RECORDING WEEK 2023: Immersive audio, spatial audio, 3D sound - whatever you want to call it, it's swiftly becoming one of the most talked-about new technologies in music production and sound engineering, promising to (literally) open up new dimensions in music-making.
Here, we round up eight of the most useful tools for artists and producers hoping to create, mix and master their music in immersive audio, whether that's Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio, or any other multi-channel format for 3D sound.
1. Dolby Atmos Renderer
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: Pro Tools-only | Price: £249/$299 | Download
The official production software for mixing and mastering in Dolby Atmos, Renderer brings together Dolby’s industry-leading audio production tools, the Dolby Atmos Production Suite and the Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite. This suite allows for the editing of every corner of your Atmos mix, with 128 inputs able to be positioned and tweaked amid the Atmos field.
2. Steinberg Nuendo 12
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: Standalone| Price: £895/$999 | Download
If money is no object, then Steinberg’s industry-standard post-production mega-suite is more than capable of mixing, tweaking and adjusting Dolby Atmos mixes. The most recent addition includes a Binaural Renderer which gives you a complete immersive experience within any set of cans you own.
3. VISR Production Suite
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/Reaper-only | Price: Free | Download
An open-source array of immersive audio tools, VISR Production Suite features a spherical workflow and the wider ability to synchronise your mix to VR headsets if your mix is intended to be used in a fully immersive context. The plugins currently only work in Reaper, but support for other DAWs is on the way.
- Read more: Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio explained (plus 10 unmissable Spatial Audio in Dolby Atmos tracks, and 3 to avoid…)
An open-source immersive audio toolkit designed exclusively for Ableton Live, Envelop is not only a compositionally focused, versatile selection of devices that perfectly integrate within Live’s vibrant ecosystem, it’s also completely free!
5. Waves Spherix
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU/AAX | Price: £165/$199 | Download
Containing a compressor and brick wall limiters, Waves’ Spherix is explicitly designed for mixing immersive audio elements, and includes multi-channel side chain reaction via the Spherix weight control. Hopefully these creative immersive mix tools will become more commonplace.
6. Sound Particles SkyDust 3D
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU/AAX | Price: £232/$299 | Download
Backed by none other than Jean-Michel Jarre, SkyDust is the first synth built specifically to output immersive 3D audio. Not only does it sound phenomenal, but it offers an incredible amount of possibility for creative modulation: LFOs, envelopes and MIDI can be used to control the position of its 256 voices (each made up of eight oscillators) within 3D space, making for mind-bogglingly complex and multi-dimensional synthscapes.
The best part is that those who don't have the spatial audio recording or playback facilities to enjoy SkyDust 3D can purchase a binaural version (which emulates 3D sound using regular headphones) for a reduced price. In fact, SkyDust 3D supports over 30 output formats, including stereo, binaural, 5.1, 7.1, 7.1.2 (Dolby Atmos), 9.1.6, and Ambisonics.
7. Fiedler Audio Dolby Atmos Composer
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU/AAX | Price: £249/$249 | Download
Unveiled just a few weeks ago, Fiedler Audio's Dolby Atmos Composer enables you to create surround/immersive audio in your stereo-only DAW through your headphones. What's more is that Dolby Labs has given the software its full backing.
It works like this: Dolby Atmos Composer is actually two plugins in one. You insert the main Dolby Atmos Composer plugin over the main outputs of your DAW and another plugin called Dolby Atmos Beam on the track you want to mix in Atmos.
The main Composer plugin sitting on your outputs contains the 128 channels of audio that represents the surround sound. Meanwhile Beam is responsible for positioning the audio on the channel it's on. Beam effectively (but not really) beams the surround position to the Composer plugin which then places it on the 128 channel positional grid.
Obviously, we've simplified the process and there's a lot of tech going on here, but the main point is that you can use Dolby Atmos Composer and its partner Beam in any DAW, even those limited to two channels.
8. Eventide Blackhole and MicroPitch Immersive
Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU/AAX | Price: $449 | Download
Finally and very hot off the press are these two new immersive plugins from Eventide. Blackhole Immersive is a 3D audio version of the popular and mind-blowing reverb. It has Gravity, Size and Feedback parameters to deliver some amazing reverbs that truly envelop you in shimmering audio.
Meanwhile MicroPitch Immersive is both a delay and pitch shifter, and has up to 12 channels to send detuned delays around you. You can tilt how the effect works left/right, front/back and top/main, and the plugin also features slapback and patterned loop delays.