Is Atmos music the future?

I must confess that having heard Atmos music done properly at PMC studios in London I’m utterly convinced that it’s capable of far higher immersion than mere stereo. When one sits in a concert hall sound does indeed surround you whether that’s the audience all around you or the music reverberating and bouncing off walls, ceilings and even floors. This is true whether you are at the NEC, the Albert Hall or even a local jazz club. In addition, Atmos is capable of rendering far more insight into the acoustics of the recording/performing space (something high-end two channel hi-fi has long tried to reproduce) and that really came home to me when PMC played the Atmos mix of “Something” by the Beatles. This of course was recorded at Abbey Road Studio Three, but it sounded far more spacious that day in PMC’s mixing studio than I have ever heard it sound before in stereo.

I was reminded of my enthusiasm for Atmos when I listened to the latest Soundstage Audiophile podcast discussing the Munich show and which systems and rooms had blown my co-writers away. All of them cited the PMC Atmos music system at Munich as a high watermark sonically - despite the fact that it was far from the most expensive system there.

Now there are some who will say they don’t want to have to deal with the plethora of loudspeakers in the room that Atmos requires and I understand that, although I’m not sure it’s any more inconvenient than having racks and racks of electronics tethered by hugely expensive cables running all over the place supported on anti-vibration mounts! Perhaps Atmos music is more attractive to someone like me whose main two channel audio system is already part of a multichannel home cinema system in the same room - so the speakers are already there for home cinema anyway.

I am hoping in the near future to add some ATC HTS11 speakers high on the side walls as Atmos overheads and am looking forward to experimenting further with surround music. The biggest issue is how best to deliver the music - buying Atmos blu-rays in any quantity will likely be too expensive, but is clearly sonically the best way to do it. Streaming Atmos from Tidal will likely be my primary source of Atmos music and I discovered only today that my Firestick 4k Max can do this so I’m looking forward to experimenting with it (even though I know streamed Tidal Atmos is compressed). That’s one of the biggest advantages I think of this generation of surround music - most of us have a Firestick or AppleTV box that can stream Atmos music, many of us have home cinema surround systems and none of us need to buy a whole new record collection to listen to it (as we did in the 70’s when quadrophonic records emerged). In that sense adoption is easy.

The thing that I find disappointing is that so few traditional hi-fi manufacturers seem interested in incorporating Atmos into their streamers. I would love to be able to stream Tidal Atmos from my NDX2 rather than a Fire Stick into my AV amplifier. If (as I believe) Atmos offers a generational leap in music reproduction, then I’m sorry that Naim, Linn, Cambridge Audio, Innuos and Auralic etc aren’t picking up the baton. I see that Pioneer have started incorporating Tidal Atmos streaming into some of their AV receivers and I think there’s a risk of the traditional audio manufacturers missing the boat if Atmos music really takes off. Only today I got a press release about Seal’s second album that has been remixed into Atmos and I gather around 75% of major chart releases now have Atmos mixes too.

I surmise that few audiophiles or even traditional hi-fi companies have ever heard Atmos done properly and as a result they see it as a bit of a gimmick. My experience tells me otherwise - I thought it was the most immersive (non-live) musical experience I have ever had and therefore I want it in my life!

Curious if any of you have heard Atmos music done properly and if you see it as a game changer?

JonathanG

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I’ve got ATMOS 7.2.4. It was very expensive. But the idea of a processor, amps and speakers for ATMOS at the same level as my Naim and PMC stereo is an order of magnitude (at least) more expensive. It’s impossible.

Probably looking at half a million USD to he honest. In what world is that desirable?

When I go to live concerts the musicians are (usually) in front of me, on a stage. The music is projected forward towards me from the instruments. If at an amplified music concert, in most cases the speakers are positioned either side of the stage, usually toed in slightly, firing forwards towards me. Any sense of surround sound comes from the sound reflected off the walls of the concert venue.

When I listen to music at home I face two speakers about seven feet apart, slightly toed in, but pointing towards me. I am also aware of a degree of reflected sound from the walls around me.

Whenever I’ve heard any kind of surround sound, particularly at cinemas, it has been very obviously artificially enhanced. Hence, I fail to see how any surround sound systems can create any greater degree of realism. I may be impressed by it, but is it real?

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I think that’s part of the problem here. It never stops with 7.2.4. There has been many Dolby versions out there with different speaker numbers and speaker positioning, and it’s always changing. Keeping up I would imagine would be costly.

It was already costly. And the installation… OMG.

Don’t me wrong. It’s incredible for movies. But it’s soooo far from my stereo in terms of music performance.

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Feeling Zen, you’re probably pitching much higher than I am for Atmos - I’m thinking of ideally adding 4x HTS 11’s for the overheads giving me 5.2.4 as a starting point and that’s only £3000 at retail - I already own everything else I need so it’s not expensive to try it and I want the overheads anyway for movies.

Clive, you make some good points I think and in answer to your question it depends I think on the approach the Atmos engineer has used. Some recordings very obviously incorporate panning effects which are impressive but not ‘realistic’. Many other recordings though are essentially stereo mixes with greater instrumental separation, more accurate instrumental placement, bigger dynamic range and a better sense of three dimensional acoustic space. Those are the ones that really impressed me.

I suspect that when creating an Atmos mix most engineers seem less inclined to compress the hell out of their mix perhaps because they know the only people who are likely to listen to it are those who are heavily invested in home audio and are thus to some degree audiophiles, whereas stereo mixes are often compressed to sound best in a noisy moving car etc or on the radio.

Just my thoughts,

JonathanG

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And do you really think that will give your NDX2/82/250/etc a run for it’s money?

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I haven’t heard it!

For me it would come down to how acceptable my speaker budget would be split Atmos number of ways vs a traditional stereo pair. I paid £700 for my SX3s, even at full retail of £1500 I think I’d struggle to source an atmos setup for the same amount?

Or do the additional speakers required not have to be as good as your main pair? How much cheaper can they acceptably be?

In my experience, the overheads can be lesser but everything else needs to be closely matched.

I’ve heard a lot of surround systems where the owner satisfyingly showed off that you can seamlessly integrate an AV and atereo system with different speakers. And I’ve had to politely nod and bite my tongue every time as the presentation wasn’t anywhere close to being as coherent.

Initial impressiveness aside, when things pan around, 5 low cost identically matched speakers beats 2 hifi speakers and 3 of anything else every time.

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And would you actually downgrade your “main” pair to obtain a balanced system? Would that beat your stereo listening experience do you think?

Edit: when things pan around, think I understand your point now, sorry to be slow!

Feeling Zen,

That’s an interesting question! So the signal chain would be either:

NDX2/82/HiCap/250/ATC SCM 40

versus

Firestick 4K max (or Cambridge Audio CXUHD for discs) into Emotiva MR1 receiver. I use a pre-out connection so my 82/250 actually drives the SCM40 main stereo pair, while the Emotiva drives the ATC C3 centre speaker, my Naim SBL rear channels and would drive the 4x HTS 11’s in the overhead. There’s also a REL Predator 15/10 sub.

Longer term I’m tempted to change the SBL’s for ATC HTS40 at the rear too, although for films I find them excellent right now - given they are mostly there for surround effects in movies and do an excellent job for that. Music though is different and I fully agree with your requirement for a coherent soundfield.

The thing is it’s a relatively cheap thing to experiment with at least initially. I don’t expect it to come close to the 18.8.4 or whatever system in PMC’s mixing suite, but it’s an interesting experiment regardless.

JonathanG

I love my Shahinians for similar reasons

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https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BByK5QtaOng

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I really wouldn’t want to turn my home into an Atmos studio. I have avoided going surround sound for AV for the same reason. Well, that and wanting to spend the money on getting the best two-channel system I want to afford.

Quadraphonic was going to be the big thing when I was beginning to take an interest in getting the best sounding I could afford and I wonder if Atmos will go the same way? Or maybe it will be different this time because people have got used to the idea of lots of speakers around their lounge.

That, with associated cost and space requirements, is probably the key question and limitation to wide adoption - and in that respect no different from the failure of quadraphonic to make significant progress from the first attempts at commercialising in the 1970s, and successively. I don’t doubt that Atmos done well, with the right recordings, could sound phenomenal. Maybe a way to think about it is as a use for previous system components when upgrading if not needed to sell to fund the upgrades, instead of creating second/third systems, if listening room space permits.

I somehow doubt that Atmos will fully catch on as a format for listening to music in our homes, probably due to the hassle and the cost to get it right. Having said that, the rock dinosaurs are probably glad of the opportunity to cash in yet again on albums that they recorded more than fifty years ago (He says just yet another super deluxe / elegant / opulent / sumptuous release of Yes’ ‘Fragile’ is about to be unleashed.) I just wish these dinosaurs would be honest and release these updates of the original release under the title ‘The Money For Old Rope Edition’. :grinning:

You might just get away with it considering all speakers are ATC and you are not using a centre channel.

I’ve found that even when the manufacturer makes a centre to match large main hifi speakers, it is still not quite right for really smooth panning. I’m a huge believer in opting for a manufacturer that has dedicated LCRs (all front three main speakers are literally the same model of speaker) in their lineup. I believe ATCs on walls can all be used as LCR or in fact any channel.

I’ve been taking home cinema very seriously since about 1995. Back then it was definitely a hybrid bolted on to my Linn system. There was a time when it looked like surround and true hifi would merge as you suggested. I used to take home Linns AV5150 surround preamp from the shop which at the time was unusual because not only was it a 5.1 channel surround preamp, but it was Linn’s top preamp above the stereo Kairn. But a lack of media and the complexities of installation saw that off. Back then other than Dolby Digital and DTS, there was Linn’s proprietary lossless surround format which never saw the light of day beyond a badge mark on some of their preamps.

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Why the apparently derogative title dinosaur for bands that were so good that they still have an avid following half a century later?

And what about Dinosaur Jnr?

.sjb

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I’d imagine this is because of being badly burnt before when toes were tipped in AV. If my understanding is correct Naim had two great products that were rendered obsolete by a change in standards a year or two into production.

And perhaps they know their market, us old coldgers too busy bending burndies to look into ATMOS.

.sjb

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