Over the last few years, the podcast market has become much more professional. The medium is experiencing a boom and there is now a podcast for almost every conceivable niche area. However, 3D audio formats have rarely been used for this purpose, although spatial sound can offer some advantages for podcasts.
Here you can read about the benefits and challenges of 3D sound for podcasts.
Almost all podcasts listed here are binaural audio. This means a stereo file that can be hosted on the common podcast platforms. Multi-channel audio such as Dolby Atmos is not yet supported. Therefore, the term spatial audio podcast is used here.
With quite a few audio streaming platforms like Spotify and Audible, there is no clear indication via the search functions that immersive podcasts exist. In general, it is not that easy to find what you are looking for. So you have to manually search for the keywords "3D audio", "binaural" and "immersive".
Streaming providers like Apple Music, Amazon Music and others now offer the option of uploading multi-channel 3D audio. Thus, there is a choice of Dolby Atmos or Sony 360 Reality Audio as audio format. Podcast distributors such as Podigee and recordJet unfortunately do not yet provide such a possibility. Therefore, good old stereo in its binaural form has to do it.
So headphones on, because hereinafter is an overview of some relevant spatial audio podcasts.
My friends at Hearon have a database of audio dramas and podcasts. There you can find the participants and credits of a production. There is now also a category for 3D audio. You can just sign up! Otherwise I try to keep this article as up to date as possible. So feel free to send me a mail if you discover a new spatial audio podcast. Or stay up to date with my newsletter!
The conversational podcast is definitely one of the podcast categories that has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Here, two or more people have an improvised and casual conversation. Often the speakers are good friends, so the conversations are mainly about private matters. Sometimes there is also a clear thematic orientation, which is the focus throughout all episodes.
There are many different variations here. Usually there are two moderators who know each other well and conduct a dialogue. It is also quite common to invite interview guests and enlarge the discussion group. Monologues are also possible, with influencers and starlets talking about their everyday lives. Or coaches, trainers and experts who give helpful tips to their followers.
A well-known representative of this category is the "Rooster Teeth Podcast". Here, typically about 3-4 Rooster Teeth employees talk about the popular culture of the week. As part of an experiment, individual special episodes were also recorded with the dummy head "Neumann KU 100" and published on YouTube. In one of these episodes, the podcasters even find themselves in a public café, where they talk about the then-released premiere of the sixth season of Game of Thrones over a lively soundscape.
iHeartMedia put out a similarly produced episode about the spatial audio podcast "Off The Beat" with Brian Baumgartner. There, the extraordinary actor invites his former acting colleague Oscar Nunez to talk with him about their joint work on the film set of the hit series "The Office". A dummy head microphone is set up centrally between the two, so that Brian and Oscar can be heard sharply from the left and right. The room has a bit of a studio feel to it and sounds fine with it. 3D audio is used here to recreate a natural conversation situation.
A less successful example, but one that attempted the same thing, is the following. "VR For Our Ears: Dynamic 3D Binaural Audio. How Dirac is Optimizing the Future Sound Systems." Here, a binaural recording was made in a rather reverberant office space using an dummy head. In addition, there was a lot of data reduction, which is why the audio signal does not sound good. The position was also not so cleverly chosen, which means that the two speakers can be heard a bit far to the left and right. Even though it was thematically obvious to record a podcast about 3D audio also with spatial sound, the result is a bit worse for me.
The above example "VR for our ears" shows that in reality, it is not so easy to record 3D audio cleanly. I know many colleagues who now also want to buy an dummy head. But although a binaural microphone was always used here, the results turn out quite differently. The reason for this is, among other things, storytelling and the question
From a recording point of view, there’s more to it than that. What exactly I just wanted to try out myself. The 3D sound recording and mastering of Münchens Boss had to happen quite quickly. Nevertheless, the result is quite representative in my opinion.
In it, you witness a comprehensive conversation between Bavaria’s mayor Dieter Reiter and presenters Stefan Hanitzsch and Andrea Pauly. For the voice recordings, additional lavalier microphones were used to support the three-dimensional dummy head recordings. While a Buddhist brass band plays outside in front of the old town hall, the entertainment in this famous building comes across particularly well due to the room acoustics and the tonal definition.
Find more 3D audio episodes of conversation spatial audio podcasts here:
Direct from St. Pauli, Nora Gantenbrink talks to national and international artists in her music podcast NACHTS UM HALB 1. It’s about music, of course, but also about stories and pop culture. In addition to these very personal conversations, there are also unique live performances by the guests to listen to in binaural audio.
Another example is the French radio show mehr erfahren. By its own account, it is a collection of electronic concerts recorded in spatial sound. An experimental immersion to discover as a binaural podcast.
They have been broadcasting live music performed with L-Acoustics L-ISA spatial audio output in binaural for broadcast since early 2020. Each performance begins with a short message (in French) that encourages listeners to wear headphones and adjust the volume to appropriate levels. The intro jingle is itself 3D with some obvious spatial audio effects.
The mixing here is not purely binaural but in Dolby Atmos. This format is quite popular in music streaming as Dolby Atmos Music. In production, the binaural rendering of the master file is then used for the podcast. So no dummy head and co, because the mono objects are upmixed with classic miking techniques.
Immersive audio dramas offer some of the best opportunities to use 360° audio effectively. Here, a lot of emphasis is placed on immersing the listener in the environment. With the right design tools, this can create very compelling narrative levels. Here you can read why storytelling immersion only works well with 3D audio.
So creativity is needed to create a believable setting. The dialogues are usually even formulated with scripts and authors. So it’s not enough to simply moderate and ask questions, as was the case with the examples mentioned so far.
Whether such productions should not rather be called audio dramas, instead of fictional podcasts, is only quite fuzzy to distinguish. Audiobooks, for example, are in the classic sense books that are read by a narrator. Rarely are additional sound effects such as atmospheres etc. used. Nevertheless, such audio productions are often wrongly called audio dramas. In the 3D audio context, it is just as difficult to draw clear distinctions. Therefore, let’s agree on "fictional".
Sound is predestined to create emotions. There is music that carries us away, makes us laugh, but also teaches us to fear. Especially in the horror genre, even a squeak or footsteps with cracking branches can subtly create suspense. Supported by creepy music, an additional dynamic comes into play. Here, we like to switch back and forth between very quiet and loud sound effects to create shock moments. With 3D audio, the illusion becomes even more immersive and realistic.
Probably one of the best known binaural audio dramas is Darkest Night. In this horror story, you are immersed in the recovered memories of a recently deceased person. There, amidst this eerie world of corpses, cannibals, and evil scientists, a horrific master plan is revealed. But who is behind this gruesome endeavor and what ultimate goal is being pursued is still unclear.
Unlike Darkest Night, where the listener relives old memories, in the science fiction audio drama Backup – Sag mir, wer ich bin, the listener takes the perspective of a woman named Klara, who loses all her memories in a high-tech world after a car accident. As she tries to uncover her true identity, she is accompanied by an AI robot and her father. Since both want to impose their views on Klara about her true self, they get into a conflict. What’s special about the radio play is that many scenes were recorded on location during the production process to capture the interactions between the actors more vividly.
But a spatial audio podcast doesn’t have to be all scary. There’s also the lighthearted entertainment.
If you’re in the mood for a hilarious parody of Angela Merkel, the podcast mini-series Abhörspiele is the place to be. In the first season, "Merkelphone," Angela Merkel makes the decision to release the wiretap footage that the NSA tapped from her private cell phone over the years. The second season, for which six more episodes are planned, can even be experienced via a specially developed Abhörspiel-App with head tracking.
The unique selling point here is that the recording is very cinematic. Most other audio productions take place in studios. So steps and atmospheres are only artificially added. This rarely makes the experience believable. It’s much more immersive to also record with the right equipment in the right place. Even the best algorithms with dearVR Pro can’t really recreate the sound yet. I don’t think that will happen either because context for the sound is critical to believability and therefore immersion.
If you’re interested in more binaural audio plays, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for here:
There are some examples that go beyond the boundaries of classic podcasts. Even spatial audio podcasts end up being linear. So they have a fixed length. It wouldn’t have to be that way, as my article on object-based audio shows. They also don’t have visual portions. But what about combining other media with your spatial audio podcast?
If you’re an escape room enthusiast and want to prove your acumen in a pressure situation, you’ll have fun with 3D Escape Room: Frequency. Released by Owl Field, the interactive 3D audio escape room is full of inventive puzzles that must be solved within 60 minutes.
With the series Calls, Apple has released a visual thriller podcast in for its own Apple TV+ streaming service. Each episode consists of phone conversations visualized by abstract shapes and colors against a black background. In addition, the names of the fictional characters, as well as their conversations, are presented textually. Over the course of the series, the phone conversations depict a mysterious story that threatens the end of the world. If you are a fan of audio visuals, you will love this audio drama series.
Also innovative is the 360° horror radio play Grande Randonnée, which was on the cultural radio station WDR 3 and is now also available as a spatial audio podcast. The events of Grande Randonnée can be experienced from two perspectives. Once from the perspective of Marie and once from the perspective of Paul. The two go on a couple’s vacation together in a national park. But strangely enough, things go wrong there. The trails are more challenging than the maps promise, the heat is unbearable and no one in the adjacent village can help them either. Slowly but surely, the planned summer vacation turns into a horror trip.
There are now also good quality spatial sound audio plays for children. Personally, I’m not a fan of sound people moving audio objects around the room quite randomly. In this context, however, I think the gimmick is okay.
This is demonstrated by the Bibi Blocksberg episode Chaos at the airport, which is available in Dolby Atmos via Apple Music. In the episode, Bibi wants to go on a trip with Karla Kolumna. However, since Karla suddenly has to take care of an important report, Bibi goes off on her own. She promptly loses her suitcase while changing planes, but luckily Bibi meets 16-year-old Kira. In their search for Bibi’s suitcase, the girls uncover a whole new set of secrets.
Audible has also released an immersive episode for the english children’s audio drama Ghostsitter. In Ghostsitter, young Tom has inherited a carnival haunted house from his great uncle. However, in order to receive his full inheritance of $10 million, Tom must operate the antique ride until his 18th birthday. In it are actually alive ghosts, which Tom must keep secret from the outside world with wit and ingenuity.
Many an adventure of the junior detective team Die Drei Fragezeichen can now also be heard in 360° audio. For this purpose, several mixes have even been specially made for the individual audio streaming platforms. So there are episodes in 360 Reality Audio at Amazon Music Unlimited, in Dolby Atmos at Apple Music and even own headphone versions, which are offered via several streaming platforms like Spotify and tigertones. Here, however, I noticed some inconsistencies that are due to the 3D Audio format.
The voice-over is classically positioned in the surround workflow center. This is no different for 3D audio with Dolby Atmos. However, this means that with head tracking enabled, the speaker is suddenly part of the scene. Even without head-tracking, speech acquires a spatiality that works against storytelling.
Namely, a narrative voice is non-diegetic, not a physical part of the scene. So he or she is only an observer, helping us users better understand the scene being played, for example, with additional information.
With Dolby binauralization, however, the voice-over suddenly acquires the same spatiality as the protagonists of a scene. As a listener, one logically thinks that the speaker is part of the scene, but this is not true. This is insanely irritating for listeners because it suddenly sounds like there is a ghost in the scene whose role is not so clear. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not a fan of Dolby and offer better workflows.
I continue to be a fan of 360° videos. This is because they can depict the entire reality in a very authentic way. It is not possible to fake a scenery, because the whole environment is always shown. The principle could be used in a similar way for spatial audio podcasts.
3D sound can also be used to good effect for journalistic spatial audio podcast formats. This is evident in the episode Kika Kila of the culture podcast Ephemeral. It focuses on the story behind the invention of the lap steel guitar from the Hawaiian Islands and its impact on the music world. Joining us are Hawaiian musician Alan Akaka and historian John Troutman. The multidirectionality of spatial audio is used in the episode primarily for individual sound elements such as atmospheres, sound effects and music passages.
WDR published the immersive audio documentary Pedaleffekte - Metropolen auf dem Weg zur Fahrradstadt, which has already been broadcast on the radio program WDR 5. This reports on major cities and their development of a traffic turnaround through the expansion of cycling. One notices here the orientation to the classical documentary style. In fact, many atmospheres, interviews and original sounds are used.
In Black Lenses the focus is on black Africans and their history. In addition to a diverse selection of audio dramas, there are also travel documentaries, as well as cultural and historical narratives that provide insight into the world of black Africans. The narrators are often mixed in mono, while a three-dimensional soundscape is portrayed primarily through the atmospheres.
One of my favorite applications is taking people to other places with immersive audio. In the context of VR, it likes to be worlds that don’t even exist in our reality. But for 3D audio podcasts, it means that at least we can experience our beautiful world up close.
In The Music of Nature, Lang Elliott takes you on a journey into wild natural areas of North America. Sometimes even beyond. While he reports from the off and in mono in a calm voice about his experiences there, you can effortlessly listen to the professional nature recordings in binaural audio. Lang Elliott does a good job of conveying the healing effects of nature on body, mind and spirit.
It gets even more personal with 3rd-Person, because you get very private insights into the lives of the two friends Joel and John. As a silent observer, you experience the many excursions of the young musicians through the immersive listening experience and become part of the social circle.
Always with an eye on the culinary offerings, Mike Randolph travels through various locations in Spain. In his spatial audio podcast Spain he records these impressions. While he tells as a narrator from the off in short sentences of his experiences, you can hear the 3D recordings that he has made on the spot. The narration is either in English or Spanish.
Immersive podcasts can also help you relax. Most meditation apps work with simple voice recordings. There, you are encouraged to do breathing exercises or perform a so-called body scan. I would like to talk about this form in more detail in the future. Because for me as a content creator, it actually represents the stone age of audio production. Simple voices in mono. But in medical you can do much more with 3D audio.
The spatial audio podcast This is Nature, originally broadcast on Bayern 2, features high quality 3D nature recordings. With the sounds of leaves rustling, waves splashing and birds chirping, you can take a deep breath and experience your own personal wellness moment.
The unconventional meditation podcast Incandescent also promises relaxation. With song journeys, vocal meditations, immersive storytelling and 8-hour sleep talks, there’s a wide range of binaural episodes here. So a bit like the app Headspace, Calm, 7Mind and co.
As can be heard, there are numerous spatial audio podcasts that illustrate what potential the additional sound dimension can offer the listener. In addition to audio dramas, immersive audio can also be used to great effect for podcast formats that use significantly fewer sound elements.
Admittedly, there were some immersive podcasts in my search that showcased the drawbacks of 3D audio mixing. So there are many technical pitfalls and creative challenges. If you’d like to hear from the expert on how to overcome them and breathe distinctive 3D sound into your podcast, send me an email now!More on 3D Audio