You don’t want a dozen audio system to take pleasure in Dolby Atmos Music anymore. It’s now one thing anybody with an iPhone, an Apple Music subscription, and a set of headphones can hear. Within the not-too-distant future, Android customers will have the ability to get in on the Atmos motion, too.
However does Dolby Atmos Music really sound higher? Given Apple’s spin, plus my very own experiences listening to Atmos Music by way of Tidal on my house theater system, my expectations have been very excessive for Dolby Atmos by way of headphones.
“Spatial is an immersive expertise with sound shifting round you in several instructions,” stated Zane Lowe, Apple Music’s co-head of artist relations and radio host, as he launched right into a pseudo-sales pitch for the brand new immersive format. “So, it’s not even nearly the way in which it’s going to finish up sounding,” Lowe stated, ”it’s very a lot how songs are going to really feel.”
Armed with a loaner pair of $549 AirPods Max and my iPhone 11, I dove proper into spatial audio on Apple Music, beginning with Lowe’s referenced tracks, Girl Gaga’s Rain On Me, and Kanye West’s Black Skinhead.
One factor can’t be denied: Dolby Atmos Music (which for the aim of this assessment I’ll use interchangeably with “spatial audio”) creates a a lot bigger sense of house. Atmos tracks really feel such as you’re sitting in a studio with the band, with the musicians unfold out round you.
However as a result of that impact is being simulated by two pretty commonplace audio system connected to your head, there’s a value to be paid for that additional sense of house: You lose some dynamic vary and quantity dips fairly dramatically.
It’s nearly as in the event you sat between two carefully spaced audio system after which somebody moved the audio system 20 toes away, however didn’t improve the amount to compensate for the additional distance. You get an ethereal, open sound, with an elevated sense of the place the music is bodily coming from, however on the identical time, the depth decreases, as does the intimacy.
More motion, much less emotion
In listening to Rain On Me and Black Skinhead, the bass notes unfold out, making a deep pool of low-end heat in my chest. The vocals, nonetheless, felt distant, as did a lot of the instrumentation. In Black Skinhead, the shouts and screams Kanye makes use of to punctuate his lyrics echo off an invisible again wall and ceiling, one thing you wouldn’t usually hear in a stereo combine. Curious to know what the unique model seemed like, I converted to Tidal and ran the observe once more.
This time, the entire music was in my face. These screams have been now not echoes, they have been tangible and inescapable. Kanye’s voice took on a brand new urgency whereas the drums hit onerous from the left aspect, and I used to be all of the sudden conscious of my coronary heart charge rising. If that’s not an emotional response, I don’t know what’s.
With Gaga’s Rain On Me, a music that was clearly meant to get folks on their toes and dancing, the Dolby Atmos model felt robbed of a lot of the vitality that the stereo combine possesses. The additional house generated by the spatial audio impact appeared to dilute slightly than improve the harmonies that Girl Gaga and Ariana Grande begin to layer because the observe hits the halfway level.
I repeated this A/B comparability on numerous different tracks that I’m extra accustomed to, like Crimson Rider’s Lunatic Fringe, The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, and The Beatles’ Right here Comes The Solar, and listened with the AirPods Professional and Sennheiser’s HD 560S. Every time, I appreciated the big-room impact of Dolby Atmos, with its ultra-deep soundstage, however I additionally famous that the standard stereo mixes had extra energy, extra readability, and for me, extra emotional punch.
A brighter future?
Hollywood sound mixers have been working with Dolby Atmos for years, and the outcomes will be beautiful with the best tools. However the format remains to be very new for musicians. I’ve a sense Lowe is appropriate when he stated, “Ultimately there will likely be new artists who’re born into spatial, identical to I used to be born in stereo. Artists sooner or later would possibly by no means even take into consideration making a stereo document — as a result of all they’ve ever identified is spatial.”
When that begins to occur, we must always begin getting “spatial-first” tracks which were conceived from the start to reap the benefits of the larger immersion that codecs like Dolby Atmos makes attainable.