Updated - 1/25/17, 4:23PM CT: A change was made to reflect new information from Ossic about its intent to ship the new version to its Kickstarter backers.
Last April, we were invited out to New York City to try out a pair of 3D headphones called the Ossic X. We had a chance to catch up with Ossic at CES 2017, where the company showed us the latest iteration of its VR-friendly and immersive audio solution, in addition to a new piece of software that perfectly showcases the technology.
New And Improved
The new Ossic X features the same eight drivers (four per ear), microphone, sensor array, and HRTF (head-related transfer function) as the version we tested last year, but everything is now onboard the device. The ear cups and forks have been upgraded to high-grade aluminum, and the headband is made from TR-90, a lightweight, flexible, and durable material. These upgrades didn’t affect the comfort of the device (despite the slightly increased weight), but the updated components and improved tech added $100 to the previous price tag, putting the new Ossic X at $499.
For a limited time, you can save $200 if you preorder the Ossic X from the company’s website (bringing the price down to $299, which is much closer to the Kickstarter edition’s pre-order cost), with the new version of Ossic X headphones expected to start shipping in July of this year. Original Kickstarter backers are first in line to receive it when it ships.
New Software Has Potential To Educate, Entice
At CES, Ossic first gave us the same Dark Side of the Moon demo we received in our New York meeting, only this time it was with the new headset. Once again, we were impressed how well the various bells, whistles, and noises in the intro of the song each seemed to emanate from its own point in space, with variable distances and depths. However, the VR part of our hands-on experience introduced us to a completely new piece of software that Ossic developed internally to showcase the device’s technology.
The new VR experience (currently called Music Playground) was designed for the HTC Vive, and it uses Unity’s built-in sound engine to approximate tagged items in an auditory space. In Ossic’s demo, this was implemented with several floating orbs (although the shapes varied by each token) in a room that each had a distinct audio track or noise playing through it. I was able to interact with the audible objects using the Vive controllers, so I set about throwing the orbs around the room, pulling each to my ears to judge the quality of Ossic’s signature claim of accurate three-dimensional VR audio tracking.
Similar to my original Secret Shop demo, I was able to turn my head and look around with the objects remaining in the same auditory space. As the orbs danced around the room, I could close my eyes and literally picture where they were within the virtual room I was just looking at, simply based on the noises each one was emitting. It was as if I was hearing real, glowing orbs of sound bouncing about the room.
Compared to our Secret Shop experience with the technology, the Music Playground demo emphasizes the Ossic X’s accuracy when tracking multiple auditory objects in VR. The term “3D headphones” doesn’t fully encompass the significance of Ossic’s technology and what it means for VR immersion. The Ossic X is simply one of the first (if not the first) headphones to create pinpoint auditory space within a VR application by adapting to your personal HRTF (anatomy) and interfacing with the positional tracking of the HMD to make it sound like everything is right in front of, behind, below, or above you.
We’re also excited at the prospect of Music Playground becoming an educational tool for the fledgling headphone company. One of the challenges of describing an audio product is illustrating exactly just what it does, especially if it claims to be different from traditional devices of its kind. I’ve done my best to report what I personally experienced with the Ossic X, but similar to other audio and video technologies, seeing (and in this case, hearing) is believing for the consumer, and my opinions are subjective.
However, if Ossic could transition its newly-developed software--which at present, is an internal company tool--into a mixed-reality video presentation that not only illustrates the technology in play, but validates it (perhaps a blindfold test to determine its accuracy?), we could see the Ossic X becoming the next must-have VR peripheral. One of the company’s biggest challenges is convincing consumers that what it has is not only different and special, but also worth the asking price, and the new Music Playground demo could be a significant ally in that battle.