Clubhouse has had a very busy summer. Clubhouse, the social media audio app that is a hit has launched new messaging tools and an Android application in the past few months. Now the company wants to improve its audio experience. Clubhouse has announced that it will be adding spatial audio to its rooms so users can feel more like they are hanging out with friends.
TechCrunch talked to Justin Uberti, Clubhouse’s Head of Audio. This allows speakers to sound more like they are coming from multiple locations than one.
After more than 10 years at Google, Uberti was appointed to Clubhouse’s head of streaming technology in May. He previously worked as the Hangouts manager and created Google Duo. Uberti was also responsible for the WebRTC standard on which Clubhouse is built.
Uberti stated that one of the benefits to using group audio is the lack of physical space.
Clubhouse, and other voicechat apps, allow people to connect in virtual social environments. However, audio often sounds flat. It seems like the sound is coming from one central point. Clubhouse’s virtual in-person meetings are meant for you to hear audio from every corner of the room. Speakers might be able to ask questions from any location in the crowd.
To pull off the new audio tricks, Clubhouse is integrating an API from Second Life creator Philip Rosedale’s spatial audio company High Fidelity and blending it with the company’s own custom audio processing, tuned for the chat app.
High Fidelity’s HRTF technology (which stands for Head Related Transfer Function) maps speech to various virtual locations. It subtly adds a delay between stereo channels, and replicates the sound that high frequencies and low frequencies sound in the ear, depending on the sound’s source.
This effect, which has been used for social VR since long, creates a virtual presence in virtual worlds that is comparable to what good records can achieve. Imagine listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while wearing good headphones. Instead of hearing sound effects or instruments around your ears, you are actually hearing the faces of the people you hang out with in virtual space.
Uberti says Clubhouse will have a subtle but obvious implementation. The audio processing “gently steers conversation”, to place most speakers in front, but Clubhouse users will feel that they are hearing different voices.
New audio features for iOS will be available to most iOS users on Sunday. They will also reach Android and iOS users in the coming weeks. Users will have access to the new audio experience at any time. However, they will not be able to turn off spatial audio.
Clubhouse uses the same virtual soundstage methods to make large spaces seem larger while smaller rooms feel like they are in an intimate space. Clubhouse can be used by most users via headphones, so most will benefit from stereo two-channel sound effects.
You have the idea of people being in space or in a room…We try to imitate how it might feel in a circle, with people talking and standing around.
Uberti notes, too that regular Clubhouse members may be able to reap the benefits of spatial audio. Zoom fatigue, a pandemic-era phenomena that causes regular non-spatialized social audio to be lost in apps could possibly be attributed to this. Virtual audio is processed by the brain in different ways than in natural settings.
Your mind must figure out who is talking. Uberti stated that without spatial cues, you must use timbre… which requires more cognitive effort. This could make the experience more pleasant, in addition to being more immersive.
Although it’s still too early to predict how Clubhouse’s subcommunities will react to spatial audio effects on Clubhouse, they could be able to enhance comedy and music experiences, as well ASMR.
Uberti stated, “Someone makes a joke but it can feel really boring.” Clubhouse is a great place to feel the joy of laughter all around. It feels like you’re in a comedy club.
Publiated at Sun 29 August 2021, 16:52.42 +0000