What's Dolby Atmos all about?
What is Dolby Atmos?
Things have come a long way since the days when stereo music was first introduced. These days we have a variety of technologies designed to deliver our music in ever more immersive ways. Two channel audio using just a pair of speakers has stood the test of time and still offers outstanding sound quality, but there are now some great alternatives. Things can get a little confusing though, so here’s a quick roundup of what it all means.
Dolby Audio was formerly known as AC-3 and is a technique for taking the audio soundtrack from a movie that’s been designed for large cinemas and compressing it down for use in a smaller home theatre. This means a 5.1 audio signal that will work in a home theatre system will automatically be converted all the way down to a mono signal that might be required by a TV. Great for ensuring everything just works and a separate mix isn’t required for each audio configuration. Dolby Audio is a 2D technology and is not the same as Dolby Atmos.
Dolby Atmos is an immersive technology that gives the impression of being at the centre of the music. With the addition of height channels (speakers), the system is designed to move sound around and above the listener, creating a more realistic and lifelike audio experience. It uses advanced audio processing algorithms and specialised speaker setups to create a sense of depth, height, and width that traditional stereo or surround sound cannot achieve. Like the Dolby Audio mentioned earlier, Dolby Atmos also has the ability to be played on a variety of hardware, from earbuds to a multi-speaker system.
Spatial Audio is Apple’s take on 3D audio technology that uses sensors within headphones to track a listener’s head movements and create the effect of sound coming directly from a device. For example if you’re watching a movie and you turn your head to the right, the sound will move to the left ear, staying with the device. Spatial Audio works in conjunction with Dolby Atmos to provide this effect.
When applied to music, Spatial Audio allows sounds and instruments to be placed within a 3D space around the listener, creating a more immersive and realistic experience. This technique can make you feel like you're in the middle of the music, with sounds seemingly coming from all directions. Spatial Audio is particularly effective for live recordings, as it can recreate the feeling of being at a live concert or performance.
Atmos Music is becoming increasingly popular and is supported by several major streaming services, including Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal. To experience Atmos Music, you typically need a compatible device, such as a smartphone or home theatre system, and speakers or headphones that support the technology.
How does it work?
To create the 3D sound field, spatial audio systems use techniques such as binaural audio, object-based audio, and Ambisonics. Binaural audio uses two microphones placed in the ears of a dummy head to capture sound the way it would be heard by a human listener. Object-based audio uses audio objects, which are separate audio elements, such as individual instruments or vocals, that can be placed and moved independently in 3D space. Ambisonics uses a combination of multiple microphones and speakers to capture and reproduce sound in a 3D space.
Dolby Atmos music can be experienced through either headphones or speakers. With headphones, a 3D sound field can be created virtually by adjusting the audio signals sent to each ear. With speakers, it can be achieved through specialised setups that include additional speakers placed in specific locations to create a more immersive listening experience. While Dolby Atmos can be implemented virtually, it is not as effective as using multiple speakers. With multiple speakers, the sound is able to be moved around and above the listener in a much more realistic and lifelike way.
Another advantage of using multiple speakers with Dolby Atmos is that it allows for greater flexibility in the placement of the speakers. With traditional surround sound systems, the placement of the speakers is fixed, which can limit the options for where the speakers can be placed. With Dolby Atmos, however, the speakers can be placed wherever they are needed to create the desired audio experience.
If you're looking at adding Dolby Atmos to your home theatre, we recommend using physical speakers over the virtual approach. We're also happy to help with setting up your system to ensure you get the best from your combination of speakers, room and electronics.
Is Spatial Audio available on all music recordings?
No, Spatial Audio is not available on all recordings. Spatial Audio requires specific recording and mixing techniques, and not all recordings are produced in this way. Additionally, Spatial Audio requires a compatible delivery format, such as Dolby Atmos or Sony's 360 Reality Audio, which not all platforms support.
However, Spatial Audio is becoming increasingly popular and more artists and record labels are starting to release music in Spatial Audio formats. Major music streaming services, such as Apple Music and Tidal, have started to support Spatial Audio, making it easier for listeners to access Spatial Audio content.
At this stage, Spatial Audio is still fairly new with musicians and producers coming to grips with the new possibilities on offer. There’s some experimentation going on to figure out what works best and how to make use of this new technology. It's worth noting that in some cases, people may prefer the non-spatial mix of a track or album, which demostrates that this is still an emerging technology. As always, let your ears be the judge.
How do I listen to it?
Dolby Atmos music support is now available on many devices, reportedly over one billion worldwide. These include TVs, soundbars, laptops, and even tablets and smartphones. So long as a device supports Dolby Atmos, it will also play Dolby Atmos music. If you have an older AV receiver then it may not have support for Dolby Atmos. If you're not sure, then give us a call and we can give you some advice and some options for an upgrade if you need it.
You can listen to Spatial Audio on a variety of platforms, including music streaming services, video streaming services, and video games. The most common ones for music lovers will be Apple Music and Tidal.
Apple Music supports Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos. To listen to Spatial Audio on Apple Music, you need to have an Apple Music subscription and a compatible device, such as an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Tidal supports 360 Reality Audio, which is a spatial audio format developed by Sony. To listen to 360 Reality Audio on Tidal, you need to have a Tidal HiFi subscription and a compatible device.
3D Audio has been around for a while but we should be hearing more about it as more artists and producers explore the possibilities. If you’re yet to experience 3D audio then drop into a Soundline store and see what you’ve been missing. It’s another great way of enjoying music, which is what it’s all about.