Dolby Atmos

DOLBY ATMOS - Game Changing?  

3 Weeks ago in pops an email from our very friendly Pioneer rep - "How do you fancy training on Dolby Atmos by the only real experts on the subject?" "Oh and by the way you'll get to experience it at Dolby in London?"

Anyone receiving an email like that and not getting as excited as a 10 year old given a new BMX at christmas is probably in the wrong industry! So off we went to Dolby Labs in Soho Square London (right next door to the BFI funnily enough) for some very special training & demo's.

Dolby HQ, Soho Square, London
Dolby HQ, Soho Square, London

First off a presentation on what Dolby Atmos is all about on the big screen via the exclusive 60 seat cinema custom built by Dolby.  Before anything started playing, the nice chap from Dolby rather politely told us that without sounding big headed this was one of the best sounding cinema in the world, certainly the best Europe - Err, it's a cinema built by Dolby, I would hope it sounds good!

Suffice it to say, it was stunning! we saw various promo clips for what Atmos is and how it works then a short clip from a film (can't say which), but it's a film I know quite well having seen it at the cinema and one we use fairly regularly as a demo piece in the Audible demo room.  I've heard it many times, but never like this!  Still, we don't sell commercial cinema's and these are always setup very differently to the home - so other than blowing us away with how good a properly setup cinema can sound I wasn't sure how much of this awesomeness was down specifically to Atmos.  Time for the second phase of training and the next demo was to make everything clear..

Dolby Atmos
Dolby Atmos

So far so good, when I next go to the cinema I will be travelling to wherever the closest Atmos theatre is (there around 50 or so in the UK and counting..) but what about the home?

Next door to the cinema was a small room, about the same size as a small lounge setup with a KEF R series 7.2 system with the additional KEF 'atmos' speaker add-on's positioned on top of the front left and right and the rear left and right.  In addition there were also 4 in-ceiling speakers which were used to demonstrate the difference between the 'atmos' add on speakers and dedicated in-ceiling speakers.

Ok, so for anyone just getting used to the idea of 7.1 (Front left / Front right / Centre / Surround left / Surround right / Surround Back left / Surround Back right -  thats the '7', the '.1' (or sometimes '.2') refer to the number of subwoofers), Dolby have confused things further with Atmos. This now becomes 3 numbers, so for instance a Dolby atmos system with 2 height channels is now referred to as 7.1.2 - or you could have a 5.1 system with 4 height channels known as 5.1.4

Indeed any combination up to 36 speakers total, but since the Atmos enabled amps currently available limit themselves to 9 or 11 channels this means a 7.2.4 system as demo'd by Dolby is likely to be the biggest home system.

This was perhaps one of the most revealing demo's I've heard in a long time, we got to hear the same clip shown in the full Dolby cinema on a 'home' system as a direct comparison and then all the variations of straight 7.2, Atmos (7.2.4) with the in-ceiling speakers and then Atmos with the 'add-on' speakers.

Wow! All I can say is this is the biggest change to surround sound since Dolby first started putting speakers behind the listening position.  Atmos enables content creators to move sounds or objects (up to 128 simultaneously) through 3D space.  So want the helicopter to sound like its coming around the back and over the top? Simply drag the object through the path you want the listener to experience it.  Atmos takes care of all the processing and whats more the effect will work whether in a 3000 seat multiplex theatre or small home cinema as the processing built into the latest Dolby Atmos AV receivers will recreate the precise object tracking through the calibrated 3D space.  The effect is unbelievably good, even when using the add-on height speakers (although the in-celings were much better).

It definitely needs to be experienced - fortunately here at Audible Fidelity we will have a fully calibrated Atmos setup in the demo room, plans approved by those clever folks at Dolby. So if you want to hear it done properly give us a call and arrange a demo, you won't be disappointed!!