With a simple app and Bluetooth device Waves Nx can turn your headphones, no matter how cheap or crappy, into 3D sound using motion sensors.

Waves Nx can turn your old headphones into a portable source of 3D sound that sounds just like being in the middle of a surround sound system. All it requires is an application for desktop or smartphones which connects to a small bluetooth device to track your movements, and control the sound.

The Nx Head Tracker clips onto your headphones and tracks your heads movement so that it can adjust the position of it’s 3D sound emulation based on your position. You don’t even need the device, as you can also use a computer camera to track your head movement in all directions – though that’s not as convenient.

Waves Audio, developers of the Nx, claim that using their app “you can hear true 5.1 and 7.1 surround on your regular stereo headphones”. In case that wasn’t impressive enough, your sound will be transformed into surround sound even if your source audio wasn’t mixed for it. It’s not just for music either, you can use it for an intense movie experience, or to breathe new life into your video games.

3D audio surround sound headphones

Waves talk a bit about how it works on their Kickstarter, saying:

The perception of spatial three-dimensional sound in the real world is a rich and complex phenomenon. It combines the interactions between the acoustic sound waves and the room or space we’re in; the interaction of the soundwaves with our head and ears; and finally the way our brain interprets these acoustic interactions.

The perception of sound over regular stereo headphones is a completely different- and much more limited – experience. Here are a few crucial differences:

“Crosstalk”  between your left and right ears

When you listen on headphones, left and right are completely separated. Whatever comes out of the left side of your headphones, you hear only through your left ear. Whatever comes out of the right side, you hear only through your right ear.

But that’s not the way you hear sound in the real world. In the real world, you hear everything through both ears – with a little time delay between them. This helps your brain construct a three-dimensional acoustic image of the space around you.

Reflected Soundwaves

In the real world, the direct sound coming from the audio source is not the only thing you hear. You hear both the direct sound and the ambient sound reflected from the walls and the other physical objects around you. Your brain uses information about the different volume levels, times of arrival, and directions of these reflected soundwaves in order to construct a three-dimensional acoustic image of the space you’re in.

On headphones, none of this happens. You only hear the direct sound sent straight into your ear, and there is no indication of how it interacts with the three-dimensional environment around you.

Why Head Movement Matters

In the real world, even the slightest nudge to your head causes the complete audio scene to change, because the external world is not moving with your head. Your brain, being sensitive to change, remembers where the sound used to be and where it is now, combines this with its knowledge that your head (and not the source) has moved, and uses all this info to locate the source of the sound in your three-dimensional environment.

When we listen on headphones, the audio scene constantly moves with the head, again causing the experience of sound to be less realistic, less immersive, less three-dimensional.

You can find out more, support Waves, and nab your own pair of Nx’s (estimated delivery September) from their Kickstarter page.