Why Sound Technology Matters in Horror Movies

Published July 29, 2020, 1:38 PM

by Jonathan Castillo

Written by Enzo Luna

In the 1960s, cinemas didn’t have the kind of surround or digital sound we do today. And yet, you remember the ominous music, the scream and the running of water when you think of the shower scene from Psycho. Smartphone brands like OPPO and Vivo will develop commercially available mobile phones with fully integrated 5G components including system board, antenna, and with core technology based on user’s needs.

This is the wave of sound technology slated to happen in the smartphone mobility. Audio conversations and recordings are not the only thing that people need to enjoy on their smartphones. Same must go with how we listen to movie tracks.

Sound has come a long way from the time Hitchcock made Psycho. In theatres, and at home, you can now get immersive surround sound. Netflix introduced high-quality audio in 2019. This delivers audio over streaming that sounds closer to what creators hear in the studio, so every little detail is captured for a richer, more immersive experience. 

In 2017, when reviewing Stranger Things 2 with the Duffer brothers in a living room environment, the car chase scene in episode 1 didn’t sound as crisp as it did on the mixing stage (sound studio). The Product team at Netflix was determined to make it right. They were able to address the problem with a higher bitrate for the audio; and that’s how the idea of HQ audio came about. Work then went in to roll out this improved audio broadly.

Screenshot of virtual meet with Netflix and media.

Netflix introduced high-quality audio in 2019. This delivers audio that sounds closer to what creators hear in the studio, so every little detail is captured for a richer, more immersive experience. 

What is studio-quality sound?

In a professional recording studio, the sound is always as rich and crisp as possible. A big reason for this is that Studio mixes are uncompressed, which is why they are often called the “master” version. 

These big files (if you want to get technical, typically, 24-bit 48 kHz with a bit rate of around 1 Mbps per channel) need to be compressed for them to be fit for streaming, or even broadcasting. What HQ audio achieves is perceptually transparent sound. So while it is compressed, it is indistinguishable from the original source (the studio mix), retaining every little sound, its crispness, and the movement or direction of the sound. 

How to enjoy High Quality audio at home

Nearly all streaming devices and smart TVs are capable of 5.1 audio. or Dolby Atmos can receive immersive sound. And you get HQ audio on all Netflix plans (though you get Dolby Atmos on Premium only). What you need then is a smart TV, any 5.1 or higher speaker system plugged into it. Using ARC (basically, HDMI that carries video and audio output from TV; your smart TV should mention it at the back) is an easy way to connect your TV to your soundbar. 

You also get HQ audio (5.1) even if internet speeds are a little slower, or fluctuating. Since just like video on Netflix, the audio is also adaptive. Basically, instead of the sound being delivered to you at a constant rate, it is delivered between 192kbps (lowest; at good quality) and 640kbps (highest, perceptually transparent). We don’t go higher than 640, because anything higher just uses more of your data without improving the sound. 

Of course, while sound plays arguably the most crucial role in horror, it also elevates several other genres such as action, nature shows, and anything with fast moving cars. Here are some shows/movies to watch, to experience immersive high-quality sound: 6 Underground, Our Planet, Extraction, Triple Frontier, The Witcher, Mowgli, Dark, Formula 1 Drive to Survive, The Irishman, Kingdom.

The role of sound in The Maid

With horror, perhaps more than any genre, the sound immerses the audience and brings them closer to the story. With The Maid, the supernatural beings behind its story are making their presence felt with sound design that compliments the film’s creepy look and intense moments.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear a crisp and clarity sound while you watch the film. That’s how 5.1 audio works.

From the ominous opening notes of the score and the tap-tap-tap of suspicious footsteps to the ear-piercing shrieks of a monkey and the wet gurgle that accompanies a victim’s death throes, sound design is crucial to the audience’s experience and plays a huge role in ensuring immersion into the film’s setting and atmosphere. In The Maid, the soundscape transports viewers across the film’s different acts, subgenres, and moods to deliver the story’s full impact and creative intent. 

While the camera captures footage that is processed for viewing in the finished product, a much smaller part of a film’s soundscape comes from what is recorded directly on set. Under the direction of the sound editor, foley artists work to create sound effects that evoke or amplify the right sensations for viewers – imagine the sharp schwing of a knife in motion, something you simply do not hear in real life. Sound editors, meanwhile, assemble all the sounds into a complete audio experience with every audible element – from voices to effects and music – seamlessly brought together in a way that makes sense to the storytelling and the viewers.

The Maid’s 5.1-channel soundscape was put together with the care and craft of the cinema sound experience, and Netflix’s studio-quality sound allows you to experience the terror with full immersion.

The Maid is currently one of the top trending movies to watch on Netflix today. The Maid is a 2020 Thai drama fantasy slasher film directed by Lee Thongkham, written by Lee Thongkham and Piyaluk Tuntisrisakul starring Ploy Sornarin. The film was released on Netflix on 9 July 2020.