Headphones are great for listening in private, but they don’t have the ability to create the imposing “soundscape” found when listening to a pair of speakers — the one cutting you off from the physical world whereas the other takes advantage of the spatiality of the environment as the person’s head moves in relationship to the sound. So how do you duplicate that immersive, 3D sound field where your brain is creating a sense of three-dimensional audio depth? The answer is to use Wave’s Nx Head Tracker for Headphones.
Physically the Nx is very unimposing: barely the width of a playing card and half its length, with the only “moving” part being the ‘AAA’ battery compartment on the bottom. You put on your headphones (any headphones), place the Nx against the top of the headband’s arc with the L/R signage on each side corresponding to the appropriate ear cup. Then wrap the Nx’s attached strap around and over the tab to hold it in place (or use a rubber band, makes no difference). A single top-mounted button (with LED on the other side) does it all: short press for pairing via Bluetooth, long press to disconnect/place the Nx in standby. Looking at the LED shows whether it’s connecting/connected; whether the battery is running low; whether it’s identifying or updating.
The Nx will now be functioning similar to that of a camera head tracking system — only there’s no camera involved. This also means that in comparison to a webcam (which can only track head movements in +/- 30 degrees versus Nx’s 360), the tracking speed is faster and there’s less CPU consumption on the computer.
Now what the Nx provides is a bit hard to explain but extremely easy to hear. Listening to music (i.e., audio) and turning one’s head while wearing headphones doesn’t change the sound one whit. With the Nx in play, the audio now seems to be more realistic and natural sounding — giving the impression that the sound is coming from a fixed set of speakers (hence the reason why the head tracking is necessary, so as to keep the “fixed positions of these speakers constant). This adjustment of the “soundscape” can be readily heard by turning the functionality On/Off while listening to a song (as example, take The Cars “Good Times Roll Live” to hear it go from a cat wailing of scratchiness to an enjoyable blending of the guitars and drum set).
Waves makes an app (iOS/Android) as well as software for PC/Macs. But there’s also the Nx Virtual Mix Room plugin for mixing 7.1, 5.1 and 5.0 surround sound on stereo headphones. The Nx Head Tracker for Headphones retails for $79.00 and requires Bluetooth 4.0 BLE to function. It also requires a willingness to go beyond the sedate two-dimensional attitude and open up one’s ears to 3D audio.