MP3 inventor promises to reveal Dolby Atmos-beating audio for headphones

The co-creator of MP3 wants to invite you to a listening PARty that promises the most lifelike sound you've ever heard

Dr Karlheinz Brandenburg
(Image credit: Brandenburg Labs)

Not all tech innovators become household names, so while you're probably heard of the MP3 music format you probably haven't heard of its co-creator, Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg. But he's a man you should be paying attention to, because he might just have invented the tech for your next spatial audio headphones.

Brandenburg's company, Brandenburg Labs, says it's got something special to show you at next month's CES trade show: what it calls "the first truly immersive audio experience" delivering realism beyond what any other technology can currently offer. It has a terrible name, the Brandenburg Labs Audio Augmented Reality Headphone System, but the tech is known by the slightly less rubbish PARty (short for "Personalised Auditory Realities"). 

The organisation is making big claims: "This is the first time a system with this level of immersion has ever been shown at a consumer electronics show," it says.

So what's Dr Karlheinz been up to?

There ain't no party like a personalised auditory realities PARty

According to the good doctor, the new headphone system is the answer to a question he's been asking since the creation of MP3: "How can we get better audio quality over headphones for a more realistic spatial experience to sound similar to real-world situations?" To deliver his dream of "the perfect audio illusion", Brandenburg has been working with partners including MP3 parter the Fraunhofer Institute and the Technische Universität Ilmenau to study how the brain works when we're listening to audio.

According to Dr Karlheinz, the result is a headphone system that "gives you a true sense of spatial sound via headphones better than anything else you have ever heard." It does that by creating personalised audio that reduces background interference and increases the volume of whatever audio source you're currently focused on.

The doctor has gone into a bit more detail on the Fraunhofer website, where he suggests that the system is a mix of noise cancelling, spatial audio and conversational awareness designed to pinpoint where sound is coming from and make it better – not just for music but for speech and situational awareness. 

I'm intrigued by this, but I'm not expecting the January reveal to be a production-ready prototype: the doctor has previously said that the full potential of the technology is still some way from being realised. But unlike with MP3, where the target was professional audio systems, this time the initial target is ordinary consumers like you and me. So I'm fascinated to see what is going to be revealed in just a few weeks time.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (