Is Dolby Atmos likely to become a realistic music format option?

And if so what might it look like in the average Naim users scenario ?

Whereas in the past new formats needed new physical discs or whatever in the streaming world a subscription to Tidal or whatever can give access to Atmos music mixes.

I’m thinking with wireless active speakers becoming more common that the bar to setting this up in one’s home becomes lower. With my KEFLA50w2 one speaker is connected by ethernet and this sends a wireless signal at 24/96 to the other one. This sort of scenario would seem to make siting 5 (or is it 7) speakers around the room more manageable.

But I’ve really no idea but am hoping someone here does!

.sjb

Horrifically expensive.

I’ve recently purchased everything for ATMOS 7.1.4 with fairly entry level speakers. It cost about half of my 282 based Naim system but is probably not even on the bottom rung Atom level.

Going to ATMOS with the level of quality we’ve come to expect is probably an order of magnitude more expensive. And to be honest, many households are struggling to find domestic harmony with 2 speakers.

Studios are currently excited but then again we’ve been here before with quadraphonic in the 60s, Q Sound in the 90s, and a variety of surround based releases. It always died down… like 3D. If you talk to recording engineers, they’ll tell you it’s a rubicon moment with no going back… just like before.

Ultimately, the goal is different. ATMOS being a surround format is about deleting the surrounding room to put you where the action is. Stereo is about gently interacting with the room to leave you where you are and put the live band in front of you.

I know which one I want for music, and it’s not my ATMOS system.

There will be a flurry of releases for sure. But in a few years, it will be a distant memory like the other also rans.

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As an addendum, I should also add that the recording doesn’t lend itself as easily to music either.

ATMOS is an object based system where each sound (instrument) has a discrete channel and metadata describes that channel’s location within three dimensional space. Depending on the implementation, between 64 and 128 channels.

That’s a very artificial way of recording studio albums, Yes, many are captured one instrument at a time (the poppy stuff), but a lot is done as a session and even when there is one mic per performer, there will be some bleed over from the same room. ATMOS needs them to be fully isolated.

What we get at home is the metadata but with the audio repacked into (usually) 7 channels as a sort of compromise. Cinemas run their ATMOS from banks of hard disks with just masses of audio data on them in all the discrete channels, not downmixed like on home formats.

I think this is superb for immersive gaming and cinema. That’s why I forked out for the home theatre of my dreams. But it won’t displace stereo.

These two presentations, stereo and surround (better than calling it ATMOS perhaps since surround will evolve and ATMOS will eventually also be a thing of the past) are both really good at doing very different things. I don’t see stereo as old and crusty in need of an overhaul.

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I think Atmos has the best chance of any format in history of displacing stereo as the de-facto music standard for a number of reasons, principally because it is the first surround format in history that doesn’t require you to buy a new disc. The other reason is that it folds down to accomodate whatever music replay system you have even if that is a set of headphones or a soundbar or a 5.1 cinema surround system.

Most new recordings are made in Atmos and a heck of a lot of legacy music is now being remixed into Atmos. In my view once you have heard it done properly you won’t want to go back, just as people moving from mono to stereo or stereo movies to Dolby surround didn’t want to go back.

Despite that I think the number of people who will be prepared to invest in replaying Atmos properly at home (i.e. with an Atmos discrete loudspeaker array) will be quite small. The truth is that the vast majority of people do not want loudspeakers all around the room and hanging from the ceiling even though there are now lots of flat profile hang on wall or fit in ceiling loudspeakers available.

Personally having heard Atmos done properly it is something I am prepared to accomodate and am keen to experience regularly in my home. The reason is that it reveals more of the music, offers the possibility of greater instrumental separation and immersion and is quite simply closer to the live ‘band in room’ experience that I have always been seeking. I became totally convinced when I heard an Atmos mix of a Glen Miller style jazz band where 99% of the sound was coming from the front 3 channels but the sensation of the acoustic recording space and the placement of each member of the band was light years ahead of even the very best stereo system.

It’s worth remembering that many people already have a 5.1 system in their main listening space for movies. Adding a couple of overhead speakers is thus not a huge deal for them.

I’m intrigued to see which audio firm will release a streamer which is capable of sending Atmos to a suitable surround receiver or amplifier system via HDMI and in my view the ability to do so will offer competitive advantage in the marketplace. I hope Naim do develop such a product and it would certainly be interesting to hear their take on whether they see this as part of their future roadmap. If they did I would certainly see this as a must buy product…

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How so? A stereo CD will not playback as ATMOS.

Tidal Atmos - no disc required there!

Great for some films. But, and to answer the original question - NO.

For VR and games. Maybe - especially with Apples Spatial-extension on top of Atmos. But Spatial only makes sense with VR-headsets and headphones.

For music. No. There is no money in the music business. There is no money with the consumers. There is no demand. It doesn’t add anything of value, just another SKU.

Currently the record companies are happy with collecting EUR 50 for a vinyl album, don’t rock that boat :slight_smile:

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Having watched a number of formats come and die I am not going to be an early adopter.

5.3 speakers is enough for me at the moment.

How does that work? I see there’s an Atmos version of Jessye Norman’s second recording of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. That was recorded in 1989, when to the best of my knowledge, Atmos was not a “thing”. So was the surround sound information somehow magically encoded on the master tapes? If not, where does it come from?

Roger

Most recordings, even legacy recordings were recorded by multiple microphones and so provided the multitrack masters exist it’s not difficult to remaster those recordings and place those instruments in space using Atmos.

I don’t claim to be an expert in the technology by the way and I’m no studio engineer. All I do know is that I feel that Atmos (when done properly) is a huge advance in audio immersion and quality. Engineers seem keen to record and remaster in Atmos and seem keen to use higher dynamic range when they do so. Instrumental placement is certainly more precise and Atmos enables the acoustic environment to be more accurately replicated than with pure stereo. Choral music for example benefits greatly from the height channels and the experience of listening is much closer to that experienced in a large cathedral when a choir sings and the sound seems to soar into the heavens.

For rock and pop records most ‘stereo’ is artificially generated anyway, this just enables a more sophisticated and precise version of an artificial soundstage to be created.

As for there being no demand for it - tell that to the purchasers of the Pink Floyd Animals and Beatles Revolver and Abbey Road boxed sets who bought the deluxe editions for the Atmos mixes as well as for the out-takes and remixes.

You can look at this as a cynical attempt by the record companies to extract more money from consumers or you can see it as a genuine step nearer to live music. I think the latter is true when it’s done well and given that the pursuit of high fidelity is primarily about recreating the closest thing to live sound in the home I think it’s a worthwhile technology and one we should all be interested in.

This is quite a good summary: PMC's Dolby Atmos Immersion—"An Exciting New Way . . . to Hear and Experience Music" (Nov. 2022) - YouTube

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I’m well aware that orchestral recordings were multi-miked. Decca recorded Jessye Norma and in the 1980s were renowned for their multiple microphone techniques with a good deal of instrumental spotlighting (not everyone found the result convincing). And I guess that potentially allows remixing with spatial positioning. But whether that can really create the original orchestral layout I continue to doubt. A large symphony will have a substantial body of strings with a significant spatial spread and I think this would be hard to reproduce from a recording technique designed for stereo.

Fresh recordings in Atmos are a different matter, though even there I wonder about, say, an orchestral recording made in a church, as they often are when a suitable concert hall or studio is not available. This is usually music intended for the concert hall and recording engineers often endeavour to reduce the effects of echoey church acoustics, which might be harder with a recording method that emphasises spatial characteristics.

It’s going to be an interesting few years seeing how all this pans out.

Roger

I’m curious about Apple’s spatial audio, which they also advertise on desktops and laptops using their speakers.
Maybe I should query my favorite computer magazine to de-mystify this for me. :wink:

I think it depends how much information is carried in the extra channels and how vital that information is to the overall listening experience.

The best example I have is The Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia on Pure Audio Blu-Ray. I won’t explain the details here, but it’s worth reading up on; suffice to say that a vital part of the listening experience is the carefully simulated acoustic space. In 5.1 or better, there is something important to be gained that 2.0 cannot replicate.

Is the same true for a recording of ‘just’ a four-piece rock band? That a good number of people will pay for? Those are different questions.

Mark

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At a time when there are more downloads occurring in mp3 and similar formats then No Atmos isn’t likely to be a realistic music format option. Great for video of live performances but little use elsewhere.

There may be particular cases where music was written for a particular space and where the spatial aspects are important. An example might be the music Giovanni Gabrieli wrote to be performed in St Mark’s cathedral in Venice, with brass in the galleries and so on. I can see that an Atmos recording could offer something that 2-channel stereo never could. But whether that’s enough to justify the cost of buying a top flight 7.1.2 system for general use I’m inclined to doubt.

Roger

My AV system is Dolby Atmos, as arr my Samsung mobile and laptop, plenty of content on Tidal, my Samsung earbuds support Dolby Atmos and also 360 head tracking.

All in all Dolby Atmos tenticles are reaching everywhere.

It’s Atmos isn’t it?

Listening to albums in ‘spatial audio’ vs stereo from Apple Music I’m not really convinced by it on Airpods Pro.

What is impressive is ‘head tracking’ or whatever they call it when the audio pans as you move your head around, so move head to the left and audio pans to the right ear - weird but surprisingly effective and responsive. Quite how they establish ‘ground zero’ looking straight ahead is beyond me.

Even for watching TV or films at home even Netflix sound is largely only available as Dolby Digital 5.1. This has put me off upgrading to better formats as they won’t be useful to me. I do have a Blue-ray player that we almost never use but if my home cinema amp accepted HDMI I might be tempted to use it more often.
Listening to music even on TV is disappointing even in DD.

Funny, all my devices are DTS:X instead.