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5.5 Panning Algorithms

There has been a lot of scientific and artistic work to discover new methods for the electronic reproduction of audio signals to achieve the sensory impression that sounds are positioned in the space between speakers, rather than only coming from a single speaker. One of the underlying mechanisms that makes it possible to position sounds or make it seem like sounds are moving around the listener, is conventionally referred to as panning.

Broadly speaking, panning is the result of an algorithm - sometimes called ‘the panning law’ - that is used to calculate the amplitudes of signals sent to two or more identical loudspeakers (or virtual sources) arranged in a particular spatial configuration. In stereo - which we could say is the lowest resolution of speaker array - a simple panning algorithm can make the sound of a voice, for example, seem to be placed in the air between two speakers - as if there were an invisible speaker there. This illusion works up to a point, and breaks down if the speakers are too far apart. With only two speakers in the system, the panning law is a simple graph which has become quite standardised over the years. Things get more complicated when panning over 2D or 3D speaker setups and methods for spatialising on multichannel systems are not really standardised yet. Many algorithms and standards have been advanced by the audio engineering industry, composers and academics.

Essentially, when we start working with multiple speakers in different configurations, things get more complex for the panning algorithms - goals have also expanded over time, with spatial sound design able to reach beyond simple point source panning into fully immersive audio experiences that can be hyper-realistic or totally synthesised. Many practitioners will have their preferred methods, but really it is up to the spatial sound designer to choose methods that seems to give the best experience for the listener on any given type of setup. There’s never been just one way to spatialise sound. And with a powerful system like Spat Revolution, panning methods can even be combined in novel ways to achieve high quality immersive audio experiences.

Spat Revolution lets you explore some of the most advanced panning algorithms for surround, immersive 3D or ad-hoc sound systems.

In SPAT you will be able to explore some of the best panning algorithms for multispeaker setups. You can apply them in realtime and identify their characteristic differences by ear. Trying them out in realtime on a setup will help you select the panning algorithm that is best suited for your particular project and material.

Although there are technical aspects to be interested in and aware of, you are still invited to be creative and use your ears when deciding which are the right panning types for your project and intended audience.

★ Try using more than one Spat Room to use different panning algorithms for sound material that has different sonic qualities