Section: Expert opinion

Tom Ammermann about binaural technologies and 3D-sound

— You have a great creative background. Work on films, performances, software and hard development. How do you introduce yourself when asked about your profession? 

— I’m an immersive audio and music producer and the general manager of New Audio Technology. That’s my passion and my profession. Some used to say I’m an inventor, 3D evangelist, entrepreneur and founder. You may say so, but it is just a part of my work.

When did you start making sound? Was the decision to devote yourself to sound conscious or were you passionate about it from an early age? Please, tell us about the beginning of your professional journey. 

— I started as a guitar player in the early 80th. Pretty soon I had my own song ideas and I became a composer. Of course, I was interested in hearing my songs the way I wanted, so I became a sound engineer. It led to the foundation of the Luna Studio in Hamburg 1995. Until then I had a lot of private lessons in schools and universities refereeing all the aspects of instrument playing, composing and production. In 1999 I was very fascinated by surround sound and learned what “binaural” meant. Up from there, my journey as an immersive audio producer and composer began. 

In 2008 I did my first ‘3D’ mixes and understood that we need new tools for 3D panning and monitoring. That was the beginning of software development and I finally founded the company New Audio Technology GmbH in 2012.

I simply was addicted to immersive audio but found tremendous gaps in immersive audio production. Thus, I started to solve these issues and created tools I love to use too. This is also a big difference to other immersive audio tools, ours are made from producers for producers;)

You have famous awards, including a Grammy. How did you achieve this goal?

— Simply by doing what I liked. I was talking to the interesting people and applied their experience. I tried to be patient and moved forward as fast as I could. 
That sounds like a fortune cookie text but it’s finally the truth.

You have participated in iconic projects. What does working on a Hollywood movie mean to you? Does it differ from working with a project that is less well-known?

— Yes of course. Before I worked on the well-known projects I did a lot of smaller as well as unpaid projects. But the work doesn’t differ much, so that’s the way to learn for your professional life later and have a lot of fun and create finally good reputations. 

What are the advantages of its technology for directors and sound engineers? How to work with Terminator 2, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Traffic, 5th Element. Was it a work with localization of versions or with the original ones?

— My work was mostly for the localization of the films mainly in Germany. Our technologies and my skills helped a lot to bring new and enhanced versions of those movies to German releases. All of them got e.g. right from the beginning binaural audio tracks. Many of them needed individual masterings, restorations and different encodes. 

Our technologies still help a lot in monitoring, if the right loudspeaker environments were not available. The binaural simulations are very close to a real loudspeaker experience, thus you can monitor 5.1, 7.1 and higher just with regular headphones. Also, stereo workstations like Ableton and Studio One can mix surround and higher with our Spatial Audio Designer plug-in. 
How do you see the modern world of audio production?

— Versatile☺ We will have different applications like cinemas, home cinemas, TV, mobile, car and industry (planetariums, live, installations etc.). Each has different requests and formats. So, producers in the future should be open to offer productions in different ways to fulfil all client and application requests. You can say this sounds terrible; I would say it sounds like a great adventure! Following this, our technologies move forward to offer producers the flexibility to create everything they want, where they want and for what they want.

Binaural technologies. What is your idea of these opportunities?

— Binaural technologies are great for monitoring mixes in virtual loudspeaker systems if real environments are not available. But furthermore, binaural opens a door into a totally new dimension of fantastic new audio experiences. In binaural audio we have much more freedom because all listeners sit in the sweet spot and we can use as many virtual loudspeakers as we want at different places, positions and of different kinds.

Where can your technology be used?

— The Spatial Audio Designer plug-ins can be used in any immersive audio production for mixing and monitoring. But also stereo mixing benefits from more than 60 virtual studio environments, very useful if producers don’t have good monitoring abilities or if they are on the go. So, we offer professional plug-ins for audio and video workstations. 

But we also offer stand-alone software to monitor any audio on a Mac or Windows computer for agencies and media production facilities, called the Spatial Sound Card. It’s a so-called virtual sound card and lets the listener experience any audio source on their computer like a game, movie, VR of music on an impressive sounding virtual loudspeaker system just with regular headphones.

Finally we offer a hardware product, the Spatial Audio Designer - Processor. The advantage of this product is reliability, flexibility regarding input formats, no audio workstation is needed, much higher performance and interactivity for industry applications like full domes, theatres, and live.

What were the revolutionary technologies implemented?

— New Audio Technology was the first to offer a 3D panning tool which is still marked leading. We’re still the only company which offers immersive audio production in a regular stereo DAW. Furthermore New Audio Technology is the only one that offers virtual (binaural) real studio environments in a convincing and realistically quality way. And finally, we’re the only one who extends this to industry standard hardware applications.

Hardware VS Software. What does the hardware version offer as opposed to the software version? Why did you choose an additional direction?

— The industry applications, like planetariums and theatres, are a cool business. But they have high demands in performance and relatability and they don’t want to use audio workstations. Because of that, these customers need rock-solid hardware, and we love to dig deeper into these challenging business.

Working on Kraftwerk 3-D. Why this particular music group? How did you meet the band? What was the work with 3D audio and how did the audience rate it? 

— The audience loves it, even if they are not Kraftwerk fans. I thought right from the beginning of doing immersive audio, Kraftwerk’s music would be perfect to experience in immersive. Later I got in contact with them via a friend who knew them. I sent them our Spatial Audio Designer plug-in. They were impressed about this tool and mentioned they prepared a new production. As I heard that, I suggested doing it in immersive and releasing it in Dolby Atmos because of that way, they could reach a bigger audience. 
Kraftwerk was convinced about that strategy and my suggestion to do it in my studio. During the production I offered my experience in immersive audio production to Fritz Hilpert from Kraftwerk, who did the mixes.

What is participation in AES? What significance do you see in the development of the audio engineering community?

— The AES is great for communication, exchange, networking, learning from others as well as marketing. So, a lot of good reasons to be a part of the AES for every provisional ambitious audio and music person.

We look forward to new updates. Are you preparing something new for the market?

— Always! The list of cool and requested features is long and we try to work through step by step as fast as we can. 
Main new features certainly refer to flexibility and effectiveness in production. We also keep on moving to offer more options for binaural audio as well for individual industry applications. And finally, we try to keep on updating to new operating system requests.