But in a virtual environment, you’re moving constantly and switching perspectives, which means the audio source then has to track for a consistent experience.
OSSIC X tracks a listener’s head and torso to the sonic environment. So, if you turn your head away from a static object that is making sound, the sound it’s making will remain in one place, moving from in front of you to left and right as you turn your head side-to-side. According to OSSIC, with their headphones multiple sonic objects can move fluidly throughout your sensory field with more detail and accuracy than any technology that has come before.
Not having had a chance to test a unit ourselves, we’ll have to reserve our final judgement on actual performance. OSSIC’s built-in head and upper torso tracking technology sounds amazing for maintaining a consistent audible position in virtual space; but I’d be curious what kind of benefits can actually come from an algorithm tracking the shape and size of my ear.
I’ll retain a healthy skepticism for now, but based on all available information – the OSSIC X headphone is definitely a technology to watch for, and I think everyone at Audioholics would be excited to put it to the test.
It’s certainly possible that OSSIC X is the missing link to complete the VR experience.
For more information or to pre-order, visit OSSIC.