Amazing Sound Lab can reproduce the acoustics of any existing building … or not

Virtual reality has made the idea of ​​immersively placing ourselves in strange new landscapes – whether real or imagined – not only plausible, but mundane. But what about the sound?

Until now, there has been no convincing way to truly reproduce the sound environment of different places from the comfort of one room. That has now changed thanks to the groundbreaking work of researchers at Aalborg University in Denmark, Aalto University in Finland and sound pioneers Bang & Olufsen.

What they created is a basement sound lab that can accurately reproduce the acoustics of any environment from a car to a concert hall.

The project, Aalborg researchers told Digital Trends, began with the question of how to test audio systems in multiple locations. One answer would be to physically move a speaker from room to room – something that is both inefficient and impractical, given that our memories of how sounds, uh, sound tend to be. extremely sketchy.

Several years ago, researchers at Aalborg University developed a method to intelligently record sound in different places – with environmental factors – and then play it back through headphones.

“There are so many possible applications for this technology that it’s like asking yourself what is possible to record with a microphone.

As I got answers, it wasn’t bad – and in many cases, it works just fine. But it’s not perfect.

“The problem is that headphones don’t give a user the full effect of hearing sound in a room.” Søren Bech, professor in the electronics systems department of Aalborg, told Digital Trends. “For example, if there is heavy bass, you won’t feel that low frequency impact in your chest. You don’t get all of the reverberations you get if you walk into a room.

Fortunately, a brilliant doctorate. a student named Neofytos Kaplanis (“Neo” for short) found an answer.

“What we can now do with this technology is go into a room and take a lot of measurements with a special microphone,” Kaplanis told Digital Trends. “You then save that information to your hard drive and use software to determine how sound is distributed in a room. This is important because when you listen to an audio system, you will hear the sound directly from the speaker, but you will also get reflections from the floor, walls and other details about the room you are in. system can tell you where each of these thoughts came from. When you then listen to it in our sound lab, you get the full experience as if you were there – and you don’t have to listen to headphones to get it.

Aalborg University’s sound lab is made up of 40 small speakers and three subwoofers positioned around a narrow walkway. In the room, there is barely enough space for a chair, especially when the walls are covered with thick, pointed foam padding to absorb the sound hitting it. However, the effect is so eerily realistic that Kaplanis said that – when the test subjects enter the dark room – they firmly believe they hear sounds a few hundred feet away, according to the running simulation.

Søren Bech described the sound models created by the researchers as “the fingerprint of a three-dimensional room”. As more and more audio files are recorded in this way, the result will be an audio library that can quickly test new speakers in any environment.

More impressive still, it is so precise that it not only models the room, but also allows researchers to simulate the change in positioning of a single speaker in said room.

So what will this amazing research be used for? Right now, Bech and Kaplanis said a major application is testing speaker systems for new cars. Especially in high-end luxury vehicles, audio systems are a big selling point. In partnership with Bang & Olufsen, the car manufacturer Audi has already mapped the acoustic conditions of several of its vehicles. Prospective buyers can try out a pair of headphones and VR glasses, then test out different interiors and audio systems in their prospective future car.

Technologies such as the newly developed headphone-less sound experience will make this even more compelling and can help car designers as well as customers.

“Basically anything you can simulate you can recreate in the room,” Kaplanis said. “Even if a place does not physically exist, as it would if an architect designed a concert hall, you can find out how it will sound when it is built. There are so many possible applications for this technology that it is like wondering what is possible to record with a microphone. You can do pretty much anything you can think of, can’t you? “

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