What does the future hold for sound design and plug-in technologies? I see 3d audio plugins being released and becoming usable and affordable. What else does everyone see, if you still have your crystal balls in almost 2011?

What would you like to see/have happen?

  • what do you mean by '3d audio plugins' ??? Dec 27, 2010 at 20:48
  • i wondered that too? do you mean placement/spatialisation in 11.2 or like the isono system? The problem there is not the creators technology, it is the lack of delivery facilities
    – user49
    Dec 28, 2010 at 19:22
  • i meant 3d audio spatialisation plugins like those and others.
    – Chris
    Dec 28, 2010 at 20:21

11 Answers 11


I think the most obv answer is anything that taxes computing power now will become much more lightweight in the future. Things like noise reduction, reverbs, synths, that sort of thing will continue to forge ahead.

connectivity will increase as well so remote video serving and storage, remote mixing, iChat style mixing and cutting, cloud based sfx and music libraries, etc.

Interactivity will continue its rise, so wii and kinect style interfaces both for creation and playback of sounds will continue. Also, more and more mixes will happen at runtime outside of the videogame domain. People will be able to choose to mute dialogue and fx and just listen to the music, or vice versa. They'll be adding things and subtracting things from the tv mix because users will be more actively interacting with the content. This means more delivery of splits and reduced mix quality in the tv and internet world. TV and film may also go choose-your-adventure style, which means multiple mix versions to cover various user decisions.

speech synthesis and recognition will continue being perfected. At some point you'll just load in a script and just tweak computer voice inflections. Famous actors will be voice-modeled, and you'll use them like graphic designers use fonts.

budgets will go down or stay the same, expectations will continue to rise.

speaker technology will change and allow for more pinpoint placement of things either in a crowd of people or on the sonic stage. This will complicate mixing.

microphone technology will continue to evolve. mic arrays that extract point source material from dense sonic landscapes will come more into use.

Massive corporations will continue to consolidate and crush competition. Anyone that writes any software of use will be quickly consumed by Avid/Apple/Microsoft. Everything will continue to get cracked and distributed for free.

either that or none of that stuff will happen. :)

  • Avid/Apple/Microsoft can look to Cockos/Reaper for a nice rival to their plans!!!
    – Panozk
    Dec 28, 2010 at 17:04
  • "Famous actors will be voice-modeled" <- this I sincerely doubt. Its like saying a stradivarius violin can be modelled (except many multitudes more complex) - it can be attempted, but it is futile
    – user49
    Dec 28, 2010 at 19:20
  • I heard a stradivarius once. The lead violin from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra brought his into our studio to pick up a passage. Security was tight and while it sounded great it didn't exactly change my life. Really the voice modeling thing is a guess, though its based on the strides that text to speech has made in the last few years. I predict recognizable celebrity voices available probably within 10 years, though I agree that approaching perfection there is still (possibly much) further down the road
    – Rene
    Dec 28, 2010 at 19:40
  • @Rene Your future history of sound design technology reads a bit like a a Bukowski poem I have in my bookshelf somewhere... 'Radiated men will eat the flesh of radiated men...'
    – Kurt Human
    Dec 28, 2010 at 21:14
  • "Famous actors will be voice-modeled" <- Maybe so, but this will surely be cheesy, lack emotion and backfire much like that Microsoft's auto-music creator backfired and You-Tube videos like this: youtube.com/watch?v=22AWPW5s4EA&feature=related
    – Utopia
    Dec 29, 2010 at 3:24

Rene is on to something - I think you can make some predictions based on the state of the movie industry. Let's do this by the numbers:

  • Summer 2010 saw the worst movie theater attendance in 10 years. November (prime Christmas movie time), had the worst attendance in 15 years. 3D was not the savior of the industry.
  • In February of this year, Sony fired 450 people because of low DVD sales (not that it was their fault...) - about 12% lower this year than last. Blu-Ray sales have not been any better.
  • In late 2009, a survey showed that 46% of households owned at least one HDTV. With prices being low low low these days, I imagine that has increased significantly.
  • Netflix and Redbox had huge gains this year. KMart and Sears just launched an on-demand movie rental service, just as Amazon, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart have been doing. To top it off, Amazon and Disney have started offering on-demand copies of movies when you buy the Blu-Ray.
  • I am having trouble finding data on the television industry, but as always reality television is on the rise.

What does it all mean when it comes down to sound designers and how we will be working? Here are some of my opinions and ideas; I would love to hear what everyone thinks.

  • Designing for compression. Every radio station has a transmission audio processor that greatly affects the mix of a song. Many mixers now create several mixes - one for the radio with stripped back processing and one for the CD. I believe that films will need to have the same flexibility. Streaming video can change the dynamic of your mix in ways that are not pleasant. You've got to take that in to consideration - that massive explosion doesn't sound so huge compressed and then fed through sub-par HDTV speakers.
  • Working faster. This is what we all strive to do regardless, but I think more than ever you will need to do more work faster to make a living. There are some great plugins coming out that use a lot of processing power and take some time to do their thing - can you afford long processing times when you're trying to get work done?
  • Bit-rate and depth. Our favorite topic. This list is fascinating. At the end of last year, the number of Blu-Ray discs with 96k or higher sample rates was about a dozen. The number with uncompressed 48k, 24-bit was about 50. Blu-Rays have the capacity, but I don't believe the audiences that purchase the vast majority of discs care. Maybe my ears are not so great, but I have trouble telling the difference between different rates and compressions without a reference point to start. I do not see 96k being implemented any more than it has been.
  • Computers will get faster and cheaper. This we know. I believe plugins will have trouble keeping up with all the processing available. This might be in contradiction to the previous point, but it seems that a lot of plugins are not utilizing the hardware as well as they could.
  • Despite affordable HD cinema-looking cameras (Canon 7d, etc), affordable sound options (Zoom..), independent films will continue to look and sound poor. Being mostly within the independent realm, this is frustrating. The quality of work should be going up and challenging Hollywood, but it is not. Hollywood itself is doing some very cool movies - digital effects are more realistic, sound is sounding amazing - but its quality has decreased as well from story to production quality. I remember watching a movie shot on RED that was a wide release and had soft shots, terrible lighting, and some of the worst sound I've heard in a studio picture. As an aside - are we doing things now with sound that we couldn't have 10 years ago with maybe more effort? Are we just doing more cheaper?

This isn't exactly in line with the question asked, but I think there are some things to think about. I don't think there will be revolutions in audio, but definitely some evolution. Thanks for reading all of that, if you got through it!

  • 1
    nice answer! Re: the indie thing - I think that filmmaking is like all other complex jobs in that it requires years of constant effort and practice to achieve anything (see Gladwell's "Blink"). This means that advances in technology will do nothing to help novices who haven't put in the hours yet. Film has always been about storytelling, and those with that specific talent will be more able to put out films than ever, while those who can't tell a story will fail regardless of the technology available to them.
    – Rene
    Dec 28, 2010 at 18:07
  • 1
    True that @ rene
    – Chris
    Dec 28, 2010 at 20:23
  • @Rene True on story. I have mostly stopped working with writer/directors for that reason - they're either good writers or good directors. I think the other thing is an unwillingness to do proper pre-production so that technology can be used efficiently.
    – VCProd
    Dec 28, 2010 at 20:31
  • @VCProd Re: independent films - there are many great examples of independent films coming out of Europe, Asia, Australasia that equally match Hollywood in terms of production quality. I think that Hollywood will continue to dominate the film industry on a global scale but we will see the independent film sector bloom in the future. Dec 29, 2010 at 9:07
  • @Colin I think that's one of the positives of the ease of distributing media these days - I wouldn't get the chance to see so many great foreign films.
    – VCProd
    Dec 29, 2010 at 20:31

I'm looking forward to a Kinect-type interface for workstations in lieu of the standard QWERTY keyboard/tablet + stylus/trackball tools. Being able to stand and move around while working would be great from a physical well-being standpoint, since so many editors/designers suffer from back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and just a generally sedentary lifestyle. Would also make work more inspiring (and potentially less repetitious) to see and interact with audio and regions and timelines in a 3D space. Think Minority Report…

  • But then, you are going to start working without a good warming of the muscles and your body will collapse in less than 4 years. Better try to take regular brakes and buy a midi controller :-) And also after work why not take a gym class, or martial arts, you know, to help us with those difficult customers :-P
    – Panozk
    Dec 28, 2010 at 17:07

Kyma for Xbox. Pro Tools for iPhone, and Logic running on a mid-level microwave oven. Wristwatch 24/192 sound recorders. And the Euphonix MC Control will play Doom.

Democracy (and FFT for all). Moarr of everything for less dollar. Legislation against the use of the General series, especially doors. Appreciation of mid frequencies. Traffic removal plugins.

Anyway, back to Earth, hopefully more independent sound design libraries, small-scale control surfaces with automation features, tablet trackers & DAWs. Hopefully better listening environments.

p.s. footstep midi sensors, positional actor sensors and accelerometers, cloth noise synthesis, particle synthesis for cgi, if you so much love tech. (the cgi one is actually present)

  • I want this future. I've been trying to play Super Mario Kart on the MC Control and it sucks. :-) Jan 1, 2011 at 2:45

I'm in the interface-creation business professionally, and in terms of UI: Purely gestural UI will not and cannot be used constantly throughout the day for productivity due to fatigue and, most importantly, accuracy. The larger your muscles, the less accurate they are: Notice you actually move a mouse with your fingers more than your forearm (try it the other way and you'll see what I mean). But, it's highly probable that some input gestures used sporadically for certain things (like, say, app switching or Mac OS Exposé) could be important accelerators for productivity. I think the future of interfaces is pretty thrilling: I see a lot more alternative controllers on the horizon, and touch/multi-touch being built into a lot of things (we already have touch-sensitive faders, so extrapolate from there!).

In terms of actual sound design, here's my thinkin':

  • It's never been the case that software stands still while hardware leaps ahead...while that'd be nice, that also keeps opportunities for new workflows and options opening up. It also is what makes our legacy computers feel ever so slow when Version New of GreatDAW is released.
  • Because of that, things we now must render will be able to be done in real time.
  • Read about how cameras are evolving. They're proposing cameras where you can image many different depths and choose the plane of focus you want in post. Apply that to channels of audio, or recording levels, or 3D sound fields, etc.
  • The newest realtime synthesis methods from game design - which finally actually sound amazing - will be pulled into linear media workflows.
  • Procedurally-created sound for common objects that can be computer modeled will be realistic enough that they can compete with real-world recordings. This has already been demonstrated with breaking glass and other materials. Imagine sound sources as plugins, like Logic's Structure instrument on realism steroids.
  • Great answer! +1! Sorry, but I have to ask: Do you use a mouse or a trackball?
    – Utopia
    Dec 31, 2010 at 18:17
  • @NoiseJockey, excellent answer and very thoughtful insights. Thanks! You paint the future as a very fun place indeed… Dec 31, 2010 at 18:37
  • @Ryan: My main interface devices for work and play, across sound and other media, are: Wireless 7-button mouse, Wacom Intuos tablet, Apple Keyboard, Korg NanoPad, MIDI keyboard controller, and MC Artist series control surfaces. I've tried many a trackball, and even those tower-style mice that have your wrist 90° to normal mousing position, and I keep going back to the Logitech mice. Those just fit my hands the best! Dec 31, 2010 at 20:18

Having just got my hands on an iphone 4 It'll be interesting to see how things will develop in terms of sound design and mobile apps. Having all the touch screen interactivity, motion control type gubbins and wireless control opens up a lot of exciting possibilities.

What would be cool is if plugin/app makers developed something like AU/VST plugin that would could load up that basically acted as a 'host' (like an audio "Oscalator"?). The audio streaming via wifi to your iPhone/iPad to an app that processed it in whichever app 'plugin' you had. For example using touch screen and accelerometer movement to control say a filter or morphing effect (I'm imagining something like Prosoniq Morp as an app! lol). Once processed its then streamed back to the 'host' AU/VST plugin in you DAW and hey presto!

Maybe? ;)

Who knows.. but I'm sure lots of cool things for sound design will develop


I'm not advertising anything here, but the future is really close, heh, Reaper v4 is planned for release and this is the most open/full of features/lightweight/audio quality-centric sequencer a sound designer can have. Full with features we prayed for years, scripting, open SDK, many community tools.. And it's just like a transparent layer between you and your creations. And have you seen their new surround panner?

But for really futuristic stuff:

1) Open project format for all sequencers

2) Incorporation of syncing with other media related applications, like syncing time with Maya's timeline for animation and audio playback from your sequencer

3) Real time streaming from my master-bus or auxiliary-bus for customer's review overIP

4) Better quality for the voice processing tools due to more processing power and new techniques

5) A true hi-end ambisonics field recorder with hd camera on top of that

Many wishes to all for a creative and happy new year!!!



I hope my future includes an entirely malleable form of sound manipulation simultaneously in the time and frequency domains. Effortlessly with real time rendering at very high sample rates and using an intuitive but complex interface - like learning an acoustic instrument rather than studying for a computing degree.... I could see it in some ways as being a 3d holographic interface like a waterfall spectral display but with force feedback gloves (sub sounds are heavier etc) so you can grab frequencies, alter dynamics, placement & alter them.... Overlaying multiple source elements can optionally involve merging, convolution, parameter morphing etc, all with instant super high resolution analysis and resynthesis, where the resynthesis is indistinguishible from the original... It also incorporates spatialisation/placement for 11.2 and beyond including motion tracking for video and/or live audio/ visual/data feeds... It runs on a future version of the ipod nano

Closer to reality/immediate future, I'd love it if Waves actually developed their Doppler plugin - it hasnt been updated since I bought it five or ten years ago!?! Grrrrrrr.... Where is the LCR support? 5.1 support? 7.1 support? Variable speed/acceleration/deceleration movement? Variable proximity in approach/passby/away? Weather/humidity factors? Imho it is the best plugin they have ever made, and it is a great shame its been left to gather dust

  • Oh yeah, they should update that if they can get around to it
    – Chris
    Dec 28, 2010 at 20:33
  • I really like enigma and mondo mod
    – Chris
    Dec 28, 2010 at 22:13
  • +another on the doppler thing. It really could be great if they spent some time on it.
    – Rene
    Dec 29, 2010 at 4:52
  • The introduction of wave field synthesis in cinemas. This will make doing sound much more difficult, but it will also add a level of realism that has the power to pull people from their 'surroundy' home setups into the theater.

  • A transparent, foldable mat that you can cut to size and stick on any computer screen, lcd, plasma or wall, that adds multitouch functionality. The force feedback gloves as mentioned by Tim are an optional extra for if you want to feel the virtual faders and knobs and sounds.

(cool topic btw!)


Enhancements to the DNA plug-in so that it works timbrally as well as spectrally. That way we can separate out anything.


I am writing a book about vibrating energies and sound is discussed thoroughly. Here is what I predict in the future of sound technology: There will be 3D sound, speaker and microphone technology will totally change in concept, voice recognition and production is in its infancy, new musical instruments, music beamed silently directly to the brain, sound behavioral management of organisms and our brains, sound in physics and medicine will have new discoveries, recording sound from other dimensions and possibly the past. To top it off I can see this coming sooner than we think: keyboards, switches, rotary and digital controls will become a thing of the past. Some day kids will ask their parents "what was the dial on a telephone for?" Why did they have switches on things, as voice recognition and synthesis will do away with having to press buttons, and even beyond that the sound recognition technology to control things will be surpassed with direct control from just thoughts from our brains. My god maybe we will end up just being brains on a pedestal or just pure thought energy?

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