Dolby Atmos – ish for ALL MUSIC with Arcam JBL and more
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The Latest and Greatest thing could well be great

Its hot here in the UK, summer is finally here and I am guessing lots of you are listening to your favourite tunes louder than usual while drinking Del Boy cocktails – lovely-jubbily.

Recently Apple or Apple Music made a push for Spotify’s large customer base market share by announcing High Resolution Music availability and as a side bonus Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos Music. I appreciate these are different technologies but there is a common ground with relation to music delivery and I think it creates an interesting overall situation with a very big irony to it.  I also think there are some real potential positives for audiophiles.

The IRONY

The irony of Dolby Atmos music is obvious, to do it properly the music will need to be listened to on a system designed for multi channel playback. I am sure lots of headphones, sound bars, Ipads and other units will deliver Spatial Audio and “Dolby Atmos” and will give the user an an experience but lets be honest for the best experience of Dolby Atmos music it will need to be listened to on a good multi channel speaker system, which invariably means an AV or Home Theatre system.

Most multi channel speaker AV systems are designed for movie sound and this announcement or a move to Dolby Atmos music I feel is unlikely to encourage die hard two channel audiophiles to do away with their HiFi systems and get fully into multi channel speaker systems not anytime soon anyway, so those who might be most interested are excluded.  The good news is lots of us have dual use systems, a system designed for multichannel playback but with a music orientation so we could effectively get the benefit of Dolby Atmos music right now – that’s great except!!

Music Catalogue Availability 

As with all these things it will boil down to the music availability and maybe with a tech giant like Apple behind it we could see some major movement, however its possible at least for some time Apple Music and Spatial Audio will be nothing more than a novelty, maybe an album or a few tracks to listen to and unless the this music you really love and unless there is a lot of it available pretty soon your back to your stereo music collection. Time will tell if we start to get a lot more music availability and I do hope we do and here is why

The PRO’s and CON’s

Standardization – as most home theatre enthusiasts will know the majority of the content you watch maybe from a Blu Ray or UHD Blu Ray will have a Dolby Atmos, a Dolby True or a DTS /X sound track meaning there is a quality standardization of the sound track production from disc to disc. Its something home theatre enthusiasts take for granted but probably should appreciate more as music buffs will know there is no standardization for music production so its pretty much the wild west out there for quality consistency.

If Dolby are involved then each Atmos album I am sure must go through their standardization process and then the problem of no standardization is gone and whatever way you look at it this would be a huge step forward for music sound quality consistency and great for Audiophiles.

Another positive to Dolby Atmos music is resolution – this might seem strange but one of the big improvements you notice when stepping up from say a 5.1 system to maybe a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos home cinema system is sound tracks appear to have more resolution. This makes sense, more speakers, more mixing channels more clearly information can be presented rather than it all being layered on top of each other into what can be a very dense sounding stereo mix. So complex musical pieces should be easier to decipher if you have more resolution to the system.

There is also a benefit of efficiency, more speakers more amplifier channels playing more sound, this sound will seem much louder so the volume can be lower and you therefore should have lower distortion levels from the speakers and the electronics.

In-Difference

On the flip side for new music it wont matter, but for back catalogue music if a new Dolby Atmos mix is created of an album you know and love and its made to sound different there is the possibility you might not like it, you might feel its been meddled with too much or changed too much.  That is just how it is and I feel there is a strong possibility for this and I could this as being one of the big potential negatives to an Audiophile making a change to get into Dolby Atmos music.  I think the saving grace is its not like the 2 channel versions will all of a sudden disappear so you can always go back to them if you don’t like the Atmos mix.

Dolby Atmos Music Now and For ALL MUSIC – almost!!

This whole situation is what prompted me to write this article because its possible with the latest Arcam, JBL and a few other AV products that work the same to get an Dolby Atmos type effect for all your music now without needing new mixes, new equipment, the music can come from any source and these are not new mixes of your favourite music so there is nothing not to like, oh yeah its also free and easy.

What to do

When listening to 2 channel music get the remote control press the AMP button to initialise and then press the MODE button and put the AV receiver or processor into multi channel stereo mode.

Obviously this is processing the stereo signal but unlike most other sound processing modes in AV electronics this one works brilliantly and doesn’t break the music. If you want to check how well it works press the mode button again and listen through the other sound modes and you will hear the music sounds broken for all of them as the kit tries to make music sound like a movie or TV – obviously not what we want.

The multi channel stereo mode doesn’t do that- I don’t know 100% exactly what it does but what I do know is if you have your system setup very well, properly balanced from speaker to speaker and the subwoofers are properly integrated you will hear the music presentation obviously change going from stereo to multi channel but most importantly you wont hear the music’s intended presentation change and that is the big one!!  You still get a stereo sound stage with all the main elements all in the right place,  drums all of sudden dont go to the back of the room or anything rubbish like that, what happens is you just feel more in the middle of the music rather than looking onto it.

I am a 2 channel die hard enthusiast as I am sure you already know and yet I can say this way of listening to music is extremely enjoyable, in a way more enveloping and there are some very stand out benefits. Its much more than just a gimmick I can promise you that and it could well be a big upgrade for some Audiophiles because as we all know to get two channel stereo just right is extremely difficult and as humans we are much more fussy with less sound sources or speakers creating sound.

All the same Benefits

All the benefits for Dolby Atmos music are still true here, efficiency definitely is and resolution maybe and I feel this sound mode will give you a very good taste of what Dolby Atmos music will be intended to do and of course having things done properly with a music mix and proper channels dedicated to proper things should be better but it might also be different and therefore worse or enjoyed less.

Doing it this way the music mix is the same and yes the presentation is different but the music’s intention is not different.

I know a lot of you who read this article will already know about this and are likely already using this sound mode, I know some of my Dirac Live Calibration customers do and they love it. Others didn’t know it was a thing or didn’t realise that it’s a very good sound mode and after my recommendation now use it, some don’t and wont, however kudos to whoever at Harman coded this one they have done a great job.

Its one of those things I think to try that’s free if you own the kit and easy to do. All I will say is if you don’t get great results then maybe your system can be setup better which is not meant as criticism, but its worth thinking about, if your system can be made to sound better well then only you benefit from for all Music Movies and TV.  This is all part of my Dirac Live Calibration service and I often demonstrate this mode to customers and quite often it shocks them for just how well it works.

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