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Ircam Amplify launches the beta version of its accessible spatial audio solution

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Ircam Amplify is launching the beta version of its accessible spatial audio solution, offering artists, labels and distributors “to leverage spatial audio technology” by transforming music files into spatial audio content.

The beta programme will launch at MusicBiz in Nashville May 15-18, with Euronext Paris-listed music company Believe and its affiliate Tunecore, servicing self-releasing artists, as initial partners.

Ircam Amplify is the business arm of France’s Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM), one of the world’s largest public audio research center, based in Paris and created in the 1970s by composer and director Pierre Boulez.

Need to fine-tune the product

In Nashville, Ircam Amplify will invite artists, producers, labels, distributors, aggregators and platforms to experience the spatial sound solution and register if they want to take part in the beta programme.

Ircam Amplify’s Nathalie Birocheau

Nathalie Birocheau, CEO of Ircam Amplify, told Creative Industries News that the launch of the beta version of their programme is the first public outing for a project that has been years in the making. The beta experiment will end in September 2023, after which Ircam Amplify plans to present a market-ready solution for spatial audio.

“We’re launching a beta version because we have observed what is happening in the market,” said Birocheau. “We are very confident on level of quality and we represent IRCAM which it is a guarantee of quality, but need more users in beta to fine-tune our product. Our engine worked on thousands of titles and we already have a lot of feedback but we wanted more feedback and this will also help us fine-tune our economic model.

An artifact-free spatial audio engine

Ircam Amplify’s Beta Program offers:

• An “AI-powered, artifact-free spatial audio engine,” that was perfected over 30 years of expertise from IRCAM labs. The engine has already been tested with numerous artists and producers for a full year.

• A “user-friendly interface” that enables artists and producers to fine-tune the spatialisation process with ease.

• Comprehensive support for a wide range of formats within the spatial audio market.

• Convenient online access through a simple API.

Connecting the market and the lab

For Birocheau, being part of IRCAM gives enormous benefits, not least because of the massive research the organisation has done and does on sound, the biggest illustration of which is in the spatial sound development field.

A sound researcher at an IRCAM lab

For example, a room at IRCAM carries several hundred speakers, allowing for the modelisation of sound according to the needs of the composers or performers, such as electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre who gave a concert earlier this year using IRCAM’s technology in front of a small audience.

“We are the connection between the market and the lab,” explained Birocheau. “We are the catalysts between the needs of the market and R&D that responds to market needs. After all, we have access to the best audio R&D in France and one of the best in the world. Basically we look at what the lab’s doing, package products and go to market where needed. And we also bring to the lab ideas from the market.”

Limited spacial audio product available

In this instance, the focus was on making spatial sound more easily adopted by providing an easy-to-use solution that worked for all the components in the food chain, from artists to distributors to platforms.

For the past year, Birocheau said Ircam Amplify has worked with artists and distributors to understand better market needs. The experience has shown that “there is a gap between the demand of DSPs [for spatial audio] and the volume of music accessible.” She added: “Even if a distributor is ready to provide spatial audio, there is very little spatial product coming out from the labels, which they see it as complex, and based on many formats. So many people give up.”

Birocheau said top acts are not affected by this process because they can have access to spatial audio in studios. but Ircam Amplify’s solution is designed “for those who don’t have access.”

Something simple and accessible

IRCAM’s first engine for spacial sound is already 20 years old, said Birocheau, and served as the foundation for the new engine. “We went back to basics,” she explained, “and said ‘let’s put ourselves in the position of artists who want to spacial sound and the listener who has the ability to listen to spatial sound’. So we needed to do something simple and accessible for all.”

The end-solution Ircam Amplify has developed, based on IRCAM expertise, is AI-powered, format agnostic, based in the cloud, and accessible via an API. “The last mile is left to the producer who will chose what they prefer,” said Birocheau. “We want to help the distributors in this race by giving them ability to spread this innovation to artists.”

Artists and labels can chose the format they want, the distributor integrates the service on portal and proposes the service to artists who can then drop their masters, and the interface recommends the best precept. 

Respect the artistic intention

The solution offered by Ircam Amplify, she said, does not affect the integrity of the recording but enhances it with spatial sound. “We do not push sound effects, and there are no artifacts,” she said. “The artistic intention of the artist is not changed, it is just an immersion of the work. We are not re-doing what sound engineers and producers have done.”

Ircam Amplify will monetise its technology with distributors/aggregators, who will then provide the technology to artists and labels and will decide if they pass on the cost to them.

Birocheau said working with streaming platforms is also key to the success of the technology. “The more platforms distribute such files, the better for the artists,” she said. She is absolutely convinced that spatial sound will be endorsed by artists, based on the experiences with artists so far.

A natural sound experience

“When you put artist in an immersive environment, and when they hear how their music sound with spatial audio, it creates a big emotion,” said Birocheau. “But they must have an interest in the end way the music gets to the audience.”

Birocheau is convinced that spatial audio will eventually be adopted by consumers. “We, as human, are made to listen to immersive sound,” she explained. “Our brain is made to listen 360 ever since humans were humans.”

She added: “Studies have shown that we are less stressed when listening to spatial sound because our brain works less. Stereo has been created for technical reasons. The brain has integrated this end result but when we go into immersive sound, we have a sense of comfort. Our process is unique, and end user has a natural experience.”

In the short to mid-term, Birocheau believes that spatial audio will “replace stereo” and will become accessible at the same price. “Once you try it, it very hard to go back to the old system,” she warned.

Emmanuel is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist, blogger and media consultant, specialising in the entertainment business and cultural trends. He was the US editor for British music industry trade publication Music Week. Previously, he was the editor of Impact, a magazine for the music publishing community (2007-2009), the global editor of US trade publication Billboard (2003-2006), and the editor in chief of Billboard’s sister publication Music & Media (1997-2003).

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