Hear360 begins shipping its ASMR-ready omni-binaural microphone, the 8ball

Magic 8-Balls have been known to hold some disappointing, trivial answers to teenage life’s hardest questions, but one LA startup is hoping to find success in them. Hear360 has just begun shipping pre-orders of 8ball, a souped-up binaural 360 microphone rig geared toward professionals that are all about experimenting in new immersive mediums.

The 8ball is an “omni-binaural” microphone, meaning it captures 360 audio of a space using four pairs of omnidirectional mics. The effect is 8 tracks of sound that envelops the listener wherever they turn, something pretty essential for virtual reality specifically. The unique design involves a custom clamping mechanism that means the rig can be mounted below a 360 camera and stay out of the shot, capturing sophisticated audio invisibly as a result. Buyers of the $2,500 8ball will get a bunch of pro plug-in tools so they can fit the product into their editing pipeline with ease. The system is available for order here.

CEO Matt Marrin and his co-founder CTO Greg Morgenstein got together in 2016 with the idea of a high-end microphone system that got everything right. The audio engineers bootstrapped the company the best way they knew how, funding the project by continuing to mix records on the side. Last year, the team closed a $1 million round of funding from creative audio agency Grayson Matthews.

Capturing live action VR has always been a bit of a hacker’s enterprise. Different projects generally need different solutions for getting high-quality video and audio. Attempts at creating all-in-one audio/video professional solutions haven’t gone all that swimmingly; last year Nokia shut down its Ozo VR camera unit and laid off hundreds. The general feeling from the people I’ve been chatting with has been that there’s still a big demand for companies and tools to create VR well, but the scale has been overblown and the timelines are going to need to fall a bit more in line with reality.

“There’s definitely an evolving perspective on this space,” Marrin told TechCrunch. “As there’s a little bit of pullback in some areas, I think that there are other areas that are creeping into VR.”

With tools like 8ball, the team at Hear360 hopes that creators keep exploring 360 content, but they’re not putting all their eggs in the VR basket. The startup says that outside of VR production, there’s an opportunity to be had in the burgeoning and bizarre world of ASMR videos.

“If you do just one thing, and you only do it a certain way then it can be tough, and we’re seeing people fall off right now,” Marrin said.

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos are slightly unsettling clips that generally involve someone whispering into a camera and making noises in a way that makes viewers feel a tingle in the back of their neck, which some have called a “brain orgasm.” The videos have tens of millions of views on YouTube and they are growing increasingly popular. Given that so much of the sensation comes from what viewers are hearing, there’s a lot of potential for a high-end mic maker.

Whether brain orgasms and VR are enough to build a successful audio startup is anyone’s guess, but as Hear360 begins shipping out “hundreds” of its high-end microphone rigs, they’re looking for that answer… in the 8ball.