Forget the arguments surrounding visual 3D and its longevity with regards to mainstream cinema, the cool new innovation in film this year comes courtesy of German audio company Sennheiser. The company which has for years been at the forefront of sound technology and improvement has unveiled its impressive AMBEO (Ambient Stereo) Smartphone Headset, a clever little gadget which allows its users to record in perfect binaural audio using just a smartphone.
Teaming up with acclaimed horror director Roxanne Benjamin (XX, Southbound) in her latest short film Final Stop, a film shot entirely on an iPhone using the aforementioned 3D headset, Sennheiser aim to prove that you don’t have to spend millions to achieve binaural perfection, and if Benjamin’s film is anything to go by, they appear to have done just that.
In Final Stop, which premiered at FrightFest last month, the main protagonist (played by Australian actress Phoebe Tonkin) is on her way home from the city on a night bus. She soon notices a shadowy figure in the back of the bus whose face is obscured by a hood. As her nervous journey continues into the night and more people are seen getting off the bus, the figure gets closer and closer prompting the young woman to disembark earlier than planned, finding herself in a deserted area of the city. But as she gets off the bus, our heroine soon realises that she isn’t alone.
While the twist in Benjamin’s film offers a ballsy and fiendishly satisfying denouement, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Final Stop resides in the way we, as an audience, experience sound. And even though her film is dialogue-free, Benjamin has managed to create a commendably realistic cinematic atmosphere which more delivers on thrills and chills thanks to the unique way it was recorded.
Capitalising on the horror genre obsession with silence and sparsity of dialogue, Sennheiser’s new binaural technology aims to bring something completely new to the table. And while Surround Sound offers perfect stereo, what this product does, is that it allows sound to wrap the film around your head rather than come at you from left and right.
Capturing sounds as faint as the wrestling of a newspaper or even that of a bus engine running from afar, 3D sound allows audiences to feel fully submerged in the story, which in turn adds to the immersive experience. Having made a deliberate choice not to feature the product on screen at any point, one does get the impression that both Sennheiser and AMBEO director Uwe Cremering are far more interested in getting the innovation itself out there for people to consider, than just simply capitalising on the headset itself.
Speaking to us after the European premiere of the film, Cremering says: “Strategically, our company believes in 3D audio and that’s the reason why we have to educate people on the benefits of binaural technology. Our hope is that we make people curious about it and make them understand that in today’s world, everybody can make a professional movie with a set of headphone and a small microphone, and this is the message behind this whole experience.
“We wanted to let viewers experience the remarkable emotional quality 3D audio can lend to any film and with Final Stop, Roxanne tapped the full potential of the AMBEO Smart Headset in providing a frighteningly lifelike audio experience.”
On the whole, Sennheiser has managed the impossible by offering a whole new technology and making it available for anyone who wishes to use it. And if the rumoured low price is anything to go by, this is sure to captured the imagination of any budding filmmaker wishing to experiment with sound.
Having personally played around with the AMBEO headset, I can report that using it to record a video couldn’t be simpler. The headset, which you can plug into an iPhone, boasts small microphones located in each earpiece which will allow you to capture 3D sound to complement any videos you may record using an iOS device. In my case, I used an iPhone 7 whilst wearing the headset, this allowed me to record from all directions, which in turn makes the whole thing feel so much more immersive.
Final Stop was screened as part of the FrightFest programme