The beginning of March saw spatial audio specialist, Sonosphere, take part in a world-first performance at the 5G Festival Showcase. Underpinned by 5G technology, it involved 21 artists playing simultaneously across three of the UK’s most iconic music venues: Metropolis Studios, the O2 Blueroom at The O2 and Brighton Dome.

Over the last two years, nine heavyweight organisations –Audiotonix, Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival, LiveFrom, Mativision, Metropolis Studios, Sonosphere, Virgin Media O2, and Warner Music Group – have worked collectively with Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technology, to explore the untapped potential of 5G for the live music industry and provide a blueprint for how technology could play a key role in the future of the sector as part of the wider £200m DCMS 5G Testbeds & Trials Programme.

This ground-breaking festival experience was held to celebrate the climax of the award-winning 5G Festival project. It showcased the technical achievements made during the project and demonstrated the potential role advanced digital technologies could play in the festival of the future.

Headliners included double-platinum album selling singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner and Brighton-based Alt Folk band Memorial, both playing in Brighton Dome’s iconic Concert Hall to an in-person audience. Rising stars, BRIT Award nominee and voice of the 2021 John Lewis Christmas Ad, Lola Young, and Natalie Lindi, part of the MOBO Unsung Class of 2021, performed live in the O2 Blueroom at The O2. They were joined by seamless backing vocals, drums and keyboard from Brighton Dome, and guitar and percussion live from Metropolis Studios in West London. London-based rock duo Pearl Harts did a stand-alone performance at Metropolis Studios, which was live streamed to the other venues as part of the hybrid festival experience.

Sonosphere was responsible for leading all the trials for the entire project, which started back in March 2020 and were headed up by renowned monitor engineer, Andy ‘Baggy’ Robinson. Over the course of the project, tests were carried out to see how much latency three musicians in remote spaces could tolerate. Those results became the benchmark for further trials and ultimately the showcase. Duncan Bell, who joined Sonosphere as a director in October 2021, managed the Sonosphere team in the lead up to the showcase.

“This is one of the most exciting projects I have ever been fortunate enough to have taken part in,” says Sonosphere Director, Jamie Gosney. “In June 2021, we had six musicians playing across three venues. Standing in the middle of the Concert Hall at Brighton Dome and hearing these musicians, who were 60 miles apart, play together like they were in the same room was a very moving experience and one I will never forget.”

For the showcase itself, Sonosphere created a 7.1 mix for the in-venue stream in the Founders Room at Brighton Dome, the live audio in Brighton Dome Concert Hall and the O2 Blueroom, and a binaural feed for the live stream for people watching on their mobile devices at home. It also supplied a binaural stream for a 5G equipped electric bus, which travelled from Metropolis Studios to The O2 the previous day.

Sonosphere’s Senior Mix Engineer, Phil Wright, was responsible the live stream audio, taking 200 channels of audio from the 21 musicians spread across the three venues into Sonosphere’s 3D studio at Metropolis Studios, mixing and spatialising the audio in the studio and then sending it back out to people watching the live streams and for the remote venue streams.

Sonosphere worked closely with d&b audiotechnik to design live immersive audio systems for Brighton Dome Concert Hall, the Founders Room and the Blueroom at The O2. d&b’s Jack Page oversaw the FOH sound in the Concert Hall, while Sonosphere’s Pete Fletcher was responsible for the remote sound at Metropolis Studios, with Colin Walker working across all three venues and on the bus.

“At the beginning of the project, we weren’t sure this could be done; people had tried in the past with unacceptable levels of latency,” says Sonosphere Director Jamie Gosney. “However, working with Audiotonix who brought their incredible audio networking skills to the fore, along with 5G experts at Digital Catapult, we finally got the latency down to an 8ms round trip from venue to venue. That’s quite astonishing! I believe, as a team, we have achieved something truly ground-breaking and potentially world changing. I am so proud that Sonosphere has played a small part in this amazing project.”

As this chapter of the project draws to a close, Sonosphere is still in close contact with the rest of the technical partners from the project and is set to take what they have achieved, build on it and create a viable product to connect artists and audiences around the world.