Head-Tracking Ossic Headphones Offer Rich 3D Audio

Virtual reality is great, but as I mentioned in my review of the Oculus Rift, the experience can fall flat without 3D audio. I mean, what's the point of being in a visual 360-degree simulation if the sound doesn't stack up? A solution is on the horizon thanks to Ossic, whose $399 Ossic X headphones produce real spatial audio for use with VR headsets or for just listening to music.

Created by former Logitech employees, the Ossic X might be the techiest pair of headphones I've had the pleasure of putting on my head (sorry, Parrot Ziks). There's a head tracker embedded into the headband with four transducers, and six microphones and eight individual drivers are built into each earcup. The result of all these components is a pair of cans that instantly calibrates audio based on your particular head size, ear position and torso in a process the company calls HRTF (head related transfer function) anatomy calibration.

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Time for a quick science lesson. HRTF refers to how we hear and relies on your position in space, the size of your head and the shape of your ears. The Ossic X headphones calibrate to a listener's head and ears using the head tracker, drivers, transducers and several algorithms. That helps to create positional audio that creates an immersive 3D audio experience.

I tried the pre-production model, which, despite all the tech crammed into, it looks like an average pair of studio-grade cans. The earcups and yolks of the headphones will be made of metal, while the company is touting the headband as unbreakable. The earpads will be removable and washable. This adds up to a device that looks good and is plenty durable. The Ossic X feature USB and 3.5mm connectors, so the headphones can be used with smartphones, PC or Macs. When using the 3.5mm connector, the cans rely on its estimated 10 hours of battery life that enables the device to deliver the 3D effect. When it ships, the Ossic X will also have an application for PC and Mac that allows wearers to adjust the soundscape to their particular listening preference.

I started the audio demo by listening to a few music tracks. When the first song began, I felt like I was in the center of a room filled with clocks. Part of this is because I was listening to Pink Floyd's "Time", but it mostly had to do with the headphones, which greatly expanded the soundscape. Instead of the static soundstage that you'd get from a typical pair of headphones or earbuds, it felt like I was sitting in the recording studio with the band.

Turning my to the left, I could hear less of the guitar in that ear which was positioned to my right. When I started turning my head to the right, the keyboard was muffled in my right ear. Once the effect was disabled, the track sounded flatter, and the audio remained constant no matter where my head was.

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The effect works just as well with virtual reality as I discovered during this year's SXSW. Plugged into an HTC Vive, I roamed a sorcerer's workshop as cauldrons bubbled and hissed around me. I touched a scroll and found myself shrunken and transported on top of the scroll. I was looking around and taking in my new perspective when I heard some loud tapping on my right. I whirled around only to be face-to-face with a hideous spider. I quickly tapped the scroll to enlarge myself only to hear a skull cackling with glee behind me.

The 360-degree audio made for a richer experience, as I can still hear that creepy arachnid in my nightmares. I'm eager to use the Ossic X while playing Eve: Valkyrie or a horror title like Albino Lullaby. Speaking of gaming, the Ossic X works with regular games, which should come in handy when someone's trying to sneak up on you in a first-person shooter. Thanks to the integrated 3D microphone array, you can just speak to your teammates normally without worrying about adjusting a microphone boom. You can even use the cans to add an extra dimension to your home theater setup, adding some life to otherwise flat audio.

The Ossic X headphones produce realistic 3D-audio based on your unique anatomy instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. It's a potential game-changer not just for virtual reality, but for any aural experience. It's a must-try experience for any gamer, music lover or film buff seeking the most immersive experience out of their chosen form of media.