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Naturespace: Relax Meditate Escape Sleep for iOS review

Sections: iDevice Apps, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod touch, Reviews

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Category: Health & Fitness
Developer/Publisher: Holographic Audio Theater
Device Requirements: iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Price: Free (additional tracks cost between $0.99 and $1.99)
Availability: Out now

Although you may be familiar with natural sound apps for meditation, sleep, or white noise, Naturspace’s Holographic audio app provides you with something completely different. Through the use of special recording techniques (including binaural recording) and expert mixing, Naturspace’s holographic audio tracks provide compelling recreations of lush meadows, days at the beach, and even exotically hypnotic journeys like a peyote-fueled shamanistic ritual.

Naturspace’s app elevates white noise from obnoxiously looping recordings of songbirds or ocean waves to an artful acoustic rendering of natural (and some unnatural) spaces.

It’s Not the Destination

Naturspace is all about journeys. Some tracks take you on a literal journey, like The Cloud Engine, which takes you on a steam engine train ride including the rhythmic turning of the wheels, the sway and creak of the carriage, and the sharp blast of the whistle. Other tracks simply transport you to a faraway place, like the dark and transcendent depths of a peaceful forest to the violent clash of a thunderstorm named in homage to Nikola Tesla. The sound literally feels like it is coming from all around you, so you can easily identify the sound of water lapping against stones at your feet while a bird calls across the water off to your left.

The special recording techniques used by Naturspace must truly be heard to be believed. Luckily the app is free, and contains six full-quality, full-length tracks so you can try it out. The recording method takes advantage of multiple microphones, so you actually hear sound as you would in the real world. The call of a bird on your right takes just a few milliseconds more to reach your left ear, but the echo off a canyon wall reaches your left ear before your right. These are not straight recordings that merely loop, but are artfully mastered to hide the ending when it loops, and many tracks don’t repeat for half an hour or more; this realism contributes to what Naturspace calls the “being there” experience. The combination of audio cues and seamless loops makes Naturespace a great choice if you need to block out external sound, find a gentle rhythm to enhance meditation, or simply want a relaxing rhythm to take you away from everyday stress.

Headphones Recommended

The simple truth is the full quality of Naturespace’s recordings is best enjoyed using high quality over-ear headphones, with multichannel speakers being a close tie for second. The over-ear models add additional realism by placing the drivers the perfect distance from your eardrums, so there is additional spatial depth added to the recording. In realization that Apple’s stock earbuds are probably some of the most widely used headphones on the planet, Naturespace includes an earbud optimization mode that adjusts the sound to compensate for the poor audio quality provided by most earbuds. This works admirably in a pinch, but for the best results you really should use good quality in-ear or on-ear headphones.

Use

The Naturespace app itself acts as both a library for tracks and a store. New tracks are added to the store each week and generally range from $1-$2, though you can pick up some bundles like the 2012 Releases and Complete collections that offer a discount off the regular price. To access the Track Store, you tap “More” to enter the Naturespace store. From here you can read brief descriptions, reviews, and access previews, which are a little quirky. Previews are not free until you’ve purchased 5 tracks, at which point a Visitor’s Pass is unlocked that gives you unlimited free previews. If you really want a good taste test of the tracks available, check out the company’s iTunes albums, which offer the same tracks with free previews, though they are lower quality (256 kbps iTunes Plus AAC) than what you’ll find in the app (360 kbps AAC).

Once you’ve purchased tracks they are added to your library where you can play them directly or group them into playlists to help you find your favorite tracks faster. To manage tracks, simply swipe to the left on the main screen to show the Playlist browser where you can create new playlists and drag tracks to add them. As you add more tracks, the Playlists are especially useful because you can group tracks into categories like “Beach” or “Thunderstorms.”

Tough Choices

Naturespace has a boggling multitude of tracks on offer across a variety of categories. Personal favorites from my month-long testing (much of it to help me focus while writing my Seen @ Macworld column) include: Loki (a track modeled after the Norse god featuring soft rain with thunder and forest animal sounds), Astral Premonition (a driving drumbeat combined with meditative nature sound good for focusing the mind), and Cumulus Aquae (a lush beachscape that transports you to a cliff where the sound of the surf pounding the shore below you mingles with the wind as it rushes past).

Naturespace includes a variety of categories; most are natural, but some are designed to evoke sci-fi or even religious experiences. These categories include:

  • Mornings/Afternoons/Evenings: These are all natural and designed to capture the mood of the natural world, from the cacophony of birdsong as the sun rises to the chirp of insects and the gentle crackle of a campfire. These are excellent for masking background noise and helping with sleep.
  • Rain/Waves/Rivers: Water, water everywhere. From the gentle babble of a small brook to the hypnotic drumming of rain and the gurgle of the gutters and downspout, these tracks capture the power and relaxing cadence of water. Beach and wave tracks are especially powerful for transporting you—including one track, The Liquid Phase, which captures the utterly magical sound of a wave as it forms, tumbles, crashes to shore, then retreats.
  • Abstract/Sci-Fi: These categories include some tracks that stray almost into religion, like Saga of the Moonflowers and Peyote, which feature the lofty echoes of a piano in a cathedral and rhythmic drumming/chants respectively. Although not “natural” sounds in their own right, these tracks blend nature sounds like water with human sounds, from low zen bells to synthesized droning. Great for focusing the mind and blocking out external noise, they can also be used to achieve a meditative state.

If you ever listen to white noise or nature sounds to help you sleep, focus on work, or meditate, check out Naturespace. Their blend of high quality recording and custom mixing provide nature sounds that are at once lifelike and transcendent—if you close your eyes you’ll swear you’re at the beach, caught in the rain, or on a distant planet watching dual moons rise over an emerald green ocean.

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Naturespace Review

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