Will Immersive Audio Expand to More Live Concerts? – Billboard
Written by GRB on 24/03/2023
Immersive audio has been available in the live sector for about a decade now, but growing interest in spatial audio is fueling increased demand from artists and their creative teams to find money and physical space to deploy the technology at concerts.
That includes global superstar Adele, who wraps up her “Weekends with Adele” residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace this Saturday. After a brief demonstration in London, Adele and her creative team decided to use L-Acoustics’ L-ISA system for the high-profile residency, creating an ideal showcase for journalists, creative teams and other music executives to hear the system’s “hyper real sound,” as L-Acoustics sometimes calls it, and how it compares to traditional stereo sound.
“In a traditional stereo show, the sweet spot for sound as a mixer is probably pretty small,” explains Jordan Tani, project and technology marketing engineer for L-Acoustics, during a pre-show front of house tour of the Colosseum. In many venues, “the sweet spot” where the audience can fully capture the audio mix is as little as 5% of the venue. But immersive audio systems significantly expand the coverage area of a venue to more than 90% of the audience, thanks to innovations in loudspeaker configuration, algorithmic sound mapping technology and the processing power of the human brain to quickly calculate differences in time and amplitude to determine a sound’s location.
When delivered correctly through high-end lateral and overhead speakers, L-ISA creates a 3D soundscape that more evenly distributes audio to the audience and gives certain sound objects a distinct spatial position.
“And by having this type of coverage and this resolution, we can now pan things around, give spatialization, and give the instruments and the sounds, their appropriate space,” Tani says. “Immersive sound ensures all sounds are heard the way the artist wants them to be heard, not matter where the audience member is sitting.”
For Adele, that means the sound of her voice naturally moves with her as she walks around the stage and the venue, while greeting fans. It also gives her front-of-house engineers a chance to build impressive crescendo moments into her songs. As more instruments and audio elements are added, the soundscape is widened and given more depth, slowly immersing the audience for each track’s big musical moments.
For L-Acoustics, the pioneering sound company launched in France in 1984 and now headquartered in LA’s Westlake Village, The Coliseum is the most high-profile use yet for L-ISA. L-Acoustics is one of the largest premium loudspeaker and pro audio companies in the touring industry and one of only a few manufacturing complete audio systems for immersive sound at live entertainment venues.
The company’s founder Christian Heil is credited with inventing the modern line array, a system for stacking speakers familiar to live music fans used to seeing large, curved vertical arrays of loudspeakers hanging from the stage grid. Heil — a partial physicist and fan of Pink Floyd in the 1970s and 80s who wanted to improve the sound quality of the gigs he was attending in Europe at the time — noticed that many venues and sound techs tried to make up for sound coverage issues at concerts by increasing overall power, making it much louder in the front section than the rear. In 1992, he discovered that stacking speakers of the same frequency at a slight angle greatly expanded sound coverage, without additional power requirements, and gave way for a much more even listening experience from front to back.
Today, most loudspeaker companies have adopted the line array model into their touring systems, while the team at L-Acoustics have continued to innovate and develop new methods for how sound is delivered to an audience. Beginning in the early 2010s, the company began experimenting with immersive audio and object-based sound mixing, paving the way for the launch of L-ISA in 2016.
In order to expand adoption of the technology, L-Acoustics CEO Laurent Vaissié says the company has shifted its marketing and educational efforts away from production managers and front-of-house engineers toward artists, musical directors and sound designers that have creative input for a show.
“L-ISA opens up the creative process and you can see that with Adele show,” says Vaissié. “There are creative decisions that need to be made in terms of how the music should be heard. Is her voice front and center? Who wide do her backup vocals need to be? These are decisions increasingly being made by the creative director, the musical director, and sometimes even the artist themselves.”
By engaging directly with the creative teams, L-Acoustics has expanded the number of contemporary artists using its immersive technology, signing up Bon Iver, Odesza, Katy Perry, Lorde and more.
“It’s a slow burn,” says Vaissié who estimates that about 10% of the tours that work with L-Acoustics are now using L-ISA. In five years, he believes that immersive audio will account for 20-30% of his company’s business.
The challenges of building the system, which costs about 20% more than non-immersive products, are expected to improve as L-Acoustics shifts to a lower cost licensing model charging users based on how they use the system, lowering costs for smaller productions. He also added that the necessary gear is getting smaller and lighter, taking up less real estate on stage.
“And most importantly, fans are demanding it,” Vaissié says. “Once a fan hears it at one show, they come to expect it at other concerts they attend. Fans pay a lot of money for concert tickets, and they want to have the best experience possible.”