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Genius!2: Wilfried Van Baelen and Auro-3D #18

The founder of Galaxy Studios developed the 3D speaker layout

After 150 years of evolution in sound reproduction, Auro-3D is establishing itself as new twist on the “listening experience” by adding a third dimension for the audiences of music, games, moveiss and more.

“The idea of a true 3D-sound format as a logical new step in the history of sound came when I was working in the summer of 2005 as engineer/co-producer on an album of (German artist) Sylvia Diaz which I mixed in a 7.1 format using two height channels (5.1+2),” explains Wilfried Van Baelen, founder/CEO of the renowned Galaxy Studios, in Mol, Belgium.

“Despite the fact that I experienced that sound as much clearer, with more transparency and depth coming from the front, I felt something was missing. The magical moment came when I achieved a ‘vertical stereo field all around’ by adding a pair of back height speakers, resulting in a 5.1 configuration on the bottom and a quadraphonic second layer (=Auro 9.1). I was shocked, it felt suddenly like ‘being there’. That’s the moment when I first experienced the emotional power of a true ‘Immersive Sound’, like I called it when I launched the format and which was, step by step, adapted as the new generic term for ‘Surround Sound with Height’.

“While Auro 9.1 is the most efficient 3D speaker layout with full 5.1 backwards compatibility, Auro 10.1 is the most efficient 3-layered system to reproduce a natural space.”

Van Baelen’s next step was to develop a 3D speaker layout for cinema theatres: the Auro 11.1 system, with a 6-channel vertical stereo-field.

“But,” he continues, “I remember also how disappointed I was when I realised that there was no way to bring this totally new sound experience to consumer markets because everything was limited to the bandwidth of 7.1 surround – HDMI, Blu-ray and Pro Tools.

“That limitation inspired me to invent the Auro-3D codec: a groundbreaking solution that allows a ‘single file distribution’ containing different multiple masters (Surround and Immersive Sound) while using existing delivery formats without the need of any extra bandwidth nor any change of specs while keeping Hi Res audio in each decoded channel. This invention was key in bringing the missing third dimension in sound as first ever to all markets, a major leap in the history of sound.”

After four years of development together with engineer Guido Van den Berghe, Van Baelen was ready to bring the Immersive Sound experience, as intended by its creators, to all consumers.

Together with engineer Ralph Kessler, Van Baelen developed the Auro-Matic, which is part of the Auro-3D engine in the devices used for the consumer markets. “Whatever kind of legacy content you’re putting in, mono, stereo, 5.1… it will be automatically up-mixed resulting in a natural Immersive Sound experience,” Van Baelen explains.

In 2010, on the occasion of the AES Spatial Audio convention, Van Baelen presented the full-scale launch of the Auro-3D format. He got overall positive reactions, from movie directors including George Lucas, leading film mixing studios such as Skywalker Sound and Barco, the leading digital cinema projector manufacturer, who became Auro’s exclusive partner for Digital Cinema. Today, over 600 theatres have committed to or installed Auro 11.1 by Barco.

“After we launched the first ever AV-Receiver with true 3D Audio at CES 2014, many thousands of home cinemas installed the Auro-3D system,” claims Van Baelan. “Porsche announced last month their first car ever with Immersive Sound using the Burmester Auro-3D system, creating a totally new driving experience. Our success inspired our competitors to adopt Immersive Sound.”

Pictures: Top: Wilfried Van Baelen Auro 3D-mixing on the AMS Neve 88D at Galaxy Studios. Second: Mixing on a bigger scale! Last: The first Auro-3D installation in Chengdu, China.

Published earlier this year and sponsored by QSC Audio, Genius!2 is the second edition of Genius!, celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. The 30-page supplement is also available to read in a handy digital-edition form