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Spatial Audio in Racket NX: Why Should We Care?

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Racket: NX is a VR game powered by Waves NX’s spatial audio software. When trying different spatial audio demonstrations over the past year — some never felt right. I’d be in VR and turn my head away from an audio source, the sound would cut out completely from one of my ears ignoring how real acoustics operated.

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We don’t live in space where sound doesn’t travel beyond a specified parameter. Sound is a pressure wave that ripples through the air and hits your ear drums causing electrical signals to fire into your brain. Just as if you were in a pool of water and someone cannonballed, the shock wave would surround you. Because of the different timing and factors that sound waves travel to our ear, we create a 3D map in our mind of where we are located, just like the difference between a cave or the Sistine chapel. Many spatial audio solutions ignore real world physics, and end up producing unrealistic audio experiences that throws you out of immersion (especially if you are an audiophile).

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Waves wanted to prove how spatial audio can influence your life regardless if it’s in VR or not. This is why they created the Waves NX head tracker. At first, I didn’t understand the point of having head tracking audio, but after they put the headphones on me, I got the weirdest vibe. It felt like I was in a room where these phantom speakers were blasting on a wood stage, and when I turned my head, the gradual changes to the room were very noticeable. It disturbed me. It was weird. I kind of liked it. If you want to try it yourself, Waves has a web demo which uses your webcam for head tracking audio.

So how does this all translate to VR? VR engines already have spatial audio solutions baked in. Can a person really tell between using Waves spatial audio solution versus the default ones? It was time to play Racket: NX and see for myself. For this demonstration, I slapped on my HTC Vive headset with Turtle Beach’s Stealth 350VR headphones and pressed play.

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After volleying the ball into what I consider to be a cross between racquet ball and “First-Person Pinball,” the subtle audio details give cues to where the ball is whizzing towards and where I should prepare my next assault. I felt like I was really in this geodesic dome environment and the ball was out to murder me. I started flapping my arms around in panic (think of awkward Obama poses) and quickly became immersed in the experience. Racket: NX was action packed, frustratingly fun, and left me feeling like I needed more training.

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But what about the spatial audio? Was there really a huge difference?

To be honest, I couldn’t tell. Audio is one of those things where small details may not be as obvious to most people as picture quality. All I knew was the audio in Racket: NX was quite well done and did not break immersion. I had a blast and could tell if the ball was behind me slightly to the left or right based on the audio alone.

Racket: NX will be exiting its demo state in 2017 and include multiplayer features and even a level editor. Built from VR studio One Hamsa, you can check out the free demo on Steam right now and see if you can tell the difference between Waves NX’s spatial audio solution or the default ones.

About the Scout

Steve Ip

Stephen Ip is an award winning indie game developer, record producer with millions of downloads, and Chief Strategy Officer of ADVR.io. Stephen seeks to find and meet every single VR related project in the world!

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