Sony's 360 reality audio is an object-based audio format (like Atmos of DTS:X) but for music. The company has demoed it in the past, but now the format is beyond the conceptual stage with streaming support from Tidal, Deezer and Nugs.net. You can use the technology with any headphones. Sony also demoed the technology working with a soundbar as well as with a "reference" (i.e. CES 2020 prototype) standalone speaker. Any way you listen, the idea is you get 3D envelopment, for a better listening experience.
With headphones, the technology "personalizes" the effect to the shape of your ears. Three quick selfies is all it takes to map you ears to work with 360 Reality Audio. With a speaker system you don't need any sort of profile to enjoy an expansive soundfield, even when playing music from a single speaker (which Sony demoed).
I demoed 360 Reality Audio playing through a soundbar, through the dedicated speaker, and through headphones while at CES 2020. I was particularly impressed with its effectiveness through headphones, the sound was natural and genuinely sounded like it was coming from outside my head.
With the "reference" speaker, what was really impressive was how you could walk around the demo room and still hear the expanded soundstage. And the soundbar demo revealed how well adapted home theater systems are for a technology like this. In comparison, regular stereo music coming from a soundbar sounds diminished in scale and scope.
Will this new format catch on? If you enjoy listening to music through headphones, or want your lifestyle speaker system to sound more like a proper stereo, or want your living room soundbar system to double as a Hi-Fi rig, then the answer should be yes. This technology does more for the average person's listening experience than any hi-res format because it offers improvements in presentation that are readily apparent, even in the tough environment of the CES show floor.
It is axiomatic that technology allows things to become smaller, faster, and cheaper. And so it is with audio playback, where the quality of sound that you can expect from a single, comparatively affordable speaker is now something interesting and worth listening to, instead of just being background noise.
This is what the soundbar demo looks like
This is the CES 2020 demo room for the Sony 360 Reality Audio speaker demo, you can see the speaker itself in the background
Here is a close-up of the speaker