CES 2017: OSSIC Virtual Reality Headphone

The OSSIC X virtual reality headphone made a big splash last February when its $100,000 Kickstarter ask turned into a $2.7 million dollar bonanza. I was skeptical at the time, but I sure was curious.

Oddly, and yet again, I was welcomed to the booth by one of their engineers who remembered me from the AES Headphone Technology conference—which 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 Riggs—who 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 sensors—though they wouldn't mention what kind—that 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.

bogdanb's picture

hearing you so enthusiast about this pair of headphones makes me thing the are really on the right track, and that there might be hope (somewhere in the future) for a great headphone good for both listening to music ac well as for gaming or whatever 3d things we will be doing.

seemed a really nice guy the co-founder.

Tyll, I hope you enjoyed the show and many thanks for bringing it to us!

Magoo's picture


Another great review of a new tech HP. From what you have shown us, this is a way cheaper alternative than the mega buck 'phones you been showing us until now...It seems that $300 for a phone that really seems to peak your interest seems like a steal? Even the $500 the will be. So they must have a built in DAC if they can be used with a Lightning connector....I guess more of a Mobile product than serious Headphone...

Magoo's picture

Been reading about a new ES HP called the Sonoma ....never even heard you mention it before...I guess they were not at the CES???

Richter Di's picture

Really happy you liked them. Allthough I am still missing again the comparison to the Smyth Realizer A8 or A16. Anyhow, I pledged 999 Dollar for the Ossic X at Kickstarter and the promise is currently to ship the developer package out to us in March. So I can't wait.

Hi-Reality's picture

It is wonderful to finally see a number of parallel developments on the 3D Audio front!
Can't wait to experience and compare Dirac VR, OSSIC X, and Smyth Realiser A16.

Tyll, perhaps the time has come for a new automated method and technology for subjective testing where a brain-wave measuring device interprets reviewer's 'realism'-factor?

Regards, Babak
Hi-Reality Project

Darin Fong Audio's picture

Sounds like they've made a lot of progress since I heard their demo at CanJam SoCal last year.

Tyll, I'd be curious to know how you thought they compare to our Out Of Your Head software. I guess it's not fair since you can use much higher end headphones with Out Of Your Head, but still a similar idea.

You can listen to our online demo at http://fongaudio.com/demo

Thanks for the Ossic interview,
Darin Fong Audio

Hifihedgehog's picture

I ran the demos and I must say this has the best front/back differentiation I have ever heard. I can tell immediately without any mental exertion tell front and back without any issue and it sounds just like real life. There is a major flaw, however, with your plug-in. The center sounds empty, with way too much reverb, and is far too distant. It sounds wrong to my ears and it does not blend with the side channels properly. Fix this and you will have the perfect virtual surround sound system for headphones.

sszorin's picture

31mm driver in headphones is like a motorcycle engine under the hood of an SUV.

m8o's picture

Question to the vendor if you're monitoring this thread...

Any chance of a late vendor registration addition to Can Jam NYC this upcoming weekend?

I'm tempted to pre-order. But being less than impressed at the Sony 9.1 headphone I purchased (geared towards television watching) I will have to try before I buy a surround headphone again.