What is virtual surround sound in Android 4.3?

by: Robert TriggsJuly 25, 2013

new nexus 7 stereo speakers (2)

Fraunhofer isn’t exactly a household name, but it should be, as the company is responsible for the invention of the ever-so popular MP3 format. But perhaps the company can earn some much deserved recognition with its latest venture, bringing theater quality surround sound to the palm of your hand.

The new Nexus 7 will be the first device to make use of Fraunhofer’s new technology, which will give users a cinema-esque surround sound experience through their headphones, internal stereo speakers, or with an HDMI output to their home theater surround systems. But why is this such a big deal?

You’ve probably noticed, when listening to stuff through your headphones, that although you easily have a sense of left and right panning, it’s very difficult to determine the depth of a sound. In other words, it’s sometimes hard to tell how far in front or behind you that sound originated from, which can ruin the experience when watching a high-quality movie on your tablet.

To solve this problem, Fraunhofer created Cingo, which aims to create an immersive surround sound experience that you’d be familiar with if you owned a home surround sound system. If you like to hear an example, have a listen to the video below with your headphones on.

How it works

The best way to explain the theory and implementation behind this is to imagine a scene in real life. Each source of sound, such as a passing car or your TV, travels a different distance, reflects off different surfaces, and reaches your outer ear at a different angle to every other source nearby. These minor delays, reflections, and frequency differences, created by the shape of our heads and ears, allows our brains to pick out the location of the sound, giving it “depth”.

Cingo essentially creates a “digital space” for multiple sound channels (sources), by applying various digital filters, and other algorithms, to each sound, in order to replicate the experience that our environment creates in the real world. This process is called “binaural audio processing”, which is then combined with more traditional loudness optimization and equalization techniques, such as enhanced bass for headphones, to provide a more optimal listening experience.

Bringing it to Android

From the looks of things, Cingo will be heading to Android in the new 4.3 update, coming pre-installed with the new Nexus 7, and then heading to the Nexus 10, and hopefully other Android devices, once the new update starts rolling out.

Fortunately, Cingo should work will all Android devices which use the High Efficiency AAC (HE-AAC) audio codec, as this is what allows for the management of multiple audio sources on our handheld devices.

However, surround sound will only work with source files that contain multiple audio channels. In other words, we need 5.1 surround sound movies on our devices, it just won’t work with any old video or audio file. Fortunately, Google will be offering feature films through the Google Play Movies & TV service that support HE-ACC Multichannel in the near future.

If you want to know just how awesome surround sound and binaural audio can be, I’ll just leave this video link here for your listening pleasure.

  • Daniel DS

    But what will it do that stereo sound doesn’t give us already when using two speakers?

    • Ruz

      from my point of view it does give.. this might be just the extra useless effort which they want to push

    • Jonathan

      I’ve tried the new surround-sound feature on my Nexus 10. There is definitely an appreciable difference when enabling surround sound. It’s a bit hard to explain without hearing it, but with surround sound disabled, audio is clearly coming from the N10 and centered on the middle of the screen, even if certain sounds come from the left or right side. With surround sound enabled, the audio has more of a “room-filling” quality. The sound quality is limited by the quality of the built-in speakers, but the audio does seem like it could more plausibly be coming from a stereo system or a set of speakers. The audio sounds much “wider” than with surround sound disabled, as if the sound isn’t coming from the N10 itself. The effect is also quite pronounced with headphones as well. Besides the stability fixes for my N10, this is hands down my favorite new feature of 4.3.

  • The Black Hand

    The video player on the S4 already has this feature, open your settings during play and you’ll see it.

    • Michael Pahl

      sweet. but the s4 isnt a tablet ;)

      • The Black Hand

        That’s the worst part about it. A phone on an older version of the same OS had it before the newer version “only for specific tablets at first” did and WILL simulate it for files not in 5.1. I’m glad it isn’t a tablet, it’s pretty disappointing and they already are not only behind but lack simulating it on non 5.1 files. Which is what it is doing with 5.1 specific files, simulating 7.1. ;) Tablets are for kids and Mom’s anyway. lol It’s just sad.

  • Charles Chambers

    Wow, you have to listen to the video link with your best pair of headphones. That was amazing.

    • Nathan Yeung

      Doesn’t work that way, sweetheart.

      • Charles Chambers

        Hey, listen her miss. I’m a guy. Mam, you need to get better at recognizing genders. Got that lady?

        • Charles Chambers

          (sarcasm intended)

  • MasterMuffin

    “You’ve probably noticed, when LISTEN to stuff through your headphones”

    “reflects off DIFFERENCE surfaces”

    “experience when watching high-quality A movie on your tablet”

    Not sure if these are typos or I’m just stupid, but just in case here they are :)

  • Eduardo Sandoval Salvatori

    Wow!! As I was reading this article I was thinking about posting Virtual Barber Shop in the comments.

  • Ruz

    More than having a surround sound i will be very happy to have 5.1 sound system

  • pacifica

    what’s Cingo advantage over other surround sound standard like Dolby Digital or DTS ?
    can’t find any explanation on net..

  • l;klk;rqjwerlk

    “Fraunhofer isn’t exactly a household name, but it should be, as the company…”

    That would be because it’s not a company [1], it’s a research organization with the legal status of a registered voluntary association [2]. Anyway, it’s famous enough, maybe just not among consumers.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraunhofer_Society
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eingetragener_Verein

  • End in sight

    That link at the end is amazing!!!

  • yummy synodic apple pie

    Does this even come on my nexus 4? My nexus 4 is on 4.3.