The Potential Future of Audio Engineering Education using the VR Virtual Studio XR

November 8, 2023

The Potential Future of Audio Engineering Education using the VR Virtual Studio XR

App for Oculus 2 VR headset. App by AudioFusion is currently free. Oculus headset $299  

https://audiofusion.com/virtualstudioxr/

Virtual Studio XR, a Virtual Reality (VR) tool from Audio Fusion, is designed to teach signal flow, mixing, and recording. During the pandemic, Audio Fusion popularized a product called SoundCheck 2D that was utilized by many of my colleagues to teach audio signal flow online. This software included various mixers and a full patchbay, as well as outboard gear such as compressors, EQs, and reverbs. Although it was useful during COVID-19 and is still a good supplemental tool in my recording classes, it was not until I tried the VR version that I realized this could be the future of audio engineering training. Virtual Studio XR can be used on a laptop (screenshot provided in Figure 1 below) but it is obviously not immersive. This review will focus on the immersive learning option, which is a completely different experience.

My institution ordered Oculus 2 VR headsets, as the software can be used as a standalone program with a simple download. When putting on the VR headset and launching the program, users are transported into a recording studio with a mixer, outboard gear, a full band performing in the live room, and even a 24-channel recorder. It’s hard to imagine what this experience feels like without trying it, but I hope to provide some insight on the pros, cons, and future applications of this technology.

Figure 1: Virtual Recording Studio

 Picture1

Pros:

The program provides a great way to learn signal flow in a VR environment: users feel like they are in a real studio and can move around the space to get physically closer to the gear needed. It is easy to get around the studio and start mixing. It takes a little time to learn how to move faders, adjust twist pan pots, and use the patch cables, but with a little practice the space is highly accessible. Students can practice adding inserts, using busses, and learning the effects of outboard gear. The environment is the closest replication of a real analog studio that I have seen.

Cons:

At the moment, only one song can be mixed, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Users cannot yet load their own tracks and must be careful where sitting or standing when launching the program, as some of the outboard gear could be below “floor level,” making them tricky to find. I hit my hand on the carpet trying to reach some of them. The tutorial needs to be improved a bit as it can be confusing to a new user. Patchbay functionality is one of the biggest issues. It’s very easy to plug a cable into a wrong hole and it becomes tricky to remove it based on the cramped nature of the closely positioned interactable nodes. Some of the outboard gear is not yet accessible although this is revealed to the user when launching the program. There should also be a way to save mix changes so that users can come back to the same mix in a different VR session instead of resetting a mix.

Eventually, users should be able to upload their own multitracks. A simple solution might be allowing users to import stems and name the channels based on the file names. The program’s greatest value is getting students acquainted with the workflow of a large-format tracking studio, so being able to bring in audio files would be a significant improvement. This could allow for assignments where students use their own recorded multitracks and mix them in the virtual studio, then have their instructor enter their session on a second VR headset to see what they did and discuss/adjust in real time in a shared VR mix room.

Conclusion

It is easy to see the future when using this beta VR program, but we aren’t quite there yet. In time, users will work with others in the same environment, upload their own tracks to mix high quality audio, and integrate everything with a digital audio workstation. The program presents a strong format for getting students accustomed to a large-format studio workflow with the board, patchbay, and outboard gear. Unfortunately, the execution is lacking, the user interface is cumbersome, and the functionality outside of the board, itself, is limited. Currently, only the board feels fully featured, which resembles the mix window of most digital audio workstations (DAW), but the outboard patching workflow is a unique and exciting feature for audio educators, if it improves usability. The final version will need to broach the gap between analog studio and DAW. The potential is there, but it currently fails to fully satisfy either front.

315 Last modified on November 11, 2023