Road Trip – UC San Diego Audio Lab

I attended the California Institute of the Arts – Music Composition program in the late 80s after studying with Mel Powell and Morton Subotnick among others. One of my closest friends — also an electronic music geek and audio engineer (we collaborated on the sound design for numerous Contemporary Music Festivals and the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival concerts) — has remained a friend after 30 plus years and has just retired from directing the UC San Diego Music Technology program. Peter is very smart in the world of music and technology and also a very fine composer (I heard an immersive composition from 24 loudspeakers in his lab that was gorgeous!). We’ve managed to get together at audio conventions and other events over the years and recently shared some time at the Los Angeles AES Convention. As a result, he invited me to come to San Diego to consult with his partners in a new audio venture, experience some new demos, and check out his lab at the Qualcomm IT building.

Mona and I headed to San Diego this past Friday. I spent the morning at the company headquarters in La Jolla and was introduced to the CEO, the chairman of their board, and a few members of the technical team. What Peter and a UCSD graduate student developed at the university and have now licensed to his new venture is basically a sound bar made up of 12 small drivers with a separate low frequency driver. When a listener sits about 3-4 feet in front of the speaker array, the sound experience is fully immersive — the same as a binaural recording delivered through headphones — without the need for headphones! It reminded my of the BACCH SP (Stereo Purifier) processor that Edgar Choueiri of Princeton University has developed and is marketing — for $55k. You can read the initial article by clicking here.

It works! The sound image produced from the right type of program material (especially binaural content) using the MyBeam™ technology is very impressive. It is equal to — or IMHO exceeds — the quality of sound experience produced by the BACCH SP process and costs about 90% less! This is product that is ideal for gamers who sit for hour in front of their workstations. The linear array cleverly produces multiple beams of discrete channel information — separate left and right signals — that are targeted to the listener’s ear with a minimum of crosstalk. Unlike headphones, the sound “objects” appear to be floating in space around the exterior of your head — just like they do in real life. It’s not perfect and the degree of perceived localization is dependent on the spatialization quotient of the source material. Obviously, binaural recordings are the best. Peter played a track from one of David Chesky’s binaural discs, which was both creepy and amazing. David’s voice was in the space where he recorded the demo.

My own background in binaural sound is quite extensive. My doctoral dissertation was on the technology as applied to a musique concrète composition I wrote in 1986. The commercial applications for “beam forming” are numerous. Imagine the immersive music/sound possibilities for automotive audio reproduction, for special venue programming, audiophile room modeling, and personal audio delivery. The demos that I heard were sonically far more compelling than any imagined fidelity increase attributed to reducing “time smearing” or realigning data words with a clock regenerator. We’re on the dawn of a new era in experiential and immersive audio delivery. I’m about ready to move from high-resolution audio to “multidimensional personal audio” (MPA for short — hmmm, maybe there’s a new venture in my future). Stay tuned.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this revolutionary technology, please email me privately.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

11 thoughts on “Road Trip – UC San Diego Audio Lab

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    I suppose the “holy grail” application for this sort of technology would be to create a truly immersive home theater surround experience from something the size of a decent sound bar. I would imagine measurements would need to be taken with a calibrated microphone to dilinate the distances and/or number of seats for the sound bar to work it’s magic. Might need to combine it with some sort of motion tracking device like a PlayStation Eye or Microsoft Kinect to track the heads of the listeners to ensure the best experience for all. Something like this would solve a lot of problems for apartment dwellers or folks unwilling to install a full surround speaker package in their rooms. Sounds like it would need a hell of a lot of processing power though.

    • These guys in San Diego have nailed the “holy grail” at least as it pertains to properly prepared source material.

      • What if two or more people are listening?

        • I listened to the program with my wife sitting next to me…it works fine as long as they configure the beams appropriately.

  • LH Wong

    Hi, a company is developing 3D audio headphones. You’ll find it interesting if you have not heard of it yet…Ossic.

    • Thanks. Yes, I’m very aware of ossic and their crowdsourced funding. I’ve also spoken to knowledgeable people that most of the campaign and the associated video was faked.

  • Interesting evolution of your life and work.
    I guess – at least – some of us would be interested in hearing more about this —- as far as the focus is on music.
    Maybe it’s an idea to deliever the answers, that you might give those who contact you via personal email in a comprehensive form here?

    • Jonathan Angel

      Quite a bit of information is available at the company’s website, but they don’t say when their soundbars will be available to the public. (Apparently they have already been deployed in an installation at the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara, CA.)


  • Soundmind

    I’ve heard what might be called the ultimate crosstalk (or cross channel) phase cancellation sound system of them all at “The Ambiophonics Institute” which is actually Ralph Glassgal’s house. I’ve heard it twice. It is interesting and I was quite surprised that it actually works. to my ears it sounds like the sound sources are pinpointed in localization in a plane and on a line between me and the main loudspeakers. This sound system in an enormous room I’d say about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long by about 40 feet high which is covered with Armstrong Soundsoak to reduce reflections. There is a large array of Soundlabs electrostatic speaker panels that surround the listener. Like all crosstalk cancellation systems you must be in exactly the right spot for it to work. And then it only works up to a point because as frequency increases and wavelength decreases, the precise location where there is effective cancellation becomes infinitesimally small. The Soundlabs electrostatic speakers had remarkable clarity.

    That it was interesting and unique doesn’t mean that I thought it was “good” or in any way accurate. It was kind of like a cross between listening to headphones and loudspeakers. The sources are spread out over a horizontal angle of about 150 degrees but the sound is hardly immersive, at least that was my impression. You can experiment on line with processed signals on both the Ambiophonics web site and on Chouieri’s web site.

    Chouieri’s contribution is claimed to be a filter that rebalances tone because where the high frequencies don’t cancel, they add, at least that’s how I understand his explanation of it. The photo of his lab at Princeton shows an anechoic chamber with two small stand mounted speakers. Glassgal’s system uses a recursive delay circuit in the phase cancellation part of it. He claimed it works better but he couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me why.

    Glassgal’s system is also comprised of an added elaborate surround reverberation system which IMO did not work very well. These systems are interesting to experiment with, some people like them, but as for advances in the state of the art, I don’t agree.

  • I’m with you when it comes to MPA. But I want to see it done for playback of recorded music. I want to see the next advance for music-loving audiophiles. As a crowd we are such a bunch of arch-conservatives. I cannot believe how vinyl and 2-channel has hung on. I understand why — digital rather shot itself in the foot with poor productions being the norm for high-sales pop-rock, and the will to produce masses of multichannel audio that is well done and reasonably three-dimensional has been rather flaccid. So much more could have been done over the last two decades, but instead the ball was dropped so comprehensively that the turntable and vinyl industry, well and truly kicked over the precipice but with shoelaces tangled in a weed just below the clifftop, has managed to right itself and now reclaimed a few percent of the music market for itself.

    Time to see some music that is object-oriented, and works, and establish something in the industry that is more than just a weird experiment that gets a mention on all the blogs and major audiophile websites — in passing.


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