The concept of 3D, 4D, and 8D audio has taken form in surround sound systems and/or intricate mixing from audio engineers knowing just the right amount of delay and reverb to add to a track to create the feeling of sound happening all around you and not just between your ears.
But the “Latin Music King” Ricky Martin and his team at his newly formed company Martin Music Labs think they’ve landed on the next big leap in immersive sound: Orbital Audio, a sonic experience that doesn’t require any special apps or equipment and that’s meant to be a more sophisticated approach to controlling each part of a track than what’s being used today.
The push behind the leap? COVID-19 anxiety.
“The first couple of days in lockdown were extremely overwhelming,” Martin says. “Everybody was telling me, ‘Ricky, you’re going to have to cancel all your tours.’ So for me, I was like, ‘Hold on a second. Let’s just listen to music. This is my medicine.'”
Martin’s 11th studio album was slated for release in January, but the pandemic made him rethink the rollout. He divided the album into two EPs: Pausa, which was released in May and features four low-key tracks, and the forthcoming, more upbeat Play. But with a canceled tour, Martin was keen on at least elevating the listening experience of his new work for his fans. So he turned to his mixing engineer Jaycen Joshua to figure out how to make the tracks on Pausa more immersive—or as Martin put it to Joshua: “individualize every track in my music and just make it fly around me,” he recalls. “And boom, Orbital Audio was born.”
“We didn’t go into this thinking that we were going to reinvent sound,” Joshua says. “We went into this just to give Ricky what he wanted, and what he wanted was not out there.”
Major companies like Sony and Dolby have been developing immersive audio technology for years. But Martin and Joshua insist that what they’ve created with Orbital Audio is the first of its kind in that it doesn’t require special equipment or a separate platform.
“That was the biggest thing: Ricky was demanding to be able to have this immersive experience on any phone, anywhere in the world, on $5 headphones or $100 headphones,” Joshua says.
He also stresses that Orbital Audio is more than the 3D or 8D sonic experiences out now because of the attention to detail of every part of the song.
“If something’s going to circle around your head, it’s going to be the entire track instead of just Ricky or just guitar or whatever you decide to choose,” Joshua says of existing experiences. “So that was our goal: How do we figure out how to individualize? So we basically had to rewrite the map.”
Martin and Joshua were slim on the proprietary details of Orbital Audio, but there’s currently a standard version of Pausa and one that’s been engineered with Orbital Audio to give audiences a sense of how the technology differs from other 3D experiences.
The eventual goal for Orbital Audio is to expand beyond music and into gaming, film, live events—even in the health and wellness space.
“I feel we can create a very beautiful meditation app with Orbital Audio,” Martin says. “Where [we] bring in Tibetan chants, with Gregorian chants and intertwine them and make them fly around your head.
For now, Martin says they’re introducing Orbital Audio to peers in the music industry and getting feedback on how they see it working for their projects.
“The reaction man, it’s like when people were used to watching black-and-white television and all of a sudden they see color television,” Martin says. “You never want to go back to black-and-white television, this is the magnitude of it. This is the way I see it.”