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(Pocket-lint) - Sony's 360 Reality Audio is a high-resolution music platform that aims to make the music you listen to more immersive and realistic.

It's designed to make the music sound like it's coming from lots of different directions, not just left and right.

Here is everything you need to know about Sony's 360 Reality Audio.

How does Sony's 360 Reality Audio work?

Sony's 360 Reality Audio uses something called object-based audio which means that when the sound that's being recorded is encoded, it saves extra data, called metadata which describes the placement of the microphone in a 3D sound field.

In other words, the microphone recording the violins has data attached saying it's at the front left of the recording studio while the microphone covering the trombones notes that it's towards the back, on the right. Oh, and if the trombones are on a higher platform than the violins, that extra height is encoded in the position, too.

This extra data means that when you're listening to the music, it should sound more like the way the music was originally recorded, with a greater sense of reality – as suggested by Sony's name for this system.

It doesn't just apply to music – a gunshot in the background of a music track could be an object and given its own place in the sound field.

How can I listen to Sony 360 Reality Audio?

Tracks that are mastered, or remastered, to play this format will be streamed on regular services like Tidal and Deezer. It's also available via nugs.net, a service that specialises in recording concerts live – which could be an especially cool thing to listen to on this format. In all cases, you'll need a paid-for subscription to hear the right tracks.

Amazon Music HD also has Sony 360 Reality Audio tracks, though at first, these will only be for playback through its speakers, not other hardware – of which more later. Napster will also carry 360 Reality Audio tracks, though we currently have no idea of when this will be. 

There's no mention of the two biggest streaming services, Apple Music and Spotify, but you can guess that talks may be going on behind the scenes to try and get both on board.

Do I need new hardware?

Perhaps the best thing about Sony 360 Reality Audio is you don't need to buy any new kit unless you want to listen through speakers. That's because Sony says its platform will work with any headphones. Any.

Sure, you'll get better results with better cans but the magic is done in the encoding, not the headphones.

Sony points out that if you are listening via some of its own headphones you can get an enhanced result. That's through its free Sony Headphones Connect app which personalises the audio to your particular sense of hearing. The app is downloadable on iOS and Android.

It works by taking a photograph of your ear on your smartphone (tip: get someone to help you so you get the position of your ear in the photo just right) and working out from that exactly how you hear. It then optimises the playback for your personal hearing.

Sony now has an extensive range of certified headphones, including their ever popular WH-1000XM4 and even their unusual SRS-NS7 wireless neckband speaker. The full model list can be found here.

What speakers are compatible?

If you want to play music in Sony 360 Reality Audio through a speaker then you need one with the right chip embedded in it. The first to be released was the Amazon Echo Studio, a one-unit smart speaker, but Sony has continued to partner with other brands to create certified playback devices. So far, there's the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar and a beastly AV processor from McIntosh, the MX123.

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Sony has, of course, released a range of compatible speakers. The range includes the SRS-RA5000 and RA3000 wireless speakers, as well as the HT-A7000 and HT-A5000 soundbars and the HT-A9 surround system.

What tracks are available?

At launch, Sony had 1,000 songs in the new format, and the library continues to grow. These include artists such as Mark Ronson and Pharell Williams plus classic tracks from the likes of Billy Joel and Bob Dylan.

How much does it cost?

You'll need a high fidelity subscription to one of the supported services below, other than that, it doesn't cost you a thing to listen on headphones.

  • Tidal - HiFi £19.99 per month
  • Deezer - Premium £11.99 per month
  • Nugs.net - HiFi $24.99 per month
  • Amazon Music HD - £7.99 per month for Prime members / £9.99 for standard users

Is Sony the only system to use object-based audio?

No, there are others already in place, the most well-known of which is Dolby Atmos. The Dolby Atmos Music service is a rival music platform which also aims to offer a realistic surround sound experience. The two formats are not compatible so studio engineers will be kept busy as more tracks are remastered for the new platforms.

Writing by David Phelan. Editing by Luke Baker. Originally published on 23 October 2019.