What is YouTube’s New ‘Spatial Audio’ for 360-Degree Video?

YouTube launched support for live streaming 360-degree video on Monday, accompanied by something billed as “spatial audio,” which delivers “an unmatched immersive experience… [that] allows you to listen along as you do in real life, where depth, distance and intensity all play a role,” according to a blog post by the company’s chief product officer Neal Mohan.

But when one views the 360-degree videos featuring spatial audio provided by YouTube on a desktop computer, the stereo separation seems enhanced, but the aural POV doesn’t change as one navigates the visual landscape.

There is good reason to be skeptical, given the long history of snake oil salesmanship in the audio world, from add-ons like a $485 wooden volume knob to dampen “micro vibrations” that cause sound degradation and $350 audiophile RCA cables to “Magic Alex” Madras’ disastrously “futuristic” mixing console for The Beatles and the hyped-but-soon-forgotten QSound technology used on Madonna’s “The Immaculate Collection,” not to mention the pervasive myth that vinyl delivers better sound quality than digital.

It turns out that spatial audio is presently only available when the videos are viewed on Android devices.

Creators can upload 360-degree videos recorded with ambisonic four-channel audio using microphones such as the H2N Zoom ($159 on Amazon), the TetraMic and the eigenmike.

YouTube’ will be debuting its new 360-degree live streaming capabilities with a broadcast from the second weekend of Coachella (April 22–24), but they won’t feature spatial audio, because, at the moment, it is only available with prerecorded on-demand videos.

YouTube first launched support for 360-degree videos in March 2015. It is currently working with companies including VideoStitch and Two Big Ears to make their software compatible with 360-degree live streams and spatial audio on YouTube, and it will be making 360-degree live streaming and spatial audio technologies available at all YouTube Space locations around the globe.