Clubhouse is adding spatial audio effects to make users feel like they’re really in the room – TechCrunch

Clubhouse has had a busy summer. Clubhouse, the social audio app that is a hit, has been busy in the summer rolling out new messaging features as well as an Android app. Now the company wants to improve its audio experience. Clubhouse announced Sunday that it will be adding spatial audio to its rooms so users can feel more like they are hanging out with friends.
TechCrunch talked to Justin Uberti, Clubhouses, about his decision to add spatial sound. This makes speakers sound as if they are coming from different locations than one.

After more than a decade with Google, Uberti joined Clubhouse as the head of streaming technology in May. He previously worked for Google's cloud gaming platform Stadia and created Google Duo. Uberti was also the creator of the WebRTC standard on which Clubhouse was built.

Uberti stated that one of the benefits of group audio is the fact that it doesn't feel as physical as being in a physical space.

Clubhouse and other voice chat applications allow people to connect in virtual social settings. However, the audio is generally flat and sounds like it comes from one central point. Clubhouse simulates in-person gatherings, so you would hear audio from different locations, including the stage and the audience.

Clubhouse will integrate an API from Second Life creator Philip Rosedales high-fidelity spatial audio company High Fidelity, and blend it with its own audio processing, tuned to the chat app.

High Fidelitys' HRTF technology (which stands for Head Related Transfer function) maps speech to various virtual locations. It subtly adds a time delay between stereo channel channels and reproduces the way high and low frequencies sound in the ear depending upon the sounds origin.

This effect, which has been used for social VR since long, gives virtual social experiences an eerily real sense of physical presence. Imagine listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in stereo, but instead of sound effects or instruments around your head you are hearing the people you are hanging out with in virtual space.

Uberti says Clubhouses will be subtle but noticeable. The audio processing will softly steer conversation so that most speakers are in front of the listener. However, Clubhouse users should feel like they are hearing different people speaking from different locations.

The majority of iOS users will receive the new audio features on Sunday. They will also be available to all Clubhouses iOS and Android customers within the next few days. Users will have the option to turn spatial audio off, and all users will enjoy the experience.

Clubhouse will employ the same virtual soundstage techniques that give large rooms the illusion of being larger while creating intimate spaces that seem smaller. Clubhouse can be used by most users via headphones. It also offers stereo sound effects that are compatible with most smartphones.

This idea of people being in a space or in a room is what you have. We try to imitate the feeling of being in a circle of people talking.

Uberti also noted that regular Clubhouse users could benefit from spatial audio. Zoom fatigue, a phenomenon that has been sweeping the globe since the beginning of the Pandemic, could be due to regular, non-spatialized social media audio. Virtual audio is processed by the brain in a way that makes it easier for it to distinguish between speakers than in an in-person setting.

Your brain must figure out who is talking. Uberti stated that without spatial cues, you will have to use timbres that require more cognitive effort. This could make the experience more enjoyable, besides being more immersive.

Although it is too early to predict how Clubhouses subcommunities will respond to spatial audio effects on the app, it could improve experiences such as comedy and music, or even ASMR.

Uberti stated that a joke is often told by someone and feels flat. Clubhouse is a much more relaxed comedy club experience.