Playing lossless TrueHD Atmos music is like many things in life, there are many ways to accomplish the goal. There isn't a one size fits all solution, because we all have different wants and needs. For example, I want to play TrueHD Atmos music using state of the art time and frequency domain room correction, without a video screen within twenty feet of my listening room (objective and subjective review of my system). Others want to use an existing home theater setup, with an AV processor, to take advantage of an audio infrastructure that's already in place. Neither solution is right for everyone.
In this article I'll cover playing lossless TrueHD Atmos music the easy way. I call it the easy way for two reasons. First, it's an easier entry into the world of lossless TrueHD Atmos music for most people because it can be done in an existing home theater. Second, the only skill required to play this TrueHD Atmos music, is the ability to download a file and copy it to either a flash drive or Network Attached Storage unit. The decoding of the Dolby TrueHD Atmos music takes place in the existing processor, such as one from Lyngdorf or Trinnov.
- TrueHD Atmos music file(s)
- NVIDIA Shield TV Pro
- A Dolby TrueHD Atmos capable processor
TrueHD Atmos Music File(s)
Obtaining TrueHD Atmos music files can be done in two ways. The "old school" but still required way for some material is to rip a Blu-ray Disc, extracting the MKV file containing the content. The much easier way is to purchase and download a TrueHD Atmos music album from sites such as 2L, The Spirit of Turtle, Immersive Audio Album, and soon NativeDSD.
The downloads come as an MKV file. This is the Matroska Multimedia Container, capable of holding just about any number of files and formats. The name comes from the well known matryoshka nesting dolls, that appear to hold "endless" numbers of smaller dolls. One note here is that Immersive Audio Album offers downloads as MKV files for each track, rather than a single MKV for an entire album.
We are still in the early days of TrueHD Atmos music downloads. It's nearly identical to the early days of high resolution audio downloads. Content is available from the pioneers, who are leading the charges and producing albums with great music and amazing sound quality. Just like high resolution audio, the next questions about TrueHD Atmos music, relate to how people can play it on their home systems.
NVIDIA Shield TV Pro
Some Blu-ray Disc players, such as those from Oppo, can do what I'm about to describe, but Oppo no longer exists. If one has an Oppo player, that's great. For everyone else, I highly recommend purchasing a $199 NVIDIA Shield TV Pro. The Shield is identical in concept to an AppleTV or Roku, but has better flexibility and support for a library of TrueHD Atmos music (or movies) and using the passthrough function to send bit perfect trueHD Atmos music to an external processor.
Another side benefit of the Shield is that it has the Tidal music app. Tidal streams lossy Atmos music to the Shield. This is great when there is no TrueHD Atmos music equivalent available on the market. In many cases, the highest resolution never released is the lossy Dolby Digital Plus version (for now).
I prefer to install the Kodi app on the Shield, as it is simple, supports MKV TrueHD Atmos music files, and outputs bit perfect digital. Kodi also has a nice iOS app for remote control of the Shield. This enables playback of music without the need for a display, but a connected display will come in hand at times. Like all technology, it always works perfect, until it doesn't.
I've used both a connected USB flash drive with MKV files and the Shield connected to my NAS over the network for MKV files. NS is my preferred method because it's easy.
Here are some screenshots of my NVIDIA Shield.
I disable everything, as I believe the preferred option is to let an external processor handle the decoding.
This is the screen while playing The Beatles Abbey Road MKV file I ripped from a Blu-ray Disc. You can see it lists the tracks and the options Stereo, DTS, and Atmos. When switching tracks, the currently playing track is indicated by the little speaker to the left of the track name.
Selecting the audio stream is done easily from the same screen as above, just by pressing the center round button on the remote, going to settings, and selecting the audio. This screenshot shows all the options that I ripped in my MKV file, although ripping just the Atmos is possible.
Note: the Kodi for iOS app also enables audio stream selection. (Thanks to William Erb for this tip, he has written about Atmos music for Cineluxe, and is working on an Atmos music article for The Cinema Connoisseur).
Here is the final selection, TrueHD 7.1, with passthrough enabled. TrueHD says 7.1, but this will expand to 7.1.4 on my system via a decoder.
These screenshots are from the 2L TrueHD Atmos music download Tuvayhun. In this first one, is a navigation screen in Kodi on the Shield, where I selected the album.
Here are the available selection within the MKV file downloaded from the 2L store. What appears as DTS-HD MA, is actually Auro 3D. TrueHD is the lossless Atmos, and DD+ is the same quality as Tidal and Apple Music stream. The "Unknown" is just what is says because no language was specified in the MKV creation. This isn't really an issue because we aren't reading subtitles or listening to an alternative overdub in another language.
This is the screen when playing the album. The track in BOLD is currently playing. Track navigation is just like a CD player.
Bonus: Here is a shot of the Tidal screen on the Shield. Tidal is nice because it places an Atmos logo on every track, where as Apple Music only labels this per album, and if 100% of an album's tracks aren't Atmos, there is no indication that anything on the album is Atmos. Apple won't use the Atmos logo unless every track is Atmos. Tidal has Apple beat on this one.
If you haven't listened to Rocket Man during a proper Atmos music demonstration, I implore you to do it now.
A Dolby TrueHD Atmos Capable Processor
The last part of the equation is an external Atmos processor. I've heard great things about the Lyngdorf models, and even that a couple high end brands license all the Lyngdorf tech for their own processors. The king of the processor hill remains Trinnov, in my experience. One reason for this is that Trinnov processors have real computers inside, making them incredibly flexible.
I spent time with the Emotiva team at the Texas Audio Roundup in Austin last month. We played Atmos music from Tidal to an NVIDIA Shield to an Emotive processor, and out to the entire Emotiva system. I think the Emotiva products have great potential to provide an entry into Atmos music at a reasonable price.
Playing lossless TrueHD Atmos music using an NVIDIA Shield and an external processor is really an easy way to enter the Atmos music world. The only three items needed are the music, the Shield, and a processor. Granted the rest of the system needs to be in place, but the chances are high that those with a home theater capable of processing Atmos, can easily be off and running by adding music and a Shield.