Immersive chat startups have a very different vision for the future of voice

What happens when startups look to build on the trendiness of podcasting and social audio platforms while injecting them with some of virtual reality’s weirdness? Turns out, plenty of founders are already experimenting with that strange question.

As audio-centric platforms garner investor interest, virtual reality founders of old are trying to push 3D audio as the next evolution, presenting the tech in a way that looks entirely different from today’s voice chat platforms. Though some of these efforts have been in the works for a while, the fledgling platforms are a lot more interesting, as social efforts like Clubhouse take flight and investors continue to eat up audio startups.

They also build on Apple’s recent announcement that it’s bringing 3D audio support to the AirPods Pro, a feature which could allow immersive audio platforms to push even further toward realism.

3D audio is a technology that manipulates the sounds a user is hearing to correspond with where their ears (or an avatar’s) are positioned relative to those noise-making objects. The tech gives users a greater sense of spatial presence and has, to date, been primarily used to improve AR/VR experiences with Google, Facebook and Valve among the companies that have shipped their own 3D audio toolkits.

As more startups look to leverage the tech, they’re finding that adjusting audio based on how close you’re getting to another user onscreen can make it pretty easy to leave and join groups, clustering in apps like people would in real-world conversations.