What is 3D Audio? (Complete Beginner’s Guide)

Do you ever wonder about 3D audio? If you haven't listened to a 3D audio sample yet, I suggest listening to it first. There are lots of videos on YouTube with 3D audio samples. It's a whole new experience if you listen to music through a good pair of stereo headphones.

After you get an idea of how excellent 3D audio is, you will wonder how it works. So, keeping that in mind, I will go through a bit of overview of 3D audio and let you in on how it works.

Let's get started with it right away.


What is 3D audio? The 3D audio effect

3D audio is also known as spatial audio in some cases. It's the kind of audio that you get to hear in real life. When you hear a sound in real life, you can pinpoint the exact location of where it's coming from. 3D audio works the same way. You can hear sounds coming from all over the place with this audio format.

An example will make things much clearer. Let's say you are watching a video with your headphones on. With the typical sound formats, you will hear sounds coming from either the left ear, right ear, or both.

But when you have 3D audio, you can feel the sound moving around you from left to right. This creates a different environment which will make you think there is a sound behind you or above you. You can pinpoint locations aside from just left and right.

In a nutshell, 3D audio copies the similar hearing mechanism we have in real life. You get to hear the sound from the exact place it's being produced from.

Related: Audio File Formats Compared: WAV vs. FLAC vs. Mp3

What is 3D audio used for?

The whole purpose of using 3D audio is to create an immersive experience. It creates a lifelike effect in audio that makes you feel like you are present in that place. Keeping this thought in place, there are several uses of 3D audio.


First of all, it's used in a lot of different games. The reason is that when you are playing a game, you get into it. You are pretty much living as the in-game character. So, having 3D audio there makes the game much more realistic for you. Your experience of playing the game goes up by leaps and bounds.

VR technology 

Another excellent use of 3D audio is with VR technology. VR is already a source of creating that real space with 3D video integration. To complete the whole experience of virtual reality, you will need to have 3D audio as well. Without the use of 3D audio, you can't even experience VR to its fullest potential.

Zoom meetings 

A lot of zoom meetings these days use 3D audio for an authentic experience. Having 3D or spatial audio in zoom calls makes it feel like being in a conference room. You get to hear voices coming from all sides, just like you would do in a room full of people. This is an excellent use of 3D audio for a better experience on the zoom calls.

Virtual events 

Virtual concerts and parties are also becoming a thing, thanks to 3D audio. These parties feel like real-life parties because you get to hear sounds coming from different ends of a room. Indeed, it's missing out on the physical aspect of a party, but in terms of the audio, it's spot on. You can even hear people around you talking from their respective places with 100 percent accuracy.

3D audio vs. surround sound

A confusion lot of people have between 3D audio and surround sound. People think these both are the same thing. But let me tell you they aren't the same thing at all. There are several differences between these audio types.


First of all, surround sound is 2-dimensional audio. You get sounds from the sides also from front and back. It does give you an immersive experience of audio. You typically have five speakers in a surround sound setup—one on the center and four speakers on four different sides for that immersive experience.

As for 3D audio, you probably know what 3D stands for. You get audio sounds coming from 3 dimensions. You get sounds from left, right, front, back, above, and below as well. So, consider left, right, the x-axis, and front and back to being z-axis. Then, the above and below work as the y axis, which completes the three dimensions.


You get to hear surround sound mostly in home theaters and movies. Using surround sound in these cases makes more sense because you won't be controlling the environment. The surround sound system creates sounds from specific points and spots.

As for 3D audio, you get it in VR projects and games. You get better control over the environments, like when you will move where you will move. When you pair that up with 3D audio, you get the most realistic experience from the source.

However, in some movies, you may get 3D audio as well, which can give you that experience of aircraft flying over your head.

Related: Best bitrate for MP3

Sound type 

3D sound is much more dynamic than surround sound. In 3D sounds, you get that moving effect that makes the sound more realistic. Whereas surround sound will come from a fixed source. For example, with 3D sounds, you may get a sound from the left side, and you can hear it moving to the right side. You can even experience the movement of the sound.

As for the surround sound, you can hear the sounds coming from different ends, but you can't listen to it moving.

Related: Audio interface vs DAC

Last words 

All in all, knowing about 3D audio can be crucial. Not only for developers but if you want to get the most immersive experience. Especially if you are a gamer or getting into virtual reality, it's essential to know about 3D audio.

As you can see, there is a huge difference between surround sound and 3D audio. So, for the best experience in the best scenario, it's important to know about the differences.

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