Virtual reality for the ears

3D Sound One’s headphones turn regular stereo recordings into remarkable immersive 3D sound

3D Sound One Headphones
3D Sound One Headphones | Image: Hugh Threlfall

Here’s the latest evidence supporting my argument that in music reproduction we are entering a post-stereo age in which more spatially accurate and evocative “3D” sound is supplanting standard two-speaker stereo.

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Of course, there are already ways of making sound even more realistic than stereo (which itself remains rather good): surround sound is well-established, and cinema systems like Dolby Atmos, with dozens of speakers, do a fine job for most people. And we looked last June in this column at the joys of binaural sound, recorded with microphones analogous to human ears and even more wondrously realistic, to my hearing, than surround sound.

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Now, from a small French company called 3D Sound Labs come headphones that cleverly turn regular stereo recordings, including film soundtracks, into remarkable immersive 3D sound. They do this by tracking your head movements on nine different axes – like a virtual-reality headset just for the ears. The effect is more than subtly different from ordinary stereo headphones: when you turn your head to face a new direction, the nature of what you hear changes accordingly.The 3D Sound One headphones currently work with Windows PCs and iPads, but not Macs. The headphones themselves, by the way, are unusually well-made and good-looking. 3D Sound Labs have also brought out a £79 clip-on module to add to your favourite existing headphones so that you can enjoy the experience with familiar headgear.

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