Virtual Audio:
Illusion or Reality?

How people and technology can adapt to
each other to enhance virtual and
physical interactions

Audio Experience Design
Imperial College London

What is immersive sound?

"Immersive sound is what we experience in our everyday lives, where we can tell what direction a sound comes from and how far away it is - being able to experience sound in 3D," says Dr Lorenzo Picinali, who leads the Audio Experience Design team at Imperial College London and is a member of the Audio Engineering Society.

"This kind of 3D sound can be replicated using complicated sound systems and multiple speakers, like at the cinema, or it can be recorded using microphones placed in the ear canals of a mannequin head, allowing you to experience 3D audio using just a pair of headphones."

Try out an example of 3D audio below - listen through a pair of headphones for the best effect:

But what if you wanted to make this recording interactive, for example to get closer to a sound source, or explore a soundscape by walking around it? And how can we make it sound as realistic as possible, so that you couldn't even tell what was being played through headphones and what was happening in real life?

Our team’s cutting-edge research focuses on both the development of technologies that can produce realistic, immersive, virtual audio, as well as the applications that this technology can have.

There are two main ways you can make virtual audio more realistic: either adapt the technology to the individual, or adapt the individual to the technology.

Explore these two approaches below:


Everyone is different, and the way we receive and hear sound is unique to each of us.

How can we use artificial intelligence to make technology adapt to humans' individuality to make virtual audio as realistic as possible?

Learn how technology can adapt to humans


Humans are remarkably adaptive as a species. We are constantly training ourselves to think and act in different ways in response to new technology

How can we help people to train themselves to hear differently in response to different technology? And how could this help people with hearing difficulties?

Learn how humans can adapt to technology