A supposedly new way of listening to music is spreading widely across WhatsApp and elsewhere, with a message promising that the sound will "blow your mind".
The audio – identified as "8D technology" and being passed around among friends on the app – is a clip of a song that is an example of a technique that has become increasingly popular on other sites like YouTube.
Despite the effect being called "new music" in the message that accompanies, the sound is not all that new. It has grown slowly on a variety of sites in recent years, and those acquainted with it have listened to some examples millions of times, but it has remained in its own niche.
Still, the viral WhatsApp clip is the first time that many people have heard the effect, leading the audio to spread rapidly across the internet.
"Blown my mind," the message that is being forwarded around with the audio begins. "Listen to this song with headphones (put on the 2 headphones)."
"It is the new music of the Pentatonix, composed with 8D technology. Listen to it only with headphones. It will be the first time that you will listen to that song with your brain and not with your ears."
The technique uses intense audio effects to give a sense that the sound is coming from around your head, by adding an increased sense of spaciousness to the music. It does so using a combination of different processing methods, which together give the sound that has come to be known as "8D audio".
Together, the effects trick the brain into perceiving the sound as coming from somewhere in 3D space. That gives the impression not only that the audio is coming from in front of or behind the listener, but that it is somehow coming from outside of the ears.
The most obvious effect being used is that the sound is panned from ear to ear: in almost all "8D" audio, this effect is very intense and gives the sense that the sound is tracking between your ears. But there are a variety of other effects being used that give the impression of an increased sense of spaciousness to the sound.
As such, the sound is not really 8D, and it is not clear where that name came from. It could more accurately be described as 3D, compared with most music's 2D approach, in that it uses technology to give an artificial sense of depth as opposed to focusing on the simple left and right of more traditional stereo recordings.
Blown my mind.
Listen to this song with headphones (put on the 2 headphones).
It is the new music of the Pentatonix, composed with 8D technology. Listen to it only with headphones. It will be the first time that you will listen to that song with your brain and not with your ears. pic.twitter.com/kbvpmGwTa8— Tara Sorkin (@Tara_Sorkin)March 26, 2020
While the WhatsApp audio is now perhaps the most famous example of the effect, YouTube is full of songs that have been edited using similar technology to give the same intense 3D effect. Many popular songs are available with similar sounds, with some artists such as Billie Eilish apparently proving particular popular.
And the effect is far from new. Perhaps the first example of it to go viral happened more than 10 years ago, with the "virtual barbershop", that uses similar effects to give a sense that people are really moving around your head.
In the comments on that video, a number of fans suggest the technique is related to ASMR, the pleasant effect that some experience when listening to certain kinds of sounds, and which is also a popular genre on YouTube. Many ASMR videos are recorded using binaural microphones, which simulate the human head and allow for the audio to capture the way the sound would move around the hearer's head in real life.