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Sound and Vision: Tidal ditching 360 Reality Audio is a big blow for Sony

OPINION: The big news this week came from the music streaming service Tidal as it started a clean of its service by brooming a few features.

MQA will be officially removed from the service, which I think we all saw coming after a) MQA went into administration and b) it started using FLAC as a replacement for it.

What was a surprise is that on July 24 Tidal will also clean house of its library of 360 Reality Audio tracks. That I did not see coming.

360 Reality Audio is Sony’s take on the spatial audio ‘revolution’ that’s currently sweeping the audio landscape. It launched back in 2019 with the aim of placing the listener in the centre of a 360-degree soundfield with music positioned all around you.

It has, however, rather struggled for traction and presence in the market despite Sony’s efforts. Sony has been driving the awareness of the 3D audio format with its popular WF- and WH- wireless headphones. You can’t help but notice the presence of 360 Reality Audio branding on the box and Sony’s been stepping up its ‘education’ by including trial codes with its headphones.

Clearly, something has gone awry

Tidal removing 360 Reality Audio
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Ever since Apple Music adopted Dolby Atmos, there has been a sea change in the direction of spatial audio. As Tidal states in the email it sent to subscribers, it made the choice to simplify its immersive audio formats because more devices support Atmos over 360 Reality Audio.

The Atmos music catalogue is bigger and artist adoption is growing. There is new and legacy music available in 360 Reality Audio (Usher, Prince, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, and RUN-DMC to name a few) but Atmos gets spoken about a lot more than I’ve ever heard 360 Reality Audio mentioned.

It’s a big blow to Sony’s aspirations in the 3D audio market. I wrote a few years ago that spatial audio was becoming the next battleground for headphones and music and now it seems that Dolby has pulled ahead and is the spatial audio format of choice.

Sony 360 Reality Audio
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The key advantage is that Dolby views itself as a provider of services, a collaborator that provides tools for content creators. It’s available on soundbars, mobile phones, headphones, wireless speakers, streaming services – the reach is far more encompassing than Sony’s, which has developed an ecosystem around 360 Reality Audio but uptake from other brands isn’t anywhere near as vast as Dolby Atmos. It’s simply not been able to drive the spatial audio conversation.

Is 360 Reality Audio ultimately a failure?

It could well be another Sony technology that appears and disappears but I think Sony will stick with it. I don’t think it’ll compete directly with Atmos in the music space, but at an event I attended in Amsterdam a few years ago, the focus was on assisting and piggybacking on Atmos to produce a more immersive soundscape with its calibration technology.

I see Sony sticking with it as a differentiator from rival products, but ultimately 360 Reality Audio has lost the fight to become the spatial audio king. It’s no longer the future of music and it got beaten not just by Dolby, but by Apple too.

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