Razer Leviathan V2 Pro soundbar at CES 2023.
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek
With beamforming, products like soundbars can place sounds more accurately in space. Combined with head tracking, this can create a personalized bubble of sound that follows you through a room.

Beamforming audio is coming to the world of audio, and it could change everything. What is so special about beamforming audio, how does it work, and what could this technology mean for the future of audio?

What Is Beamforming Audio?

Beamforming audio takes a fundamentally different approach to audio than traditional speakers. Instead of trying to cover as wide an area as possible, it aims to place sounds at very specific points in space. It’s not all about playing sound either, as beamforming can also work with microphone arrays, letting you pick up sounds from specific points in space as well.

Most speakers, on the other hand, whether you’re talking about stereo or surround sound, aim to cover a wide area with sound. That means that if you’re sitting on your couch and slide from the left side to the right side, you’ll still hear the sound coming out of your speakers with little change in what you’re hearing. Beamforming, when compared to traditional speakers, is like using a paintbrush instead of a roller.

While beamforming’s first appearance in the audio field was relatively recent, beamforming is a technology that has been around for years. The technology has been used in sonar, radar, and even wireless routers.

Manufacturers have been aware of the possible benefits of beamforming for quite some time. Only recently, with digital signal processing (DSP) chips becoming more powerful and affordable, have companies begun integrating beamforming into audio products.

What Makes Beamforming Audio Special?

While we’re only seeing the beginning of what it can do, beamforming technology has the possibility to create entire new product categories when it comes to audio. To get an idea of the possibilities, let’s look at how it’s already used.

One area where beamforming technology has been used in audio for years is noise cancellation in headset microphones. The idea is that part of the microphone array focuses specifically on your voice, while other microphones pick up any noises around you. The headset then uses DSP to subtract those distracting other sounds from the audio so your voice sounds clear.

While beamforming for noise cancellation is handy, it’s not necessarily impressive to behold. For that, you’ll need to look at how beamforming audio is starting to change the world of soundbars.

At CES 2023, Razer introduced the Leviathan V2 Pro, a soundbar that combines beamforming audio with head tracking for some truly impressive audio trickery. By using head tracking, the soundbar can follow you around the room. Combining this with beamforming audio’s pinpoint accuracy, you can have audio follow you around the room.

The Leviathan V2 Pro works in two ways, as described on the Razer website. For surround sound, the soundbar creates a virtual speaker array that follows you around the room. This means that regardless of where you’re located in the room, you’ll hear the sound as if you were sitting in a traditional home theater system’s sweet spot.

For stereo content like music, there isn’t the same need for a virtual speaker array. Instead, the soundbar uses THX Spatial Audio to create a virtual headset. It’s like walking around the room with headphones on, only you don’t have to actually wear the headphones.

This means you can watch a movie that sounds like it has room-shaking sound to you without bothering anyone else late at night. Soundbars with different volume levels for everyone watching would have sounded like a tough nut to crack a few years ago, and now it seems right around the corner.

How Beamforming Audio Works

Beamforming audio, at least when it comes to listening, is all about placing sounds at specific volumes at precise positions. This is powered by digital signal processing, as well as two concepts known as constructive and destructive interference. While these concepts apply to waves in general, we’re only looking at the audio aspects.

Because waves don’t have material substance, they can occupy the same point in space. When this happens, you get interference. Constructive interference happens when two sound waves are aligned with each other, resulting in a signal that is much louder than the original.

On the other hand, destructive interference happens when two sound waves are out of alignment (also known as “out of phase”) with one another. In this case, the sound waves cancel each other out, resulting in a much lower volume than either of the original waves.

Two signals perfectly out of phase, cancelling out the sound
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

Any product using beamforming audio relies on these concepts as well as digital signal processing to handle the math. This use of phase to manipulative volumes is very similar to how active noise cancellation (ANC) works.

How Can I Get Beamforming Audio?

Fortunately, you don’t need to understand beamforming audio to reap the benefits. That’s good news because we’re surely going to see much more of this technology in the near future.

If you want to try out a beamforming speaker right now, there isn’t much on the market yet besides the Razer Leviathan V2 Pro, which ships on January 31, 2023. Like any new technology, beamforming audio has a price tag attached. That said, it’s not astronomical—in Leviathan’s case $400. While that isn’t cheap and it’s just a desktop soundbar, plenty of soundbars go for much more than that. So take note of your audio needs and consider whether it makes sense to wait until more beamforming audio solutions arrive before you make a purchase.

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Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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