Experience the Sound of a Sonic Boom Through a Photographer's Ears

This video of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket sending a Tesla into space is extra special. Why? Because of 3D sound. Grab your headphones, as this is truly immersive audio.

The private aerospace company SpaceX, founded by world-famous billionaire/possible super-villain Elon Musk, has just put a car in space. Not only that, but two of its boosters returned back to their respective landing zones within about one second of each other. This astounding feat of engineering was all captured by enterprising young photographer Trevor Mahlmann. But Mahlmann didn't just record the event like any ol' photographer, he recorded the audio using a 3D audio microphone, creating what's known as binaural 3D immersion. If you haven't experienced this before, prepare to have your mind blown.

In the video, Destin Sandlin, of the popular YouTube science channel Smarter Every Day, starts off by telling us about his other channel The Sound Traveller, a channel dedicated solely binaural 3D immersion videos. He then tells us to put our headphones on (correctly) and imagine that we are one of 20 photographers allowed on to the roof of NASA's vehicle assembly building. After we've acclimatized to all the subtle nuances of 3D sound, he asks us to listen out for the camera shutters firing off all around, the roaring of the rockets, and finally, he asks us to see if we can identify an aircraft and its relative position from its sound. After a break in the recording, Sandlin next asks us to listen out for the six sonic booms emanating from the "falling" boosters.

It's hard to describe the sound in this video, but it actually made my hairs stand on end. 

I love to hear any ideas you guys have of where you could apply this technology to your workflow. Maybe immersive wedding videography? Relive the moment where Uncle Jerry, in the fifth row to the right, let one rip during the nuptials.

Shout out to Fstoppers reader Tor Ivan Boine for bringing the video to our attention.

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Wayne Denny's picture

The first time I heard the shuttle come back after moving to Florida, I thought something really huge exploded. I live in Orlando, and it would rattle the windows. Really cool. You could always tell who the newbies were, because the natives were totally used to it. "Oh that? It was a sonic boom. Nbd."

Mike O'Leary's picture

So cool. I've often heard sonic booms over southern Ireland, presumably from RAF aircraft. Those were quite a distance away, though.

Kyle Medina's picture

That was satisfying. I love this channel...and VSAUCE.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Hey! Michael here. I love VSauce, too.

Yep, the big rockets sound great but I've got that beat due to proximity. The experience in the video below is amongst the loudest consistent noise I have ever been exposed to. The video, as loud as it is, unfortunately doesn't do the actual experience any justice. What's mostly missing is the deep roar, but at 1:04 you can kind of get an idea of what it is like because the position of the phone recording it is briefly just right to give a better impression. You would feel the insides of your body vibrating like jello if you were there. Those young spectators nearby, with formerly good hearing, are wearing ear plugs and ear muffs and that's not enough, as you can imagine. Then you have aircraft with two or more similar engines.

I much prefer the quiet these days, but yeah the rocket launch videos without good sound recording are far less enjoyable. Even much smaller rockets sound amazing when recorded properly. The video above did a good job with the recording.



Mike O'Leary's picture

Wow. I've never experienced sounds like that in the flesh. Bye bye, ear-drums.

Guile wins.

Mike O'Leary's picture

You've got it, Ron.

I've seen two final flights, the US half of the Apollo/Soyuz, and the final Space Shuttle launch. The sound of the Apollo launch was incredible; it was a rolling wave of continual thunder and I could feel vibrations in my chest area. The Saturn rocket took its time climbing the sky. The Space Shuttle leaped off the pad.
The Falcon Heavy is fast! I was surprised at how fast it left the launch pad, like the Space Shuttle.
But watching a video is not the same as being there. I was at the final landing of Atlantis; watching past landings on TV, the twin sonic booms sound like "BOOM! BOOM!". But in person, the Shuttle's sonic boom is more like "BANG! BANG!"
I wish that I could've seen and experienced the Falcon Heavy.

Sound is very funny in that depending on your position to the sound it can sound very different and the volume can vary dramatically. The boom boom and bang bang are both accurate, depending on where you are at. Weather conditions also greatly affect noise, as do the devices being used to record it.

Michael Kormos's picture

Watching the Saturn V launch must've been an experience. Its thrust and payload capability remain unmatched to this date, although I tip my hat to Mr. Musk :-)

Well, it wasn't a Saturn V, but a Saturn Ib since it wasn't a moon launch; but it was still impressive. I hope to see a first launch for when we resume launching astronauts.