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    Atmos Music and Some Current Favorites, Part 1

     

     

    Dolby Atmos has been a part of movies for over a decade, but it's still early days for Atmos music. Early days more so for consumers than professionals creating music, but early days for both nonetheless. Fortunately, the mainstream is well ahead of audiophiles when it comes to recognizing that Atmos music even exists. I say fortunately because changes to audio technology have a far better chance of succeeding when they come from the mass market, rather than the class market. Have you ever tried rolling a boulder uphill? HiFi companies are great at taking existing technology and making it perform at the highest levels. They aren't so great at getting the mass market to adopt what many consider esoteric ideas. Based on this, and many other factors, I believe we are in a good position. 

     

    Audiophiles, myself included, who think XRCD, MFSL, SACD, DVD-Audio, High Resolution PCM, DSD or album releases using any of the other technologies, can be incredible, should run, not walk, to hear a proper Atmos music demonstration. Even the most uninterested listener, who may hear DSD or a great high resolution remaster, and not notice a real difference, will immediately hear the difference and likely understand the power of Atmos music after a proper demo. Just last weekend, my 10 year old daughter had a friend over. Before the friend arrived, my daughter asked if the two of them could listen to Atmos. Shortly after she arrived, they ran upstairs to my listening room asking, "Can we listen to Atmos?" Anyone wondering how to get more of the youth into our wonderful HiFi hobby, has his/her answer right there. 

     

    I'm extremely fortunate in that I listen to Atmos music through an amazing, but quite expensive, audio system. Every day I find new albums mixed in Atmos and I pinch myself because listening is such a fantastic experience. I'm very happy that Audiophile Style writer @bobfa has enthusiastically jumped in with both feet, researching Atmos music, testing it on headphones, and working to install a reasonably priced 7.1.4 system in his house. He'll update all of us along the way through a series of articles about his journey. 

     

    Speaking of headphones, they are obviously the easiest way to experience Atmos music. An iPhone and a pair of AirPods Pro ($249) will get people up and running. Using such a system is how most people hear Atmos music for the first time and why most people misunderstand Atmos and its benefits. Recently music industry writer and podcaster Bob Lefsetz interviewed Alan Parsons. When discussing Atmos music Bob said the vocals are mixed too low. Given that Dolby doesn't dictate vocal levels for Atmos mixes, there's no reason vocals have to be recessed, and based on my experience, this perception has a lot to do with the headphone system Bob uses. 

     

    The headphone experience is only going to get better, a lot better. Current limiting factors are battery and processing power in most headphones and mobile devices. This is evidenced by the amazing ability of products like the Smyth Research Realiser A16, to reproduce up to 16 channels of immersive audio (Atmos, Auro, DTS). The A16 isn't hindered by battery or processing power, and delivers an experience many times better than something like an iPhone and AirPods Pro. 

     

    In addition, new driver technology is going to enable larger batteries in smaller spaces and use less power than the drivers used today. Silicon drivers from xMEMS may even enable companies such as Apple to place multiple channels worth of drivers inside a pair of AirPods Max, for an incredible Atmos music experience. 

     

    Here are a couple videos showing why I believe the headphone experience is going to get much better. 


    Smyth Research Realizer A16

     

     

     

    XMEMS

     

     

     

     

     

    Atmos Auto

     

    benzo.jpgThis week Apple, Dolby, and Mercedes announced Atmos music capabilities in several Mercedes models. "Dolby Atmos will first be available in the Mercedes‑Maybach S‑Class, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as well as the EQE, EQE SUV, EQS and EQS SUV." Sure, not the most affordable models, but it's a great start. These models with the optional Burmester high end audio system, will stream Atmos music from Apple. I can't wait to get inside and give one a listen. 

     

    Tim Stevens form Ars Technica is a big fan - Why Dolby Atmos in a car is more than a gimmick.

     

    A bit more hidden than the Mercedes announcement, is the Polestar 3's Dolby Atmos music capability. The 3 with optional B&W audio system, will play Atmos music. I talked with a representative from Polestar about this, because the car's Android Auto operating system seems antithetical to Atmos at the moment, and was told the cars are a ways away from being built. A demo sometime late 2023 may be possible. 

     

     

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    Current Atmos Music Favorites

     

    I've listened to more music lately, through my Atmos system, than I ever did through my two channel system. Plus, much of the music I'm listening to is music I either tried to like, but didn't, or music I bypassed because I didn't think I'd like it. This includes albums from Frank Zappa and even a Country artist or two. Strange times indeed. Below are some gems from Apple Music. 

     

    Because a good Atmos mix provides such a different listening experience that really can't be fairly compared to a stereo mix, I often listen to albums just because they are available in Atmos. The difference isn't like a new remaster or high resolution version, it's an immersive apple to a stereo orange. Take for example Frank Zappa's album Grand Wazoo. I tried my hardest to like Frank Zappa. When his catalog was released in high resolution, I asked friends where to start, and jumped right in. After a week or so, I jumped right out. The music wasn't for me, or so I thought. 

     

    Recently the Atmos mix of Grand Wazoo was released to streaming services, before the deluxe edition box set with Blu-ray containing the lossless TrueHD Atmos version, is released. Based on some positive reviews, I decided to give it another spin, solely because it's in Atmos. Wow, this album is fantastic in Atmos. The music and musicianship come through in ways that I couldn't grasp via the stereo version. The album contains some seriously complex compositions, that are very enjoyable and sound great. To me, the stereo version sounds like the music was made complex just to be complex. The Atmos version has such an expanded palette in which to place instruments, that they are all accessible and enable the listener to much better understand what's going on. Squeezing all of this musical mastery into two speakers doesn't do it justice in the least. 

     

    The Blu-ray containing a lossless TrueHD Atmos mix of Grand Wazoo and Wake/Jawaka is available as a presale right now. I've ordered one and look forward to receiving it. 

     

    Seal's 1991 self-titled album has been a favorite of mine since it was released. The track Crazy was played on the radio more times than I care to remember, but was never one of my top picks on the album. The best track, by far, is called Killer. I can't get enough of the Atmos version of this track. The vocal focus is always in the front, as is the main drum beat. Other sounds emanate from all over the room, in a way that compliments the song tremendously. The side channels are used heavily throughout the track, in an enveloping way and reinforcing the front performance. At about 1:50 into the track, the mix contains percussion in the rear and height channels that expands the soundstage in the neatest way. This is incredibly far from gimmicky, rather it raises the stage and drives home the immersive effect. I've said this over and over, but it bears repeating, an Atmos music mix like this really needs to be experienced to fully understand. One can't imagine a color s/he has never seen.    


    The War On Drugs album I Don't Live Here Anymore has a much more reserved Atmos mix than that of Seal, but it also serves the music very well. On my favorite track, Living Proof, the main focus is the front, with most content in the left and right channels. The piano however is very much in the side channels throughout the opening couple minutes. This really expands the soundstage in a beautiful way. When the electric guitar kicks in for the lat minute of the song, it's in the side, front, and front height channels quite a bit. The makes the soundstage massive and enveloping from my listening position to the front (floor to ceiling). It's a beautiful song, made even better through technology. 

     

    Another band that many of my friends love, and I tried my hardest to like over the years, is Grateful Dead. Sure, I like Touch of Gray, but that song is incredibly accessible. The rest of GD's catalog remained a bit to out-there for me, until American Beauty was released in Atmos. I thought there was never a better time to attempt to get into the band than now. It worked! I love the entire album so much I even listen to the stereo version in the car now. I think the Atmos mix really broke out the individuals and instruments for me, so much so that understand the music and can pick out items and enjoy it as a whole, very easily now. 

     

    Grateful Dead has a lot going on in its seemingly simplistic music. The Atmos three dimensional sound palette is perfect for this band because every instrument is much better separated, not always surrounding the listener, but in its own space. On Attics of My Life, things are taking a step further, with supporting vocals coming from the height channels. Each of my four height channels on the ceiling has a vocal track, raining down vocal harmonies. The track still retains focus up front, but the height channels are used so beautifully they could easily be seen as a major focal point on much of the track.  

     

    Honorable Mention 1 goes to Talking Heads album Speaking In Tongues. I'm not a fan of the music, but the Atmos mix of Burning Down The House is impossible to ignore. It's brilliant. 

     

    Honorable Mention 2 goes to Rhiannon Giddens album Freedom Highway. It's another great Atmos mix that serves the music very well. Nothing too "crazy" but plenty of content to immerse the listener. 

     

    Last Note: Podcasts are now available in Atmos. Wondery studio offers Atmos mixes, of some podcasts, through its iOS app. If you haven't heard Wondery's productions, such as Blood Ties, you should know they aren't just a couple guys talking. They are full-on "movies" without video. Very well done, theater of the mind. I installed the app on my Mac Mini (M1) and output the audio through my main Atmos system via Ravenna. So far I've got 5.1 audio working, and I suspect the audio isn't correctly being decoded by the macOS built-in Atmos DD+ decoder. The Atmos mix plays just fine on an iPhone. Again, this is early days. 

     

    Jeff Schmidt is the audio engineer who created the Atmos podcast mixes. He has an interesting post on his site about getting into Atmos production and his studio system - Link.

     


    Wrap Up

     

    Atmos music has really changed my life. Supplementing my two channel listening with a completely different and immersive option is truly a game changer, in a way that makes all other "game changers" deserved of quotation marks. Atmos music is the real deal that even the most cynical of listeners can easily identify, if not thoroughly enjoy. This really is the music industry's HDTV moment. Everyone who saw HDTV for the first time, after living with standard definition, new immediately that it was something different and special. If that initial experience would've been had on a mobile phone, I'm not so sure the response would've been as enthusiastic. The same can be said for Atmos music. If you can, experience it on a system with loudspeakers or at least an advanced headphone system like the Smyth Realiser A16, it will be unforgettable. 

     


     

    Complete Audio System Details with Measurements  - https://audiophile.style/system

     

     

     

     




    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments



    Chris, thank you for the shout out and the leading role in this journey!

     

    I feel like rip-van-winkle, I have been sleeping through a sea change.  Since Apple announced their lossless streaming service and their Dolby ATMOS Spatial Audio, there has been a little tickle in the back of my brain.  Recently that tickle has turned into a full-on itch that has to be scratched.  Listening on the new AirPods Pro 2 and experimenting with a Sonos ARC sound bar system has re-enforced that feeling that this is REAL!.  

     

    Many of us have two channel systems that have been crafted to our personal perfection or are rising to that goal.  Moving to an 11 channel system with speakers placed all around the room requires a different level of understanding and commitment.  Some think I should be committed....  Yet at its core this is a chance to learn, experiment and embrace a new way of enjoying music.

     

    I will leave you with a short bit of homework.  If you have a TV surround system that has streaming access get a trial of the Berlin Philharmonic subscription.  They are broadcasting their concerts on the internet:  https://www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/immersive

     

    Bob

     

     

     

     

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    After staggering my new 83” Sony OLED, I will be adding Atmos to my HT room. The room is small, 10x15. I have a 5.1 set up and just ordered 2 in ceiling speakers for Atmos for a 5.1.2 system. I will need a new processor so the install will have to wait until next year. The 4K Blu ray player does a great job of decoding Atmos mixes in movies sending them out via the MC analog outs. No height info but damn nice 5.1 presentations. Looking forward to adding Atmos ceiling speakers. 4K Blu rays are an amazing experience as are the live 4 k sports broadcasts I have been enjoying via you tube TV, like the Phillies playoff games on Fox, and the EPL.

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    so call me Mr. Obvious, but what we need is a database for all of this, does it exist ?

     

    • Artist
    • Album
    • available formats (5.1, Auro3D, Atmos, etc)
    • where available (Apple, Tidal, Amazon, download, DVD, SACD, etc.)

     

    I know you are focused on Atmos because that is where the vast majority of the activity is right now and will be going forward, but there is a lot of wonderful 5.1 stuff out there too

     

    am I just dreaming? 

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    Oh crap, now I will need to renew my Apple music again just as it is expiring... damn you. ;)

     

    Speaking of Dead, can we get some Dead Can Dance in Atmos?  I mean...

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    9 hours ago, bbosler said:

    so call me Mr. Obvious, but what we need is a database for all of this, does it exist ?

     

    • Artist
    • Album
    • available formats (5.1, Auro3D, Atmos, etc)
    • where available (Apple, Tidal, Amazon, download, DVD, SACD, etc.)

     

    I know you are focused on Atmos because that is where the vast majority of the activity is right now and will be going forward, but there is a lot of wonderful 5.1 stuff out there too

     

    am I just dreaming? 


    QuadraphonicQuad is a great place to start.
    We have databases of MC recordings known as "Surround Poll charts"
    No charts for streaming, but plenty of inspiring Atmos streaming threads.

    Also a good source for info on the different HW.
    Several MC aficionados are both members here and there.

     

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    2 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    That's absolutely gorgeous @ted_b. Thank you!

    Agreed, @ted_b.  
     

    Take the “time” to check out the opening cut, “Time,” by Swedish House Mafia on the Paradise Again album, and the opening cut, “The Time (Dirty Bit),” by the Black Eyed Peas on The Beginnings (Deluxe) album.  Lots happening on both.

     

    Oh, and “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots on the Blurryface album sounds great, too. JCR 

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    That little video with Brian Eno is such a wonderful description of ATMOS.  

     

    Interesting Quotes:  

             " Nearly all technologies can do something that nobody thought of doing before"

    "I am a visitor in the middle of something"

             "Why stick him on the wall?"

    "Feelings are the beginning of thinking"

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    On 10/21/2022 at 1:30 PM, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Just received the Blu-ray with lossless TrueHD Atmos :~)

    Can you play that disc with a Blu-ray Player on the MAC?  

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    15 minutes ago, bobfa said:

    Can you play that disc with a Blu-ray Player on the MAC?  

    Probably could, but there’s no TrueHD decoder in the app. Thus, need to rip and play with Dolby Reference player. 
     

    P.S. The Reference player was recently updated to enable full screen video playback. For people into movies, like @El Guapo, this is huge!

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    I have a fairly large local collection of multichannel recordings (mostly classical), and I enjoy them so much.  The sense of realism is so much more pronounced, to the extent sometimes I filter my library on (everything but stereo) just to listen to multichannel.

     

    I wish the streaming services (other than Apple, of course; i.e., Tidal, Qobuz, etc.) would get on the bandwagon and start streaming Atmos, as well, and / or that Roon would start supporting Apple Music (I know it's not Roon's choice whether they support it or not - kind of a joint effort for them) for that full experience without pushing through an AppleTV (which is really the only way I get Atmos content at the moment).

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    2 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    P.S. The Reference player was recently updated to enable full screen video playback. For people into movies, like @El Guapo, this is huge!

    Speaking of movies through the DRP, I’d like to play my Atmos edition of Top Gun Maverick through there. My 74 Gb version is in MKV which apparently is not supported by the DRP. @El Guapo, what software program would you recommend for (as close as possible) losslessly converting the MKV to a format recognized by the DRP?  Thanks. JCR 

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    18 minutes ago, jhwalker said:

    I have a fairly large local collection of multichannel recordings (mostly classical), and I enjoy them so much.  The sense of realism is so much more pronounced, to the extent sometimes I filter my library on (everything but stereo) just to listen to multichannel.

     

    I wish the streaming services (other than Apple, of course; i.e., Tidal, Qobuz, etc.) would get on the bandwagon and start streaming Atmos, as well, and / or that Roon would start supporting Apple Music (I know it's not Roon's choice whether they support it or not - kind of a joint effort for them) for that full experience without pushing through an AppleTV (which is really the only way I get Atmos content at the moment).

    It’s a marathon, not a sprint :~)

     

    I don’t see Roon ever supporting it. The company seems uninterested. 
     

    A step forward will be an app like Audirvana being able to use the built-in Dolby Digital + decoder in macOS, just like Apple Music does, and stream Atmos from Tidal. 
     

    Also, HiFi manufacturers need to perk up and realize technology is moving. They need to support more than 8 channels and use technologies like Ravenna to input up to 16 channels of DXD. The pro world is way ahead of HiFi today. 

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    7 minutes ago, jrobbins50 said:

    Speaking of movies through the DRP, I’d like to play my Atmos edition of Top Gun Maverick through there. My 74 Gb version is in MKV which apparently is not supported by the DRP. @El Guapo, what software program would you recommend for (as close as possible) losslessly converting the MKV to a format recognized by the DRP?  Thanks. JCR 

    I believe MakeMKV can backup the disc, unencrypted. Then you can use M2TS files in the DRP. I think. 

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    After streaming some Atmos music into my non-Atmos 7.1 system it has me thinking about future upgrade paths. In my current system I also stream ripped mch SACD from my NAS via Oppo 103d via HDMI to Integra 80.3 processor. It seems like the current generation of Atmos capable processors seem to dropping support for DSD decoding and/or 7.1 analog input. I do not see me going down the path as Chris did due to the complexity and my system needs to support 2 ch Hi-Res/ Atmos for music and Atmos for movies. Any insights into a way forward to support all these formats? Thanks

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    27 minutes ago, Roy Boy said:

    After streaming some Atmos music into my non-Atmos 7.1 system it has me thinking about future upgrade paths. In my current system I also stream ripped mch SACD from my NAS via Oppo 103d via HDMI to Integra 80.3 processor. It seems like the current generation of Atmos capable processors seem to dropping support for DSD decoding and/or 7.1 analog input. I do not see me going down the path as Chris did due to the complexity and my system needs to support 2 ch Hi-Res/ Atmos for music and Atmos for movies. Any insights into a way forward to support all these formats? Thanks

    Ah, you need a processor that does DSD and Atmos. Hmmm. I’m guessing you don’t want to convert DSD to 176.4 PCM?

     

     

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