If you listen to music on YouTube, you might have come across the term “8D audio.” And you’ve probably wondered, “What is 8D?”
To average users, it probably sounds technical, like a term reserved for the most elite audiophiles. To creatives, on the other hand, 8D probably raises an eyebrow or two (more on this below).
The truth about 8D audio is that it’s quite a bit more approachable than most people have been led to believe. It can also be a useful tool for great sounding videos.
What is 8D?
In the most basic sense, 8D audio is really just another name for stereo sound and some of the techniques music producers and engineers use to showcase sounds in stereo to augment the listening experience. So, before we get into 8D sound, let’s take a brief detour into stereophony.
Stereo, of course, is sound created by recording 2 channels of audio. If you’re wearing headphones, one channel is dedicated to the left ear and the other to the right. If you’re listening on home or studio speakers, then one channel is on the left speaker while the other is on the right. By contrast, mono is 1 channel of recorded sound, distributed equally to left and right headphones or speakers.
Dua Lipa’s song Levitating in 8D sound.
In the recording studio, music producers exploit the stereo field to give listeners the sense that audio is moving through the space around them. They do this by using engineering techniques like panning, equalization and effects.
By panning, engineers and producers can gradually or dramatically move different sounds on different tracks from the right to left audio channels and back. Using EQ and then effects like reverb, delay, and others can highlight certain frequencies and then augment them to make the panning experience even more dynamic. These techniques can also be applied to recording for quadraphonic sound, which uses 4 channels of audio to create surround sound.
One thing we should note is that you don’t need special headphones to enjoy 8D. That’s right, no 8D headphones. Your over-the-ear headphones will work just fine.
Boards of Canada’s song Julie and Candy features stereo panning effects that get more intense throughout the song. Boards of Canada, Autechre, Burial and many other electronic artists are particularly adept at implementing stereo effects into their music.
Now, back to 8D audio. You might be thinking that 8D sound or 8D music is an evolution of both stereophonic and quadraphonic sound. Wrong. Also, it has nothing to do with 8 dimensions. If it did, 8D would, of course, break the laws of physics.
8D sound is simply audio that features panning, EQ and effects, but does so continuously instead of with the moderation often heard in popular music. In 8D, these effects are front and center and, indeed, all around the listener, so to speak. Think of it like the binaural audio often heard in ASMR videos.
The effect of 8D audio on your brain
If you look at some online forums on Reddit or Quora, various threads discuss whether or not 8D sound is harmful or dangerous. The truth is that 8D sound or 8D music is like any listening experience: as long as you’re not listening with headphones at insane volumes, you’ll be fine. One other caveat is that if an 8D song is mixed poorly or too aggressively, you might feel a little queasy.
On a more positive note, 8D can indeed create a very immersive effect on listeners. With sounds at various frequencies seeming to swirl around you, it will seem as though you are standing in that field of sound.
Proponents of 8D sound also claim that it tricks the brain into feeling like it’s experiencing the music in a live setting. In addition, other 8D sound and music experiences—particularly in the ambient music genre—are said to create a calming, relaxing effect, reducing listeners’ anxiety and stress.
What is 8D music, and where to find it
8D music can be produced and optimized specifically for 8D listening experience or remixed into existing songs.
Travis Scott’s Goosebumps, which features the vocal work of Kendrick Lamar, is a good example of the continuous panning effect heard in 8D music. This wide, rotating stereo effect makes it sound like the listener hears the music is playing inside a building’s interior.
Last year, a dance remix of Billie Eilish’s track Ilomilo brought the tune into 8D space. As you can hear, there is a bit more going on in the stereo field than in the Travis Scott song. Song details are highlighted or diminished according to the remixer’s whims.
As we noted above, YouTube is a great resource for finding 8D music. There are millions and millions of 8D tracks there. Alternatively, streaming platforms Apple Music and Spotify have catalogs of 8D tunes.
How to make 8D audio
If you’re a musician, producer, or filmmaker who has been inspired by 8D tunes, then perhaps it’s time to start making 8D music. Although we briefly sketched out how the 8D effect is created, here are a few quick pointers for how to make 8D music. The same techniques will be useful to know if you’re curious about how to make 8D audio for immersive audiovisual experiences, ASMR, etc.)
We’ll assume you have a piece of music software—a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to record and produce music.
- Find your DAW’s pan effect or download a pan effect plugin.
- Put the pan effect on the master track.
- Play around with the pan’s parameters, like speed, intensity and so on.
- Apply EQ to emphasize lower frequencies (bass) or higher ones (vocals, synth leads, etc.)
- Add effects like reverb or chorus to create a wider stereo field in which the pan effect can play.
- Pro tip: Apply panning to each individual track and fine-tune them with EQ and effects like reverb, chorus, filters etc. Instead of just one pan effect on the master track, which moves the final mix around together, you’ll have individual tracks panning the way you want them!
For more on panning, check out our post Tips That Will Take Your Sound Design to the Next Level.
DJ Pangburn is a New York-based journalist, videographer, and fiction writer, with bylines at Vice, Fast Company, Dazed and Confused, and other publications. DJ records ambient techno and IDM under the name Holoscene.