Dolby Atmos: An Audio Epiphany
When I first heard about Dolby Atmos, I was skeptical. Did the world really need another more-speakers-are-better surround-sound format, especially after the underwhelming consumer response to 7.1-channel and even 5.1-channel surround? (How many people think a sound bar is the last word in TV sound upgrades?)
Dolby Atmos adds height channels to the usual surround channels (and subwoofer), with the goal of a more immersive sonic experience. (Atmos actually allows up to 128 separate audio tracks.) Entertainment advancement, or another gimmick? At a trade show a couple of years ago, I got to hear demos of three different Dolby Atmos systems.
I was astounded. I’ve heard hundreds of system demos and live concerts and am hard to impress. But I was flabbergasted. Set up like a bowling pin—and bowled over.
The first time I tried virtual-reality glasses a few years ago, I thought they were a novelty. Yeah, I could turn around and see the live-concert demo in 360 horizontal degrees, but the illusion was destroyed when I looked up and the image cut off. Later, I tried a true 360° VR setup, journeying down a river in a gondola, and was amazed at the completeness of the experience—immersive no matter where I looked.
That’s what Dolby Atmos is like—instead of hearing a vaguely circular band of sound, you hear sounds from everywhere with remarkable spatial precision and movement.
PMC Loudspeakers did a demo at AES 2015 of Kraftwerk’s 3-D The Catalogue series of releases that was astounding. I admit I’m a huge Kraftwerk fan, which added to my emotional expectations. But still . . .
Atmos didn’t just make more sound come from the ceiling—I was in the sound, in another fantastic sonic-bubble universe. I’ve heard Kraftwerk hundreds of times on many systems but I’d never heard them like this—synths, human and robotic vocals, bloops and bleeps coming at you from close up, far away, fixed in place, swooping around, solid, kinetic, dazzling. It was like being in a sonic planetarium with the sounds like stars all around you. Fantastic.
Home theater and music listening should be captivating, exciting, and fun. They should transport you. These Dolby Atmos demos certainly moved me.
Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and
works with a number of audio & music industry clients. He’s been involved in audio
& music for most of his life and is a professional guitarist.