I've spent the last couple of days testing and exploring Relaxation Portal, an iOS app from SRS Labs that provides stunning audio recreations of several environments in places like Namibia, Crete, an Amazon Rainforest and Martha's Vineyard.
For the full effect, you must listen on headphones. In my tests I used a Jabra Halo Bluetooth and a wired B&W P5 headset. SRS Labs has been innovating in audio design in both hardware and software for years, and SRS tech has found its way into live concert recordings, music enhancing hardware, HD displays, car audio and laptops.
The audio illusion is certainly impressive. The sound effects are layered, which makes them truly interactive. On the island of Crete, for example, you can turn off the sounds of sea birds, crowd noises and wind, while just listening to the surf. You can control the mix of sounds to fit your mood, or try night mode where the sounds are tuned to replicate the island at night. The 3D effect is quite uncanny, and uses a variety of sound processing techniques to fully immerse you in the aural environment.
In addition to the audio treats, the app provides some still pictures of the actual location, and even a bit of history. The app is free, and comes with the 5 locations I've listed above. If that's not enough, you can purchase expansion packs, with locations like Las Vegas (maybe you will hear people crying after they lose a bundle at blackjack), Paris, the Kremlin, the Ross Ice Shelf and Cape Canaveral. Expansion packs contain 5 destinations, and are US$1.99 each.
It should be noted that the sound environments created are not really from the locations listed, but rather layers of very high quality recording of natural sounds that match the local environments. For example, birds that are native to Crete or New England.
I have a few quibbles with this app. It doesn't run in the background. Check an email, or respond to a text, and the app simply stops. If you launch it again, you will be returned to the place you left. I talked with Allen Gharapetian of SRS Labs and he agrees the app must multitask, and to look for that upgrade soon. The app features a night mode, which I assumed might change the character of the sounds, but night mode just blackens the screen, except for little pop-up ads that are always present. You can upgrade to an ad-free version for $1.99.
Gharapetian says the SRS sound enhancing technology is built into smartphones from Samsung and HTC, and they would love to have it on Apple iOS devices. Ultimately this app serves as a technology demo of how good the SRS audio processing can be.
Relaxation Portal is not the only white noise, audio environment app for iOS. I've previously enthusiastically reviewed NatureSpace, which has excellent natural recording and it doesn't stop when you navigate away from it. It is also free, but offers in-app purchases of expansion packs.
Relation Portal is a unique approach to creating aural environments. With the ability to control the mix and levels of individual sounds, you can tailor your session to taste. I'd like to see the app allow multitasking, and the GUI is not particularly attractive to my eye, but ultimately, it is the sound that matters and the app works very well as a way to relax. Great on a vacation, a long airplane trip, or just unwinding at home.
The app runs natively on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch and requires iOS 4.2 or later. Check the gallery for some screen shots and let us know what you think of the audio illusion it creates.