Spatial Sound: Principles and Applications

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Book author
  1. Bosun Xie
Spatial Sound Principles and Applications

Spatial sound is an enhanced and immersive set of audio techniques which provides sound in three-dimensional virtual space. This comprehensive handbook sets out the basic principles and methods with a representative group of applications: sound field and spatial hearing; principles and analytic methods of various spatial sound systems, including two-channel stereophonic sound, and multichannel horizontal and spatial surround sound; Ambisonics; wavefield synthesis; binaural playback and virtual auditory display; recording and synthesis, and storage and transmission of spatial sound signals; and objective and subjective evaluation. Applications range from cinemas to small mobile devices.
  • The only book to review spatial sound principles and applications extensively
  • Covers the whole field of spatial sound
The book suits researchers, graduate students, and specialist engineers in acoustics, audio, and signal processing.

Bosun Xie was born in Guangzhou, China, in 1960. He received a Bachelor’s degree in physics and a Master of Science degree in acoustics from the South China University of Technology in 1982 and 1987, respectively. In 1998, he received a Doctor of Science degree in acoustics from Tongji University.

Since 1982, he has been working at the South China University of Technology and is currently the director and a professor at Acoustic Lab., School of Physics and Optoelectronics. He is also a member of the State Key Lab of Subtropical Building Science. His research interests include binaural hearing, spatial sound, acoustic signal processing, room acoustics, the relation between modern physics and classical acoustics. He has published a book entitled “Head-related transfer function and virtual auditory display” and over 300 scientific papers. He owns 20 patents in audio fields. His personal interest is in classical music, particularly classical opera.

He is the vice-president of the Acoustical Society of China (2014–2022), a member of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), and a member of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA).


In addition to vision, hearing is a means for humans to acquire external information. Human hearing can perceive not only the loudness, pitch, and timbre of sound but also the spatial attributes of sound. With spatial auditory perception, we can localize a sound source and create spatial auditory sensations of the environment.

Spatial sound or spatial audio aims to record (or simulate), transmit (or store), reproduce the spatial information of a sound field, and recreate the desired spatial auditory events or perceptions. Spatial sound is traditionally applicable to cinema and domestic sound reproductions. Recently, spatial sounds have been increasingly applied to wide fields of scientific research and engineering, such as psychoacoustic and physiological acoustic experiments, room acoustic designs, communication, computers and the internet, multimedia, and virtual reality.

Spatial sound has a long history dating back to more than 100 years ago. Since the 1930s, spatial sound techniques have been developed and used for practical application through the combination of acoustics and electronics. Since the 1990s, computer and digital signal processing techniques have further enabled spatial sound to develop quickly. There have been numerous scientific and technical studies on spatial sound. Various spatial sound techniques based on different physical and auditory principles have developed, and some of these tech- niques have been widely used.

In China, research on spatial sound began in 1958. Especially, the group at the South China University of Technology has conducted a series of fundamental and application studies on this field. Since 2010, spatial sound has gradually received attention in China, and some other groups have conducted relevant work.

From the point of scientific research, spatial sound is an interdiscipline dealing with acoustics (physics), psychology, and physiology of hearing, electronics and signal processing, computers, and even the art of music. Physical and auditory analysis of a sound field is the foundation of spatial sound. Signal processing, electronics, electroacoustic devices, and instruments are technical means for implementing spatial sound. With wide applications, spatial sound has been an active field in audio and signal processing and is still developing quickly. The development of spatial sound deals with both fundamental and application studies.

Internationally, special topics on spatial sound have been covered in some books, such as Spatial Hearing by Prof. Blauert (1997), Analytic Methods of Sound Field Synthesis by Dr. Jens Ahrens (2012), Ambisonics by Dr. Franz Zotter and Matthias Frank (2019), Sound Visualization and Manipulation by Profs. Yang-Hann Kim and Jung-Woo Choi (2013), and 3D Sound for Virtual Reality and Multimedia by Dr. Duran R. Begault (1994). The author of the present book previously wrote a book entitled Head-related Transfer Function and Virtual Auditory Display (Chinese edition in 2008 and English edition in 2013). However, books that cover relatively complete topics on spatial sound are rare. The only book is Spatial Audio by Prof.Francis Rumsey (2001), which is one of the series books intended to support college and university courses in music technology, sound recording, multimedia, and their related fields. In fact, writing a book that covers most aspects of the principle and applications of spatial sound is difficult because of the long history, extensive contents, and quick development in this field.

Prof. Xinfu Xie at the South China University of Technology wrote a book entitled The Principle of Stereo Sound in 1981. It reviewed and summarized the main international works on spatial sound before the end of the 1970s and contributed to the development of spatial sound in China. However, the book by Prof. XinfuXie was a Chinese edition and published in more than 40 years ago. During the past 40 years, especially since 1990, spatial sound has been developed greatly. Current spatial sound techniques differ considerably from those in 1970 in many aspects of basic physical, auditory principles, and technical means. Therefore, a book on the principles and applications of spatial sound should be rewritten.

The present book systematically states the basic principles and applications of spatial sound and reviews the latest development, especially those from the author’s research group. The book focuses on the physical and auditory principles of spatial sound. Another major purpose of the present book is to reveal that various spatial sound techniques are unified under the theoretical framework of spatial function sampling, interpolation, and reconstruction. The original Chinese edition was published by the Science Press (Beijing) in 2019. The present English edition is formed mainly from the Chinese edition with amendments, including the most recent developments from 2019 to 2021.

The book consists of 16 chapters, covering the main issues in the research of spatial sound. Chapter 1 presents the essential principles and concepts of sound field, spatial hearing, and sound reproduction to provide readers with sufficient background information for elaborating the succeeding chapters. Chapter 2 describes the basic principles and some issues related to the applications of two-channel stereophonic sound. Chapters 3–6 discusses the basic principles and traditional analysis of various multichannel horizontal and spatial surround sounds in detail. Chapter 7 presents the methods of microphone and signal simulation techniques for multichannel sounds. Chapter 8 discusses the matrix surround sound and down-mixing/upmixing of multichannel sound signals. Chapters 9 and 10 address the principles and methods of physical sound field analysis and reconstruction and discuss the principles of Ambisonics and wave field synthesis in detail. Chapter 11 describes the principle and method of binaural reproduction and virtual auditory display. Chapter 12 presents the method of binaural pressures and auditory model analysis of spatial sound reproduction. Chapters 13–15 discuss some issues related to the application of spatial sounds, including signal storage and transmission, acoustic conditions, requirements and methods for subjective assess- ment and monitoring. Chapter 16 outlines some representative applications of spatial sound. In addition, two appendices briefly introduce some mathematical tools for the analysis in the main text. The present book lists more than 1000 references at the end, representing the main body of literature in this field.

The present book intends to provide the necessary knowledge and latest results to researchers, graduate students, and engineers who work in the field of spatial sound. Readers can become familiar with the frontier of the field after reading and undertake the corresponding scientific research or technical development work. Because this field is interdisciplinary, reading this book needs some prior understanding of acoustics and signal processing. The References section provides relevant references about previous studies.

The publication of the present book is supported by the National Nature Science Fund of China (12174118) and the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2018YFB1403800). The relevant studies on spatial sound by the author and our group have been supported by a series of grants from the National Nature Science Fund of China (11674105, 19974012, 10374031, 10774049, 11174087, 50938003, 11004064, 11474103, 11574090, and 11104082), the Ministry of Education of China for outstanding young teachers, Guangzhou Science and Technology plan projects (98-J-010-01, 2011DH014, and 2014- Y2-00021), the State Key Lab of Subtropical Building Science, South China University of Technology., South China University of Technology, where the author works, has also provided enormous supports.

With more than 20 years of research experience, Prof. Shanqun Guan, working at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, has generously provided many guidance and suggestions. The author has also received long-term help and support from Prof. Zuomin Wang, the author’s PhD advisor, at Tongji University since the mid-1990s.

The author is especially indebted to Profs. Guangzhen Yu, Xiaoli Zhong, Zhiwen Xie, and Drs. Dan Rao and Qinglin Meng at the South China University of Technology, Dr. Chengyun Zhang at Guangzhou University, and all graduate students who provided support and coop- eration. The author also expresses gratitude to Prof. Guangzheng Yu for preparing all figures, Dr. Qinglin Meng for revising the English translation, and PhD students, namely, Haiming Mai, Jianliang Jiang, Kailin Yi, Lulu Liu, Tong Zhao, Jun Zhu, Wenjie Ding, and Shanwen Du, for their help in checking the references and proof of the book.

Many colleagues also provided the author with various kinds of support and help during the author’s research work, particularly Prof. Jens Blauert at Ruhr-University Bochum; Prof. Ning Xiang at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Profs. Shuoxian Wu and Yuezhe Zhao at the School of Architecture, South China University of Technology; Profs. Jian Zhong, Hao Shen, Mingkun Cheng, Jun Yang, Xiaodong Li, Yonghong Yan, and Junfeng Li at the Institute of Acoustics at the China Academy of Sciences; Profs. Jianchun Cheng, Boling Xu, Xiaojun Qiu, Yong Shen, Xiaojun Liu, and Jin Lu at Nanjing University; Prof. Dongxing Mao and Dr. Wuzhou Yu at Tongji University; Prof. Changcai Long at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology; Prof. Dean Ta at Fudan University; Prof. Hairong Zheng at the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy Science; Profs. Baoyuan Fan and Jingang Yang, Senior Engineers Jincai Wu and Houqiong Zhong at The Third Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Company and Senior Engineer Jinyuan Yu at Guoguang Electric Co., Ltd.; Senior Engineer Jiakun Qi at Wuhan Wireless Power Plant Co., Ltd.; and Mr. Heng Wang at Guangzhou DSPPA Audio Co., Ltd. The CRC Press, especially Mr. Tony Moore, Frazer Merritt, Aimee Wragg, Vasudevan Thivya and Anya Hastwell made enormous work on the publication of the present book.

The author would like to thank the abovementioned units and individuals.

The author’s parents, Profs. Xingfu Xie and Shujuan Liang, were also acoustical researchers, who cultivated the author’s enthusiasm for acoustics. The author’s mother also gave great support during the preparation of the present book in 2009. The present book is in memory of the author’s parents who have since passed away.
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