Atmos’ killer app? Sounds like, amusingly, headphones

I read a great article from a non-audiophile here. It raises a good point...if atmos can deliver 85% of the sound through headphones rather than speakers, then *that* is going to be massive. 

I had never thought about how if you had a good remaster, with the digital data, you could do some cool things with respect to actually having different “tracks” getting to your ears at the same time. Instead of having a mixed waveform simulating that, you can actually get individual waves. 

Granted, you will need to remaster tracks, but...I would really like to hear that on orchestral pieces. 
Um, I get better sound through my speakers than my headphones, and I don't need no Atmos to do it.


Sorry for being so flippant. Let me back up a bit.

The problem with movie sound is that it has always been effect driven, AND is designed to work for the broadest seating areas possible. Dolby sells equipment and WOW. Special effects. Personally I prefer sound tracks which are subtle, and constantly immersive, as opposed to explosive when needed.

For the home, the multiple speakers that ATMOS brings seems really old school stuff. I feel strongly they are more interestsed in selling amps and speakers than merely focusing on the experience. Dolby could have relied on HRTF research to create the height and width of ATMOS but instead  they add more and more speakers which are not really needed. What IS cool about ATMOS and the DTS version is the object-oriented storage of a sound. Instead of being put on a specific track (L, C or R) now it is stored as a waveform and a direction from the center. The playback processor now interprets this and maps it to the best combination of speakers that are available.

A large part of this by the way is the theater experience. HRTF work I think works better when you have a narrow seating arrangement. In theaters  you have a lot of seats outside of the sweet spot, so more speakers is a good thing. Also, HRTF is hard to sell to people. I'm sure movies pre-Atmos already incorporated HRTF research into their sound tracks, and some processors will be reverse-engineering the ATMOS tracks with height and width simulation.

It is a lot easier to sell you on the idea of more speakers, and more amps than it is better processing.

The one area where I DO think an extra speaker in music makes sense is the center channel. Partly historical, partly HRTF. But height, width, 12 speakers in my home... I'll pass.


I do watch movies (and opera) at home, but my preferred means is to just use my stereo system as a HT system. I think it works pretty well, and I also think that two really good but necessarily large speakers give a sound that is at least in some respects superior to a muiltitude of small ones. Five (or seven) large electrostats in my living room? No thank you.

I agree with Erik that center channel is probably the most important speaker in a HT system.  In movie audio production, the center channel is where the source of vocals are generated from.  However, the left/right channel also has a tiny bit of vocals. When produced, the movie soundtrack uses left/right channels for ambience.  The vocals are usually at about 10% and have a slight delay.  This gives you the reality of sound where the actor is speaking from, such as talking in a bathroom, talking outside next to a building, etc.  Without the left/right vocal ambience, the sound may be very mono.

I have listened to movies/shows using only 2 channel and the processor has to compromise by sending the center channel to both left and right, while at the same time playing normal left/right soundtracks.  What happens is that the vocals and sound have an "echo" effect.  It makes it harder to hear voices.

Left/right surround speakers do add ambience.  It makes the movie experience more immersive or "stereo like".  If you only have left/center/right, the sound is more "mono" in a sense because it is all coming from ahead of you.  The surround speakers put you more inside the movie experience.

I have been in full Atmos theaters with ceiling speaks and tons of surrounds.  The effect is interesting with sounds coming all over the place, but honestly, I would rather have an extremely great 5.1 system than an average 11.1 Atmos system.  For me 5.1 is enough to really enjoy movies, if the system is high-end enough.

The article author doesn’t particularly focus on the multispeaker part of it. As he notes, there’s nothing special about multispeaker setups. 

If you *read* the article, he’s blown away by the *music*. 

Apparently, when done properly, Atmos delivers a great musical sound.  The author and the producers note that the software can help deliver discrete tracks (assuming they were recorded properly in the first place) to the listener. I don’t know if receiving two different waveforms is actually any different than receiving one convoluted one (and allowing the brain to pick the tones apart) but I’d like to see. 

Again, the author notes the headphone experience isn’t equal to speakers, but he mentions that it’s *close enough*.  And if enough music comes out with Dolby Atmos mastering, maybe that can help it gain acceptance. 

If Atmos was just about giving me more “swoosh” effects (which the author pans in the first paragraph) I was happy to pass. If, on the other hand, it can actually render a better sound stage, it’s somthing to consider. 

Again, I’d recommend reading the article. But do what you will. 
The author even mentions that the remastered REM recording doesn’t sound 3D. In fact, he says it’s still basically stereo. But the detail and ability to pick out instruments is the real magic with Atmos. Granted, it could be a puff piece, but the website isn’t an audio website or interested in selling stuff. I read it for science news. 

Again, for the author, it’s about the sound. NOT about “surround sound”.
One last nugget: I’m not quite sure how Atmos can generate individual waves with headphones and have them arrive at the same time, and neither does the author. I think we have to assume the headphone experience is using mashed up waves, but again, if it’s just 85% of the experience with speakers, a lot more people will appreciate that over folks who have more complex hifi setups like ours. *if* atmos mastered music can sound better, imagine Dolby Atmos mastered audio on Apple Music or Tidal. The reach could be massive. 

Not trying to evangelize anything about Atmos. I just thought this article would be a nice nugget for thought. 

I don’t think Atmos will render music any better than your typically hi-res 24/96 or 24/192. It all depends on how the recording itself was produced.

In addition, I don’t know that Atmos at the home user will be any better than normal old Dolby TrueHD or DTS-MA. My understanding is that the blurays are encoded with normal TrueHD data, but with the additional height channel data being done as "extended data" that special processors will be able to "decode into height channels". I don’t think the "object oriented" data of atmos is presented for the home listener. I believe it is really only used to mix/produce the movie soundtrack. Then the multi-channel result is encoded as standard TrueHD or TrueHD+height.

I think - and admittedly, I could be wrong - but as in the article, it appears that music *remastered* for Dolby Atmos can take advantage - even in stereo - of how atmos can push different portions of the music to you via different paths. Current surround systems only use this for the “gee whiz” effects in movies. But it looks like at least one producer (for the remastered REM CD) used the timing differences to apparently send multiple streams of music from different instruments to the same “location”. 

If we think about what what this means...currently if I record and then playback two instruments at the same time, with a normal sound processor you get a convoluted waveform arriving at you, simulating the combined sound arriving at you at the same time. You don’t get separate sounds per instrument because the system a) isn’t programmed to do that and b) the music likely wasn’t mastered as such.

The REM remaster seems like it was pushing differently recorded instruments through different speakers, all arriving at the listener at the same time. So, he could clearly distinguish sounds. It’s interesting. 

It doesn’t seem like this should be impossible even for a 5.1 system...assuming the producer records instruments separately, the right software should be able to do this even for a DD5.1 setup.

The article talks about a BluRay audio remaster of an REM CD. It has little to nothing to talk about 3D effects.

quote: “Dolby Atmos wasn't converting this song into a surround-sound frenzy of "hey, over there!" sound effect placement. This still felt like a carefully constructed stereo mix. The biggest difference was more low- and high-end frequencies could comfortably sit next to each other at each given point.”