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Two Big Ears, one big thrill

Virtual reality and how it will demand good sound quality

I am delighted to personally know at least one person involved with audio technology company Two Big Ears. This outfit is responsible for audio technology enhancing virtual reality/augmented reality applications and was recently acquired by Facebook, which is kind of a big deal.

A little bit of background: Two Big ears was started by my colleague Varun Nair, and Abesh Thakur. Their main product is 3DCeption for Cinematic VR; a workstation for spatial audio that works with most major DAWs and can be rendered on the majority of computing devices, including mobile. In essence, 3DCeption makes it incredibly easy for users to experience spatialised audio.

Two Big Ears was purchased for an undisclosed sum this year as Facebook continues to invest in virtual reality technology (Facebook bought Oculus $2bn in 2014 and UK-based mapping company Surreal Vision in 2015).

The software is being rebranded as “Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation”, though Two Big Ears says it will continue to develop tools for non-Facebook/non-Oculus platforms.

Nevertheless, when Facebook calls your technology “revolutionary”, then you know you’ve done something right, so hats off to both Nair and Thakur.

Virtual reality/augmented reality is going to do all of us a lot of good. It’s going to demand quality audio. It has to in order to fulfill the “reality” side of things.

But virtual reality has very unique demands; you can’t get by with the sound just being “OK”. Not only does everything have to sound good, it has to be placed properly or else the illusion is shattered. I would go so far as to wager this is one of the first times audio is given equal footing to video, which of course makes me exceedingly happy.

In fact, I am willing to place bets that virtual reality is going to change how we listen. Or at least change how the next generation listens. Those of us old enough to remember life before the Internet may not embrace virtual reality technology as quickly as those born in the new millennium.

We are also old enough to remember the experience of listening an album all the way through, whether on vinyl (when that was the only way by which you could listen to music, and not a hipster option) cassette or the loved/loathed CD.

But kids these days, they don’t have that kind of listening experience. Music has become background noise for daily activities and the act of purposeful listening has been mostly lost.

Virtual reality will make that virtually impossible. If the sound is crap, it’s going to be immediately obvious.

So as much as I am thrilled for my friend Varun and the success of Two Big Ears, what I’m mostly excited about is that there is now a medium that demands nothing short of spot-on sound. May today’s kids embrace it, and learn to love to listen.

Erica Basnicki is a writer and sound designer.