Just when everyone thought they understood Atmos music and Auro 3D, some forward thinking pioneers released what's called Discrete Immersive audio. Oh wait, Atmos music and Auro 3D are still a bit fuzzy in peoples' minds? I'm only joking. Immersive audio can be a little confusing at the moment, just like the early days of computer audio and high resolution downloads. One great thing about all of these concepts is that the end result is absolutely worth any trouble or learning curve required to experience them (I've been told the same can be said about vinyl playback, but that's rocket science to me). I hate to imagine where we'd all be if we'd have said that understanding adaptive vs asynchronous USB, Exclusive mode, DSD, gapless playback, network audio, etc... are all a bridge too far.
Understanding Discrete Immersive audio first requires a tiny bit of knowledge about the alternatives. 99.9% of immersive audio is released in either Dolby Atmos or Auro 3D. Both technologies support immersive height channels, in addition to the traditional ear level speakers. Music delivered as Dolby Atmos or Auro 3D is encoded at the studio, and requires a decoder in the consumer's audio system for proper playback. For example, Auro 3D files can be delivered via download as eight channel FLAC files, with four additional channels embedded into the metadata. Extracting all 12 channels of a 7.1.4 Auro 3D album, requires a proprietary decoder. The beauty of these decoders is that audio can be sent to the number of channels in a listener's audio system rather than a fixed number of channels. If Morten Lindberg mixed an album in 7.1.4, it can be played back on systems from 5.1.2 to 9.1.6, and the Dolby Atmos decoder will properly route audio to the right channels.
Discrete Immersive audio, on the other hand, requires zero proprietary decoding. It's immersive audio as heard in the studio, before being downsampled, compressed, and encoded, for the mass market. Morten Lindberg's aforementioned 7.1.4 12 channel album recorded in DXD (24 bit / 352.8 kHz) would be released as 12 channel DXD WAV files. This is the holy grail of sound quality for us music loving audiophiles. It's the immersive equivalent to what stereo listeners have had since day one, unencoded FLAC, WAV, etc...
The one negative aspect of Discrete Immersive audio, is that listeners with less than the delivered number of channels need to make adjustments to hear the music "properly." For example, in a recent Discrete Immersive album I received, was a note that said, "If your immersive speaker layout is 5.1.4 then please omit/mute channel 5 and 6 from these files. If your immersive speaker layout is 5.1.2 then please also omit/mute channel 11 and 12 from these files." The files are still playable in almost all their glory, but adjustments are required.
What if a Discrete Immersive album is released as 5.1.4, and listeners have 7.1.4 systems? This is easy to remedy without any manual labor. When playing a 5.1.4 Discrete Immersive 24/384 album, I use a convolution filter created by Mitch Barnett that routes the audio to the correct speakers. Given that everyone with a system capable of playing a 24/384 Discrete Immersive album will also want/use convolution capabilities anyway, this really isn't even an added step.
Currently I know of four places offering Discrete Immersive music downloads, 2L, NativeDSD, Spirit of Turtle, and trptk. 2L offers 7.1.4 DXD, trptk offers 5.1.4 DXD, Spirit of Turtle offers 5.1.4 DXD, and NativeDSD offers both 5.1.4 (24/384) and 7.1.4 DXD depending on the album. The prices of these Discrete Immersive albums are around $60 to $90. Based on what I've heard so far, the albums are absolutely worth every penny. This is as cutting edge as it gets in audio.
As I type this, I'm listening to Lyden av Arktis (The Sound of the Arctic) in 12 channels of glorious DXD, from Morton Lindberg's 2L label. Track 4, Minnemøter - Fire Arktiske atmosfærer (Encounters Recalled - Four Arctic Atmospheres), is an 8.6GB file, 12 minutes long, and a stunning piece of music. Even without looking at the musician / recording layout below, I can easily identify where each musician is placed in the immersive soundstage. Listening to this album is truly listening without restrictions. Zero restrictions from the performance through playback. Captured immersively, with an original source of 7.1.4 DXD, and played back in my room at 7.1.4 DXD. How could home audio reproduction get better than this?
One last note about Discrete Immersive audio. I convert all my lossless Dolby TrueHD Atmos and Auro 3D albums to something similar to Discrete Immersive audio. Those formats are 24/48 and 24/96 respectively, so I convert them to 7.1.4 12 channel WAV files at those resolutions. Technically this is sort of discrete Immersive, but it isn't the same thing as a never encoded Discrete Immersive, pure from the studio. Thus, I think we should avoid calling such conversions Discrete Immersive, even they seem like it, kind of, sort of.
Now Playing, Immersively
I know immersive music aficionados are always looking for new music, just like me, so I'm happy to help their additions to the wonderful hobby. Here are three favorites I've been listening to lately.
Spoon - Lucifer on the Sofa - Apple Music
I've Neve listened to Spoon before this immersive release. This album is only available from streaming services.
Dave McKendry - HumanBeingKind - Apple Music | Blu-ray
I absolutely love this album from Dave Mckendry. I don't think I would've given the album more than a 30 second spin, if I didn't see it was also available in lossless TrueHD Atmos. I ripped the Blu-ray and haven't stopped playing it since. I think it sounds fantastic, and the Atmos mix serves the music very well. Not too conservative nor too adventurous, but just right. The TrueHD Atmos is a must have.
Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas - Apple Music | Blu-ray
Like many members of this community, I've been listening to this album forever. This year a new stereo and Dolby Atmos mix was released. I just received the Blu-ray with lossless TrueHD Atmos and ripped it to my growing collection. Excellent music, fairly conservative Atmos mix, and very enjoyable. The Super Deluxe Edition includes the Blu-ray and some great information about the recording of the tracks. Highly recommended!
Lastly, a very neat rumor for Tesla owners started floating around three weeks ago. Soon an update from Tesla will enable Dolby Atmos in its cars. I can't wait to listen. In someone else's car of course, my banged up Subaru won't ever support anything other than stereo.