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Article: Thoughts On Immersive Audio


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When Apple introduced (and started to push) its Spatial Audio my reaction was cautious.

 

I thought: "OK, fine for newly released music productions. Don't touch the recordings already made in plain stereo, though. Especially without artist's/conductor's consent."

 

I'm open to change my opinions on this matter (and, as a matter of fact, on other topics). It's the right approach to the new things or to the already established beliefs. Curiously, to some extents, I noticed that I'm more open minded now than what I was decades ago. 🙂

 

I see Karajan, I read about your journey in immersive audio with a positive and exciting experience (firstly on other's systems and now on yours). I value your opinion and now I look forward to listen somewhere through speakers some Dolby Atmos recordings (both, remastered stuff and new albums) to get a better idea of what a multichannel audio is capable of.

 

For now I can rely only on Apple Music and headphones. As a subscriber, I'm glad to see see Digital Concert Hall already promoting Dolby Atmos contents.

 

Two channel systems are already sometimes difficult to achieve. Let alone a 12 channel audio rig. It's not only a matter of budget. The listening room/area has to be properly set and is definitely more demanding in terms of space and, obviously, number of devices involved.

 

Who knows, maybe one day I will start a multichannel update to my current audio system.

 

Thanks for your shared experience, Chris.

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26 minutes ago, Marco Klobas said:

When Apple introduced (and started to push) its Spatial Audio my reaction was cautious.

 

I thought: "OK, fine for newly released music productions. Don't touch the recordings already made in plain stereo, though. Especially without artist's/conductor's consent."

 

I'm open to change my opinions on this matter (and, as a matter of fact, on other topics). It's the right approach to the new things or to the already established beliefs. Curiously, to some extents, I noticed that I'm more open minded now than what I was decades ago. 🙂

 

I see Karajan, I read about your journey in immersive audio with a positive and exciting experience (firstly on other's systems and now on yours). I value your opinion and now I look forward to listen somewhere through speakers some Dolby Atmos recordings (both, remastered stuff and new albums) to get a better idea of what a multichannel audio is capable of.

 

For now I can rely only on Apple Music and headphones. As a subscriber, I'm glad to see see Digital Concert Hall already promoting Dolby Atmos contents.

 

Two channel systems are already sometimes difficult to achieve. Let alone a 12 channel audio rig. It's not only a matter of budget. The listening room/area has to be properly set and is definitely more demanding in terms of space and, obviously, number of devices involved.

 

Who knows, maybe one day I will start a multichannel update to my current audio system.

 

Thanks for your shared experience, Chris.

Hi Marco, thanks for the kind words. It’s people like you who make this community so enjoyable. You’re reasonable, you’re passionate about music, and you’re cautiously curious about improvements. I love it!

 

I was a big skeptic of immersive audio at first. Don’t touch my two channel recordings that I know and love! Fortunately, I gave it a chance and listened to as many opinions as possible. 
 

Your approach to try some old and new recordings is the right one. You need to mix it up, and even try to find out who mixed the albums. Not all mixing engineers are created equal. Some mixes bring me to tears in the best way, while others bring me to tears in the worst way. Just like stereo. 
 

I hope you can try immersive audio in a 12 channel system. It’s really a game changer. 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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The other "how" I am very interested in learning about is how Atmos recordings are made. Herbert von Karajan passed away in 1989.  Did the recording technicians of the era actually somehow anticipate the likes of 7.1.4 and take the steps to capture the necessary data?

Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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1 minute ago, Brian A said:

The other "how" I am very interested in learning about is how Atmos recordings are made. Herbert von Karajan passed away in 1989.  Did the recording technicians of the era actually somehow anticipate the likes of 7.1.4 and take the steps to capture the necessary data?

Hi Brian, that’s critical as well! The data must be there for the type of immersive mix that’s done. Some mixes like Abbey Road have sounds all over the place. Others just have ambient information coming from surround channels. 
 

I’ve heard that nobody is pleased with the studio plug-ins that create an Atmos mix from a stereo source. One artist even stopped it from being released. I don’t doubt it’s happening and will happen. Just like two channel, there are good and bad mixes. 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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45 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I hope you can try immersive audio in a 12 channel system. It’s really a game changer. 

 

I'm wondering whether adding 9 active speakers + sub could facilitate the expansion to a 7.1.4 audio system. It's a matter of synergy, of course. The added active speakers should match sonically the existing stereo pair already present.

 

Do you think we'll see a rise of complete Dolby Atmos active speakers packages in the audiophile market?

 

I guess many audiophiles are skeptic. Yet, lately we've already seen many active stereo speakers sets leveraging DSP gaining traction. Active speakers have pros and cons: one weak point is that when the technology changes (a new format added or an existing format turned obsolete) an all-in-one (embedded) solution means changing basically the whole chain.

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4 minutes ago, Marco Klobas said:

 

I'm wondering whether adding 9 active speakers + sub could facilitate the expansion to a 7.1.4 audio system. It's a matter of synergy, of course. The added active speakers should match sonically the existing stereo pair already present.

 

Do you think we'll see a rise of complete Dolby Atmos active speakers packages in the audiophile market?

 

I guess many audiophiles are skeptic. Yet, lately we've already seen many active stereo speakers sets leveraging DSP gaining traction. Active speakers have pros and cons: one weak point is that when the technology changes (a new format added or an existing format turned obsolete) an all-in-one (embedded) solution means changing basically the whole chain.

Adding active speakers and a sub would be a great way to do it. Many studios are done this way. 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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49 minutes ago, Brian A said:

The other "how" I am very interested in learning about is how Atmos recordings are made. Herbert von Karajan passed away in 1989.  Did the recording technicians of the era actually somehow anticipate the likes of 7.1.4 and take the steps to capture the necessary data?

 

This is one of the most "delicate" aspects of Immersive Audio.

 

It seems that mixes of pre-Dolby Atmos era recordings give ... well, mixed results (no pun intended). Some are done right giving an improved listening experience, others are done wrong ruining the original work.

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54 minutes ago, Brian A said:

The other "how" I am very interested in learning about is how Atmos recordings are made. Herbert von Karajan passed away in 1989.  Did the recording technicians of the era actually somehow anticipate the likes of 7.1.4 and take the steps to capture the necessary data?

 

48 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Hi Brian, that’s critical as well! The data must be there for the type of immersive mix that’s done.

 

49 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I’ve heard that nobody is pleased with the studio plug-ins that create an Atmos mix from a stereo source.

Agreed.  However, the BPO situation is different in that they undoubtedly have lots of acoustic data about the 2 halls in which all their recordings, "live" and otherwise, were recorded.  Since they primarily add ambiance (and not the spatial redistribution of instruments or voices), I suspect they use their proprietary acoustical information in the transformation of stereo and, nota bene, multitracked recordings to Atmos.  

Kal Rubinson

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

 

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1 minute ago, ted_b said:

Chris, how are you keeping the Atmos layer while upsampling in HQPlayer to DSD256?  That would be wonderful to do.

 

Edit: btw, you request is on its way.  😎

Once the audio leaves the Dolby Reference Player, it's plain old PCM at 24/48. It can be routed to anything you'd like :~)

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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If you haven’t already. Give “Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia” a listen. Acoustic recreation of sound in Hagia Sophia church now mosque in Turkey. HS built in 500AD if I remember correctly. Huge acoustic space chosen by sound engineers at Stanford to recreate electronically using psychoacoustic software. So this music hasn’t been heard in 2000+ years.  Even if you don’t like sacred music I’m sure you will agree this one is special. Available on Spotify and others. 
If you know anyone else interested, and I think most with nice equipment can present the space accurately, pass it on. 

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7 minutes ago, HVAC said:

If you haven’t already. Give “Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia” a listen. Acoustic recreation of sound in Hagia Sophia church now mosque in Turkey. HS built in 500AD if I remember correctly. Huge acoustic space chosen by sound engineers at Stanford to recreate electronically using psychoacoustic software. So this music hasn’t been heard in 2000+ years.  Even if you don’t like sacred music I’m sure you will agree this one is special. Available on Spotify and others. 
If you know anyone else interested, and I think most with nice equipment can present the space accurately, pass it on. 

Excellent. Thank you. 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Chris, thanks for sharing the passion for multi-channel music reproduction - and congrats with the new system.
I can't wait to get my own 5.1 system expanded with height layers!


IMNSHO's to those new to  multi-channel music reproduction (MCH):
 

  1. MCH is nothing new - many of us has been in the game for 10+ years, even if it was mostly 5.1 / 7.1 recordings in either PCM or from SACD's. Have a look at the thriving community at QuadrophonicQuad
  2. Steaming is the "new" part that is promising to take MCH into main stream with convenience and many times the offering.
  3. "By adding the third dimension of the soundscape, the emotional impact was increased tenfold" - quote my Morten Lindberg. And I fully agree. Hear his perspective here: Genelec visits Morten Lindberg’s stunning immersive audio studio
  4. IMO, going MCH / Immersive has a much higher impact to the experience than any audiophile tinkering and perfecting your stereo system. 
    To put it bluntly: A cheap MCH system (with a good MCH recording) easily out performs a vastly more expensive stereo system of the same recording.
  5. The jump from stereo to "surround" (as in 5.1 or 7.1) is as big or bigger as the next jump to "Immersive" (adding the height layers).
  6. Good "Surround" recordings used to be hard to find, while "Immersive" was almost unobtainable. 
    Luckily mainstram steaming seems to jump straight to "Immersive".
  7. You should go try Surround / Immersive how ever you can.
    Forget the audiophile hardware OCD for now, just make sure it's an excellent recording.
    Morten Lindberg / 2L offers pristine and free 5.1 recordings on his test bench - an easy start if you have a way to play the files. 2L Testbench


What ever you do - enjoy the music that speaks to your emotions 😉
Peace 

Promise Pegasus2 R6 12TB -> Thunderbolt2 ->
MacBook Pro M1 Pro -> Motu 8D -> AES/EBU ->
Genelec 5 x 8260A + 7271A sub
Genelec 8010 + 5040 sub

iPhone SE 2 ->  Sennheiser PXC 550 II
Blog: “Confessions of a DigiPhile” at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/blogs/digipete

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17 hours ago, Marco Klobas said:

 

. . . .

Active speakers have pros and cons: one weak point is that when the technology changes (a new format added or an existing format turned obsolete) an all-in-one (embedded) solution means changing basically the whole chain.


That may be the case for some consumer products, but not so in the PRO world.
In fact, your treasured recordings are almost exclusively recorded, mixed and mastered on active monitors.
Wether it's stereo, surround or immersive.

In fact, my own (digital input) Genelec SAM PRO monitors system is ready for multiples of the channels Immersive currently offer. Equally so with analogue input active monitors.

 

Promise Pegasus2 R6 12TB -> Thunderbolt2 ->
MacBook Pro M1 Pro -> Motu 8D -> AES/EBU ->
Genelec 5 x 8260A + 7271A sub
Genelec 8010 + 5040 sub

iPhone SE 2 ->  Sennheiser PXC 550 II
Blog: “Confessions of a DigiPhile” at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/blogs/digipete

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3 hours ago, DigiPete said:
20 hours ago, Marco Klobas said:

Active speakers have pros and cons: one weak point is that when the technology changes (a new format added or an existing format turned obsolete) an all-in-one (embedded) solution means changing basically the whole chain.


That may be the case for some consumer products, but not so in the PRO world.
In fact, your treasured recordings are almost exclusively recorded, mixed and mastered on active monitors.
Wether it's stereo, surround or immersive.

In fact, my own (digital input) Genelec SAM PRO monitors system is ready for multiples of the channels Immersive currently offer. Equally so with analogue input active monitors.

 

+1, no, make that ++++++ for  Genelec

 

if starting over, instead of 20 passive Paradigm speakers with 20 channels of power amplification, 20 XLR audio  cables from the processor to the amps, and 20 sets of speaker cables , I would definitely be starting with active monitors. Genelec makes an extensive line at a wide range of prices. https://www.genelec.com/home-theatres  Some accept analog only and some AES/EBU. They even offer some Dante/AES67 that are powered with an ethernet cable so a single wire does it all. https://www.genelec.com/4430a

 

poke around here. https://www.genelec.com/immersive-hub this is an excellent primer on immersive including a comparison of different formats

 

To DigiPete's concern about obsolescence, The software continues to evolve but the hardware chain is a mature technology in the pro audio world. no concerns about having to replace it

 

 

 

see my system at Audiogon  https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/768

 

 

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Chris

 

Great article.

 

I’m definitely mch/immersive curious and as a classical listener this article has just increased my curiosity. Incidentally , Digital Concert Hall have a free 7 day ticket offer available until 26thJune (for August concerts) .

 

Just to recap my understanding: Immersive is a 12 channel system, so you need an Atmos decoder/DAC/preamp, 12 channels of power amp, 7 surround speakers, 1 subwoofer and 4 in ceiling speakers?  Those 12 channels may come from a dedicated 12 channel Atmos recording, or else via a form of DSP for preAtmos stereo or mch recordings?
 

I appreciate that some of this stuff may be in one box, but it would be useful to have a guide as to example Atmos systems / hardware at different price points (more so for the electronics rather than speakers, sorry if I have missed something already done).

 

Also, can Atmos releases be mixed down to, say,  5.1 and still offer a benefit? For example, would it be possible/worthwhile to feed my OPPO205 via HDMI from an Atmos  decoder and then use the 205 as the heart of a MCH system, as I was already contemplating for SACD?  I don’t know if any ATMOS decoders are standalone  devices offering digital output and with onboard mix down, for example?  I know this may not be what is intended, but if Atmos means an exponential increase in available MCH music, it’s worth knowing if there are ways to get some of the benefit on existing kit without going the whole way.
 

Sorry, lots of questions as you have piqued my interest. Thanks.  N

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19 hours ago, Norton said:

Chris

 

Great article.

 

I’m definitely mch/immersive curious and as a classical listener this article has just increased my curiosity. Incidentally , Digital Concert Hall have a free 7 day ticket offer available until 26thJune (for August concerts) .

 

Just to recap my understanding: Immersive is a 12 channel system, so you need an Atmos decoder/DAC/preamp, 12 channels of power amp, 7 surround speakers, 1 subwoofer and 4 in ceiling speakers?  Those 12 channels may come from a dedicated 12 channel Atmos recording, or else via a form of DSP for preAtmos stereo or mch recordings?
 

I appreciate that some of this stuff may be in one box, but it would be useful to have a guide as to example Atmos systems / hardware at different price points (more so for the electronics rather than speakers, sorry if I have missed something already done).

 

Also, can Atmos releases be mixed down to, say,  5.1 and still offer a benefit? For example, would it be possible/worthwhile to feed my OPPO205 via HDMI from an Atmos  decoder and then use the 205 as the heart of a MCH system, as I was already contemplating for SACD?  I don’t know if any ATMOS decoders are standalone  devices offering digital output and with onboard mix down, for example?  I know this may not be what is intended, but if Atmos means an exponential increase in available MCH music, it’s worth knowing if there are ways to get some of the benefit on existing kit without going the whole way.
 

Sorry, lots of questions as you have piqued my interest. Thanks.  N

 

Hi Norton, I love the questions! That's what this community is all about. 

 

The Digital Concert Hall is really cool. Kind of crazy that the old school Classical genre is leading the way with this stuff. 

 

Immersive can be a number of different configurations from 5.1.2 to 9.1.6 and more. 7.1.4 (12 channels) is the most popular standard and I believe is the max Apple Music is capable of streaming. 

 

Something needs to decode the Atmos or Auro 3D files (much more rare). macOS has a built-in decoder for Dolby Digital Plus that streams from Apple Music. It's very nice to have this. I also have the Dolby Reference Player to decode lossless TrueHD ripped from Blu-ray. Most people will use a processor with decoding built-in. with a processor you can output from an Apple TV (Apple Music or Tidal). 

 

Amps and speakers of course, or speakers with amps built-in. 12 of them. 

 

Atmos recordings are unique in that they are object based, not channel based. The mixing engineer places the sound objects in space, and the decoder on the consumer's end places the sound objects in the best location, based on how many channels the consumer has. The same mix can be used for stereo headphones, 5.1.2, 7.1.4, etc... It's a great system.

 

As long as the right information exists on tape or disk, an Atmos mix can be made. Some albums put full instruments and vocals all over while others place only ambient sound in the surround channels. Obviously different requirements from an original recording perspective. 

 

Be patient, I'm working on all kinds of articles to help people decide if this is for them, how to do it, etc... 

 

Downmixing from Atmos to 5.1 isn't something I've done or considered. Immersive audio and height channels are too important to me. I do understand the major commitment of height channels though and many people will find it tough to implement. 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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