Alyssa Miller

3D audio: HD for the ears

April 2, 2011 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

When HD came along, everyone wanted to switch from traditional or standard-definition TV because of the better resolution. Well, the audio world is offering an HD experience for our ears. At Sun ‘n Fun, Garmin set up a demonstration center for its digital audio panel that has 3D audio processing. I tried it out after a press conference to see if it was really that spectacular. It is.

First, I listened to normal ATIS broadcasts, intercom communications, and ATC clearances with a Bose headset (that alone was a step up from the $150 headsets I’ve been using for the past 10 years). Then, I listened to the same communications, with the same headset, in 3D. I was shocked. Each communication was clearer and easier to process.

With this technology, the audio comes from different directions (based on which comm it is streaming through), as if you were listening to your passengers, ATC, and the ATIS carry on a conversation in a room with you. ATC clearances came in through my right earpiece, while the ATIS broadcast came in through the left. Although both were broadcasting at the same time, the ATC clearance came through clearer. Initially, I thought the volume was louder for ATC than ATIS, but the Garmin representative explained that they were the same volume–my brain had picked which transmission to prioritize. In that case, ATC won. Without the 3D audio, however, I just heard a jumble of ATC and ATIS, making it difficult to distinguish the clearance.

Now for the intercom communication. When talking to your pilot or co-pilot, you’ll hear him or her clearly from the respective side. For example, if I were flying with my flight instructor in the right seat, I’d hear him predominately through my right ear. And if I had passengers in the back, their conversation would sound as if it were coming from behind me…just as it would if I weren’t hearing headsets.

The directional audio makes it much easier to process information by eliminating the strain of trying to separate multiple transmissions that are given equal weight.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case a short audio clip is worth a thousand words. Check out the sample Garmin has posted on its website. Listen to the 2D before the 3D. Make sure you are listening through earphones or have two speakers hooked to your computer in order to get the experience.

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