I prefer listening to music (and movies) over loudspeakers rather than headphones. However, I listen to headphones every day, traveling, at the office, or late at night when the family sleeps. I have a love/hate relationship with headphones. I love the personal sound system at my ears, but I hate the “in the head” sound as a result of wearing headphones.
Some folks are not bothered by the “in the head” sound or actually prefer it. I appreciate everyone’s preference. For me, Redscape provides an excellent 3D representation of a stereo or multichannel mix similar to sitting in front of stereo speakers or multichannel system, but in an ideal “virtual” room. Coupled with accurate and precision head tracking, the illusion is so real, sometimes I forget I am wearing headphones. The best part? Affordable and easy to use.
Part of my loudspeaker bias is spending +10 years as a recording/mixing engineer with speakers in front of me at all times. Folks may realize how many hours go into mixing down tracks using reverb, digital delays, the Haas effect, impulse response of acoustics spaces, and other spatial effects, to create or “paint” a 3D soundscape in “stereo.” This is in addition to adjusting the level and tonal balance for each track. It is all an elaborate illusion. Redscape does a great job, to my ears, at rendering that elaborate illusion convincingly out of my head.
Redscape’s 3D virtualization software can be purchased standalone or with a head tracker. Depending on the listening scenario, I evaluated both. For example, while working in front of the computer, I make use of the 3D virtualization software while listening to music, but with no head tracker. For critical listening and/or watching movies, I am in sitting at my normal listening position in front of the loudspeakers. But rather than listening to the loudspeakers, I am listening over headphones with Redscape on and head tracker engaged. Eyes closed if just listening to music.
The software employs a virtual audio device driver that supports low latency WASAPI and ASIO devices. This means that if you are using Windows or a music player or gaming application, you can select the appropriate driver and get low latency audio, which is important in relation to the head tracker. The Redscape software operates at 96 kHz sample rate also to ensure low latency audio. All DSP calculations are performed using 64 bit floating point math.
With the head tracker on, I found no lag that I could discern and amazing accuracy and precision where just a degree or two of head movement is tracked. When you move your head even a bit, it tracks with the stereo positioning as if you were sitting in front of your own stereo. To my ears, as I moved my head, the location and tonal changes sounded just like in front of my stereo system. Cool virtualization.
I wanted to get a better understanding of how the 3D virtualization technology worked, so I reached out to Ryan, the designer of Redscape’s software. I asked Ryan, "So you are taking discrete channels of audio and using your algorithm, giving it a 3D virtualization mix?"
“Yes, exactly. Each discrete channel, of up to 7.1 channels of input, is individually spatialized in the proper location.
The Redscape algorithm does this over single driver (per ear) headphones by simulating what your ears hear when sounds come from different directions. It's all based on the Head Related Transfer Function
Imagine a loudspeaker that is placed to the right of you. You'd first hear the sound in your right ear, followed by the sound that wrapped around your head at the left ear. There is both a timing and a frequency response difference between the ears (higher frequencies are shaded by your head).
In addition to this, Redscape simulates a real room. Direct to reverberant ratio is part of what helps you to determine the distance you are from a sound source. The room simulation helps to get the sound out of your head, floating around you. How quickly a room decays, effectively how damped a room is, can be modified within Redscape.
The head tracker attaches to most any pair of headphones. It uses an accelerometer and a gyroscope to track your head orientation. Redscape takes your current head orientation, and renders what each ear would hear from those virtual locations.
Movies and games are an obvious use case, where you have 5.1 or 7.1 channels that can be spatialized, but I also really enjoy using Redscape for 2 channel music. I find tracks with fun stereo panning can work really well, like "Whole Lotta Love." Same with the hard-panned stereo Beatles tracks. When listening to 2 channel, Redscape doesn't attempt to turn it into a surround sound experience, it just renders the two channels in front of you as intended by the artist.”
I feel the explanation is clear and what differentiates Redscape from other products when taking into account the approach used and what the design goals are. I like that Ryan pointed out for stereo listening this is not a “surround sound” experience. This is key, as the point is to imagine being seated in front of an “ideal” stereo system in an “ideal” room. The virtualization of which is what one is listening to over headphones. So not only includes HRTF, but also room simulation and head tracking. All of which contributes to the 3D virtualization effect. And for the price, makes for an effective solution to eliminate the “in the head” headphone sound.
Set up and Configuration
Redscape’s help site has step by step instructions on how to install and configure the software and attach the head tracker. I am not going to replicate all the details here, but rather show how my system is setup and configured.
The head tracker comes in a small package with numerous straps to secure the tracker to the headphone and clips to secure the 3 meter USB cable to the headphone cable, plus a zipper sleeve to bundle the USB cable with the headphone cable. I fastened the head tracker to my Visio HP50’s with the supplied fasteners and zipper system. Took all of 5 minutes. I downloaded and installed the software which was a simple installation taking a couple of minutes.
Launching Redscape software and clicking on the gears icon:
The Audio I/O is the first property window we want to configure. Here I have chosen WASAPI input and output. I am using a Lynx Hilo as the converter and we can see the Redscape Virtual Audio Device selected as input and the output going to my Hilo DAC with various latency and buffer settings. That’s pretty low and should not notice any latency between the head tracker and audio (I didn’t notice any latency in use). I can get even lower latency by choosing ASIO and minimum latency in my Lynx Hilo USB Control Panel:
And then selecting the gear icon in Redscape and changing the Audio I/O to ASIO, we see the latency reduced next to nothing:
Very low audio latency for head tracking accuracy. Great for game mode, but it takes many tens of milliseconds of latency before we start to notice any lag.
For now, we can close the Audio I/O window and choose a source. In my case, I configured JRiver and Roon, both worked perfectly with Redscape. Here I am choosing the Redscape ASIO audio device in JRiver:
Change JRiver’s output format to 5.1:
This is because if the source is two channels, it passes through as stereo. But if I am watching movies, then 5.1 channels are fed directly to Redscape for 3D virtualization. I would select 7.1 if I had any media encoded in 7.1, but the movies I have are Dolby Digital 5.1. This way I can watch or listen to whatever content and not have to adjust any further controls. That’s it, ready to listen!
For Roon, from the menu, select Options, then Audio:
Enable Redscape. Once enabled, click on Device Setup which will bring up the dialog on the right. However, one needs to scroll down and click on advanced to get to the channel layout.
Here I selected 7.1 and is simply mapped to the Redscape 7.1 channels, so no matter what source content I select and how many channels, I am going to get the right channels sent to Redscape. Also note that in Roon I am using WASAPI.
Redscape has instructions for setting up 7.1. Channels in Windows:
Same as JRiver and Roon, we want to setup for all 7.1 channels to be mapped to Redscape 7.1 virtualization. The only wrinkle here is to click on Properties and then Advanced and set the highest bit rate possible at 44.1 kHz, which is likely 24 or 32 bits. We also need to configure Redscape for WASAPI.
Now that Redscape audio is setup and configured on all of my digital sources, we can now calibrate the head tracker.
Launch the Redscape application. The head icon on the main page UI should be flashing. The idea is to hold your head still until the flashing stops. This can take 10 seconds. Once the flashing stops, level and center your head between your speakers, imaginary or real, and click on Center on the main UI.
You can also click on the head icon and the head tracker window opens. This is useful to ensure your head movements are tracked in the right directions, which depends on how you attached the head tracker, i.e. which side the cable runs down plus the setting in the Head Tracker tab. When you move your head, it should be a real time mirror image of your movements. You may have to flip the switch in the Tracker Orientation if you look up and the head tracker image looks down.
The final piece of configuration I performed while listening over a period of time, in addition to adjusting the Room and Volume controls, is fine tuning my HRTF:
It is worth doing once you have tuned into the 3D virtualization sound for a while as one can “focus” the 3D virtualization I guess is the best way to describe it. It is amazing how focused in the 3D space in front of you it can be.
I left all other controls in their default positions. But a few points should be noted, such as the head tracker tab which has options to swap the left and right channels based on how you attached the head tracker to your headphones and which side the cable is on. The options tab gives you a few choices for swapping the rear channels with side surrounds plus options for putting Redscape in the task bar and showing tooltips. The speakers tab is set to 60 degrees, which is the industry standard for stereo and multichannel mixes. On the main Redscape window there is also an icon for a fully configurable parametric equalizer (PEQ) with 10 PEQ’s so one can tailor the response of your headphones to a preference or follow a set of predetermined PEQ’s for your particular headphones that you may find online. I did not use the PEQ as I am happy with the native response of my headphones as described below.
I am using the relatively inexpensive NAD HP50 headphones with Roomfeel. These headphones conform to the Harman Target Curve, in which I have eq’d more or the less the equivalent for my loudspeakers. So it comes as no surprise that the 3D virtualization sounds similar to my speakers, including subs! Sure, I could not “feel” the room shake like I would with the subs turned on, but the virtualization made it sound “like subs” instead of “in the head” bass sound. More on that in the subjective listening.
Now that we are all setup and configured, time to listen to some music and other media content.
Astute readers will note that this is my first review that does not contain some form of objective measurements. I could use my binaural mics like I have used before to record what I am hearing, but Redscape has a demo site to try the effect yourself. To tune in, try the Intro demo first as it identifies each 7.1 virtual speaker spatially located in the right position when listening to Redscape 3D over stereo headphones.
These are my subjective listening impressions after about 80 hours of media listening spread over a month time frame. It is just a summary with some highlighted content to describe how it sounded to me.
On regular rotation, Madonna’s mix sounds great with Redscape. The stereo illusion and depth of field sounds like my speakers in my room, except without the room modes! Not only do you get a sense of speaker directionality, but also the feel of being in a room as the sound is more diffuse. It does not sound “phasey”, but rather that diffuse sound that differentiates being in a room rather than in your head.
The bass sounds like it is coming from my subs in the room rather than in my head. While the house isn’t shaking, it is still a convincing effect.
When I toggled Redscape off and on during the song, I immediately kept switching it back to the 3D sound. At first it takes a little time to orient yourself to what you are listening to, but now I can’t go back to “in the head” sound.
Awolnation, “The Best” is an absolutely crushed DR4 affair. But if you turn it up loud, the +12 dB 36 Hz bass peak should pressurize your room if you have subs or speakers with woofers that can push some air.
It blows my mind that the sub bass sounds like it is coming from in front of me and in a room. Redscape has done a great job in balancing low sub bass and room sound with the rest of the tonal range. It is there, really deep sounding but not under or overpowering the rest of the mix.
As one can see on the spectral analysis chart, there is a +12 dB peak at 36 Hz relative to other frequencies. Given it is mostly a constant drone is why it should pressurize your room if ones speakers (and headphones) can do it. The HP50’s I use measure flat down to below 20 Hz, and using the Harman target curve, plenty of low frequency response, if you can get a good fit on these un-ergonomic cans. On the right is the end of the waveform display. Can you say clipped!
I don’t listen to much classical music, but when I saw 2001: a space odyssey, my mind was blown just sitting there in the theatre as the movie ended. Then The Blue Danube started playing. That did it for me. It was the perfect music ending to a mind blowing film. I had a huge smile on my face.
While the original motion picture soundtrack does not have a lot of low end, it makes up for it in the performance and the venue. Turning the volume up on The Blue Danube, the sound stage is like being at the concert hall with the sound floating in front of you with seemingly infinite depth of field with the reverb in the concert hall. Really an amazing recording and performance. The Redscape 3D virtualization was excellent on the 5.1 soundtrack I have on digital video. I can listen to this on repeat for a while ☺
Along the same lines, both Bladerunner soundtracks translate really well with Redscape’s 3D virtualization. I used the original Vangelis soundtrack with the long syth notes to fine tune the HRTF. The movies were excellent as well.
Another tune on regular rotation for me, Patricia Barber, Regular Pleasures. A very good recording with wide dynamic range. Patricia’s voice sounds excellent with Redscape enabled. No phasey sound or attempt at a surround sound, but rather listening to ideal stereo speakers in an ideal room. The 3D spatialization effect sounds like you’re at the jazz club listening. I am listening to it right now as I am writing this ☺ Switching back and forth with Redscape on/off, I tried listening for any digital artifacts with Redscape on and could not hear any degradation in sound quality at all. The drums and cymbals sound crisp, the s’s on Patricia’s voice are sharp and clear, even with the room diffusion. The bass and bass drum were solid and extended as there seems to be no limitation in frequency response. Just a wonderful listening experience to my ears. Note that this was with the virtualization only as I was not sitting in front of the speakers, but heads down at a computer station, writing this article.
On the other end of the spectrum from Space 2001, comes the fast paced animation and loud “Spider Man into the Spider-Verse.” The Sony Pictures intro is the new THX with killer sound rising to a crescendo that sounds like my room just imploded… over headphones – cool! Look at that sub level on the Redscape LF channel! All I need now is to attach a couple of bass shakers to my couch. Yah, that’s it, shouldn’t wake the family late at night!
This film is the epitome of the modern animation genre, so well recorded and mixed, sounds great over Redscape with precision 3D rendering of the scenes. Really well done.
Just for fun, sometimes my better half and I watch NFL and NCAA football. Sometimes I watch just to fall asleep 😉 So I wanted to check out what it sounds like over headphones with Redscape engaged. Sounds really good. I found I had to turn down the Room a bit as the broadcast has some effect on it to give it a bit of a room sound, so it was too much room with the default setting. Otherwise, full bandwidth and again, sounds like being in front of the stereo watching the screen. A good sense of being there.
I have Qobuz integrated with Roon. So when I remember a tune, I can search it up, like this one. I first heard Chaiyya Chaiyya in the movie, “Inside Man.” A cool Spike Lee joint and this was the intro song. I love the rhythm and the vibe. Towards the middle of the song is the start of low frequency drop kicks. Again sounds like subs in a room. Huge soundstage. Really well mixed. It’s a little long, but gives one time to identify all of the voices and instruments as it is a layered recording.
I love rock concerts. Cream Live at Royal Albert Hall has some incredible audio, just an excellent “live” recording. Quite the illusion with the eyes closed. In some ways feels like being at the concert hall sitting in front of the band about halfway back into the hall. The bass is nice and deep, the drums have punch, Eric’s guitar rips and wails and the vocals are spot on plus the “Hall” sounds great! You can hear the trademark “Albert Hall” echo off of Ginger’s drums – great stuff.
I really enjoy Redscape’s 3D virtualization software and head tracker. I think it is unique from the standpoint of providing a 3D virtualization of an “ideal” stereo or multi-channel system in an “ideal” room that one is sitting in front of. The HRTF algorithm, room simulation and head tracker all contribute to forgetting one is actually listening over headphones. Pretty cool effect. The best part, it is affordable and takes about 5 minutes to get up and running.
The “out of the head” effect and virtualization of speakers with a front sound stage is well done to my ears. The ability to fine tune the HRTF to focus the sound really helps to get the last bit of 3D virtualization tuned. It really does sound like you are in a virtualized room listening to a stereo/multi-channel system way beyond what I have experienced before with a variety of virtualization systems, including cross feeds and surround virtualization. I believe the combo of Redscape’s HRTF algorithm, room simulation and accurate/precision head tracker is what gives the 3D virtualization a good sense of realism.
I also like the simplicity of set up and not having to calibrate using in-ear microphones or Creative’s approach of taking pictures of ones ears or listening to one’s room/speakers, that maybe not ideal. For example, room modes or slap echo off bare walls or speakers that aren’t up to the task. Redscape’s approach bypasses all of that and makes it easy to just plugin, calibrate the head tracker in a couple of seconds and then you are listening to 3D sound.
I did not run into any issues during the evaluation. Everything worked perfectly with JRiver, Roon and Windows audio. I mostly adjusted the amount of Room to taste depending on the source material. Also, I just left the input on WASAPI and output on ASIO, that way I get Win10 sources in addition to JRiver Roon/Qobuz integration without having to do anything in Redscape.
For USD $200 for both the 3D virtualization software and head tracker, it is hard to go wrong. You can get a real sense of what it will sound like by trying Redscape’s demo page with your headphones (sans head tracker). I recommend starting with 7.1 Intro as it 3D virtualizes each speaker in the right location in your headphones. This will help orientate what you are hearing as you have now have both a visual and audible cue.
For me, no more “in the head” sound!
I hope you are enjoying the music in 2020!
Mitch “Mitchco” Barnett.
I love music and audio. I grew up with music around me, as my mom was a piano player (swing) and my dad was an audiophile (jazz). My hobby is building speakers, amps, preamps, etc., and I still DIY today.
I mixed live sound for a variety of bands, which led to working full-time in multiple 24-track recording studios. Over 10 years, I recorded, mixed, and sometimes produced over 30 albums. I am into Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and run an Accurate Sound Calibration service.