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SoundFi has created a way to bring immersive 3D audio to ordinary headphones and smartphones, and the company is releasing an iPhone app to improve sound for the The Equalizer 2 movie opening on Friday.

The free app will work with ordinary headphones and smartphones that viewers take to the theaters (four theaters in Los Angeles and one in Arizona) where the movie is playing. It promises to improve the movie experience through its “binaural” audio, SoundFi said. This is one of the ways that movie makers and theater owners hope to bring more people back into theaters.

A lot has happened since I met with SoundFi at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. To review, the Los Angeles company’s new format adds the fluidity of a surround-sound system to your headphones. It modifies content in a spatial way, so that sports, movies, and other content can be enjoyed as they are meant to be experienced.

Above: SoundFi users binaural audio to produce immersive 3D sound.

Image Credit: SoundFi

Downloading the SoundFi: At the Movies iOS app gives you the ability to play sound for a movie in the spatial audio format. You select the movie, download the sound for it, and then fire up the app in the theater. You can even use the app to listen to the film in a different language through your headphones.

In the theater, you can sit in any seat and put on your headphones that are connected to your smartphone. You don’t have to worry about being in the sweet spot of the sound system, and the sync is automated, said SoundFi cofounder Chris Anastas.

I’m no audiofile, but when I listened it sound fuller, louder, and with deeper bass than headphones I’ve used in the past. Some theaters definitely have fancy sound systems, but SoundFi-enhanced headphones play a synchronized version of the movie’s sound to ensure the sound quality is high.

“SoundFi: At the Movies is a smartphone app to allow you to enjoy the SoundFi format in an auditorium,” Anastas said. “Binaural audio is completely different from hearing sound from a loudspeaker. It requires headphones, and it’s personalized for you. It gives you an idea of the direction the sound is coming from.”

The technology is the brainchild of Anastas, who has been working on it for more than five years. They started the company in 2014 and raised $3 million in an early funding round. They unveiled the tech at CES 2018 and within 24 hours received a call from an agent at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which eventually led to Fuqua getting involved.

Antoine Fuqua, director of the Colombia Pictures film The Equalizer 2, has joined as executive adviser and partner with SoundFi. The film, which stars Denzel Washington, will be the first of a number of movies to use the SoundFi format, Anastas said.

“As a movie fan, you want to disappear into a film,” Fuqua said in a video. “You want to forget everything else going on in your life and disappear into a movie. SoundFi allows you to do that in a way that’s unique.”

The CES appearance also paved the way for SoundFi to raise an additional $2.2 million, Anastas said. Theater owners could find it easier to promote SoundFi than to install an expensive surround-sound system. Over time, SoundFi is likely to start charging a fee for each movie soundtrack that a user downloads.

An Android version is coming soon.

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