When designing for VR, sound is an essential element that can really help to bring the virtual world to life. VR isn’t truly immersive without the effective use of convincing audio.
“The premise of VR is to create an alternate reality, but without the right audio cues to match the visuals, the brain doesn’t buy into the illusion.”Jeremy Lasky, Experience Perception
TL;DR Do’s and Don’ts
- Match the audio to the object it represents.
- Use spatial audio for spatially placed objects.
- Keep background music and ambient sounds at a low, comfortable level.
- Don’t use stereo audio for spatially placed objects.
- Don’t use low-quality, unconvincing sound effects or audio.
- Don’t set the volume of music and ambient sounds to a level that makes it difficult to hear important sounds such as voices or other story elements.
- Make sure the sound effects match the visuals. If there is a radio model, use radio sound effects. If there is a cellphone call, use a cellphone model and audio.
- Consider using spatial audio as a method for directing attention within the environment to advance the story.
- Consider taking advantage of the user’s position and field of view to trigger audio events within the environment.
- Since no two people are exactly alike, provide a way for them to adjust the audio levels of music versus voices versus other sounds for a more comfortable experience.
Example to try for free
Notes on Blindness : Into Darkness
When John Hull lost his eyesight in the 1980s, he began recording an audio diary of his experiences. This immersive VR documentary brings those recordings to life in a way that allows people to gain a little more understanding into what it’s like to be blind.
While stereo audio is used to replay his actual recordings as narration, spatial audio is carefully placed to draw you attention to elements as he describes them from his point of view. Ambient audio is not overwhelming and doesn’t distract from the important sounds that progress the narrative.
- How to use sound in mixed-reality applications by Microsoft
- Introduction to Audio in Virtual Reality by Oculus
- The VR Book, Audio, pg 239, Hearing, pg 99-102
- Google Cardboard Design Lab – Cardboard app
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I’m an Immersive Tech UX Design Professional with over 22 years of experience designing for kiosks, websites, mobile apps and desktop software for many well-known and not-so-well-known companies.
I’m not speaking on behalf of or representing any company. These are my personal thoughts, experiences and opinions.