CES 2017: OSSIC Virtual Reality Headphone
Oddly, and yet again, I was welcomed to the booth by one of their engineers who remembered me from the AES Headphone Technology conferencewhich is very cool because I could jump right in and start asking technical questions. It was doubly cool when I managed to prod him to the point where he became unsure as to whether or not he could answer my questions and toe the confidentiality line, and he graciously directed me into conversation with company CEO and Co-Founder, Jason Riggswho immediately struck me as a cheerfully technical headphone geek/enthusiast. You'll sense it when you view the video.
As you would expect, the gadget is filled with all sorts of DSP to render HRTFs and BRIRs (binaural room impulse response) tomfoolery. But the differentiating technology here is the multiple-driver configuration in the earpiece. There are 4 drivers in each earpiece: a central, bass-midrange 31mm dynamic driver; and three 14mm dynamic drivers for treble ranges placed above, in front of, and behind the ear. I was told that directional cues are not done simply by varying the levels at the three small drivers, but rather a much more complex algorithm drives the transducers. There are also sensorsthough they wouldn't mention what kindthat can tell exactly the distance between your left and right ear. There may be other sensing going on, but they were quite tight-lipped about it.
I had two demos of the OSSIC X. The first was a fully interactive VR demo with goggles where I could grab various colored orbs that were making sounds of various types and move them around. Everything but directly frontal localization seemed very good. Frontal localization was a bit vague, but the addition of visual stimulus allowed it to remain convincing to a good degree. If you thought evaluating the sound of headphones with music was hard, wait until you're immersed in an artificial 3D world and try to keep track of what you're really hearing. The mind fills in a lot of blanks if you're not paying close attention. Damn cool demo.
The second experience was straight up two channel stereo music playback where you could switch between normal stereo on headphones to a VR rendering of the same music. I'd really have to have some extended listening to time to make a statement about the relative fidelity of playback, but in terms of a sense of space the OSSIC 3D rendering was way more immersive and realistic...much closer to what speakers sound like. Though I did again notice significant ambiguity in frontal localization.
OSSIC X pre-order is available, units sell for $299 and will ship in June 2017; retail sales will begin in July at $499 MSRP.