Most days I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not in a wonderful audiophile dream. Even when I'm "wasting" my own time figuring things out, so members of this community don't have to waste theirs, it's seriously enjoyable. For example, lately I've been comparing different formats (DSD, PCM), mixes (Atmos, binaural, 5.1, 7.1), and masters (MoFi, original Redbook, nth anniversary) of my favorite albums. This helps inform me, so I can inform and educate everyone who has a real job. I mean everyone who doesn't have the time or motivation to eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff.
When I began researching Atmos, starting with the musical content, to make sure it was actually a real thing, then moving to speaker configurations, placement, and product selection, I had a dream system in mind. We all should start with a dream / goal right? Before I acted on this dream, I needed to make sure it was based in reality. I needed to match my ideas with the technology and recommendations from experts.
I reached out to some industry friends who put me in contact with the right people. A music industry professional who previously worked for Dolby said a 7.1.4 speaker configuration was the minimum if I wanted to do this seriously. He also passed along documentation that helped solidify my decision to select a 7.1.4 system. I talked to the team at Trinnov early in my research, and I continue working with them today. These guys are first class when it comes to professionalism, knowledge, willingness to educate others, and they have one of the best immersive audio processors on the market today.
Jon Herron from Trinnov sent me documentation about speaker placement that is worth its weight in gold. Anyone who has researched immersive audio knows there are methods to the speaker placement madness. Guidelines stating front left and right channels at 22º, rear channels at 150º, and front height channels at 35º are only the beginning. In addition to the documents he sent, Jon put my mind at ease by saying, "Don't get overly hung up on the specific angles that are recommended by Auro, Dolby, and DTS. They do not even use the same coordinate system, so the numbers are not readily comparable. (Auro and DTS use polar coordinates; Dolby uses XYZ coordinates that need to be scaled for the room's proportions.) We find it more useful to understand why these speakers are placed where they are and to respect the reasoning behind the decisions the three companies made."
This was extremely helpful because I was absolutely hung up on the angles. What if my front speakers are at the best angle for two channel audio, but this angle doesn't match the Dolby guidelines perfectly? What if the angle for my height channels means these speakers need to be placed awkwardly due to my sloped ceiling? What if this, what if that? I was going crazy until Jon told me to think about the reasons behind the decisions. Yes, the angles are important and the speakers need to be placed within a specific range, but perfection isn't a requirement.
Armed with enough knowledge to be dangerous, it was time to make my dream system a reality. Or, at least attempt to make it a reality. I was fully prepared to be told I was crazy, but I also had a hunch that others would be as excited as I was about high end immersive audio. To this end, I did what any card-carrying audiophile would do, I ordered an Atmos soundbar on eBay. Only joking. I called up the team at Wilson Audio to talk about the current state of immersive audio, my enthusiasm for the possibilities provided by Atmos music, and of course, augmenting my Wilson Alexia speakers with a Wilson Lōkē powered subwoofer, Wilson WATCH Convergent Synergy center channel, and eight Wilson Alida loudspeakers (four on wall, four on ceiling).
The conversation couldn't have gone better. Wilson understands immersive audio for home theater extremely well, and also sees the potential in immersive audio for music. Some on the Wilson team have been doing multichannel music for many years. Immersive audio is a natural extension.
Selecting Wilson speakers for my immersive audio system was really a no-brainer. Just like the members of this community, I also value company reputation, high levels of support, build quality, aesthetics, product longevity, health of the company, people at the company, in addition to product performance. Wilson Audio has delivered on every one of these items over the years. I know from first hand experience and I've done my homework by talking to everyone who's opinion I respect.
My two Wilson Alexia speakers will remain the heart of the system. These will be used for both the two channel configuration and the immersive audio configuration as the front right and left speakers. A toggle switch on the back of my Constellation mono amplifiers enables me to switch between two sources of audio. When set to the direct mode, the front left and right amps will receive audio from a Constellation Audio preamplifier. When set to balanced XLR, the front left and right amps will receive audio from an Atmos source. The only thing better would be remote control of this toggle switch, but the exercise won't kill me.
The new Lōkē powered subwoofer will receive the LFE channel information for the immersive audio. The fact that Wilson introduced this powered subwoofer was absolutely perfect me. The other Wilson subwoofers are passive models that require external amplifiers and are designed to perform their best with the Wilson Controller active crossover. I've heard these passive subs and they are fantastic. However, the commitment for this level of performance is substantially greater than that required for the powered Lōkē. The Lōkē is the perfect product for my system.
The Wilson WATCH Convergent Synergy center channel also seems perfect for my system. The speaker is Wilson Audio through and through. The newest version has a silk soft-dome tweeter to more closely match the other Wilson speakers. The WATCH is also a nice size for my modest listening room. It's substantially smaller than the flagship Wilson Mezzo Convergent Synergy center channel. This will be nice given the close proximity of the center channel to two doors that swing inward toward the speaker. Of course I'd love to put the Mezzo, with its two woofers, single midrange, and single tweeter into this system, but I have to start somewhere. The WATCH will fit my system nicely.
I'm very excited about the wall and ceiling mounted Alida loudspeakers. I've heard so many good things about them over the years and yet it's a speaker that seems to get overshadowed by its more glamorous siblings. Just like music listeners tend to favor the louder of two songs, many of us pay more attention to the larger loudspeakers. The Alida is a compact powerhouse with a 5 3/4 inch woofer, 1 inch tweeter, and a room average response of 32 Hz — 27 kHz (+/- 3dB). The Alida's mounting system enables each speaker to be angled toward the listening position. This is very important for me because I have a single chair sweet spot, rather than a row or two of theater seats. Given that musicians tend to place audio in the Atmos surround speakers much more than the motion picture engineers, I'm thrilled to put such capable speakers in my system.
A full Wilson Audio 7.1.4 immersive Atmos system is in production right now. This is the stuff of which audiophile dreams are made.
That's a wrap for Update 4 of my immersive audio journey. As fun as it has been thus far, it's hard to believe the best is yet to come. I enjoy the research and figuring things out, such as decoding and playing lossless TrueHD Atmos on a computer, but nothing will compare to sitting down and listening. I have quite a bit of work to do before that day, and will enjoy bringing the Audiophile Style community along on this journey. Updates detailing my Atmos processor selection and even the installation and pre-installation work are yet to come. I can't wait :~)