Sponsored by Dolby Laboratories, Inc.

Unlock New Creative Potential (And New Business Opportunities) Through Immersive, Multidimensional Sound

For more than 80 years, the vast majority of music recordings have been experienced on a stereo soundstage. While many surround formats have debuted over the decades, none have truly gained broad mainstream acceptance, due largely to the technical barriers to entry in both producing and listening to music in multichannel surround.

Dolby Atmos Music is changing that. This object-based immersive-audio format goes far beyond the limitations of channel-based audio, giving producers unprecedented power and freedom to present an artist’s vision without compromise, crafting expressive, dynamic mixes with more depth and realism than ever before.

“It's like how moving from mono to stereo opened up the ability to give people perception beyond a point source—it became that things were happening in a sense of space,” says Coast Mastering’s Michael Romanowski, who earned Grammy nominations in the Best Immersive Album category for his mastering work on Alicia Keys’s Alicia and the US Army Field Band’s Soundtrack of the American Soldier. “Now, we have a much bigger palette, a much bigger space: Instead of painting the front wall, we're actually painting the entire room.”

For music lovers, it’s like falling in love with their favorite songs all over again. The Dolby Atmos experience is transformative, as a fully immersive soundstage envelops listeners from above and from all sides, placing them literally at the center of the music for a deeper connection than ever before.

Michael Romanowski in the Dolby Atmos room at Coast Mastering. Image courtesy Coast Mastering.

As Dolby Atmos becomes deeply established in the market, music producers may be asking themselves, is the time right to invest in the platform? How steep is the learning curve? Will I have to take out a second mortgage on my house to invest in equipment? We’ll answer those questions and more as we explore the fundamentals of this exciting platform.

What Is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos essentially frees mix elements from channels. Atmos is an “object-based” audio format that lets creators precisely place and move individual sounds in a three-dimensional space surrounding the listener, with more precision than traditional surround.

When that mix is played back on a Dolby Atmos-enabled device (such as a receiver or soundbar), the device decodes the audio signal and re-creates the precise placement of every element in front of, around, behind, and above the listener. Dolby Atmos reproduces this immersive soundstage independent of a listener’s speaker configuration, meaning the creator and consumer don’t have to have the same speaker setup.

A Little History

Dolby’s pioneering surround sound innovations stretch back nearly 50 years to the introduction of the Dolby Digital optical four-channel film sound format in 1976. More Cinema Sound breakthroughs came with formats such as Dolby SR, Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Digital Surround EX, and Dolby Digital Plus.

When the company introduced Dolby Atmos at the 2012 premiere of the Disney/Pixar animated film Brave, it ushered in a new, 3D cinema-sound experience. Since then, Dolby Atmos has moved toward becoming the immersive audio standard for film and television content creation.

Dolby Atmos Music debuted in 2019 and has been integrated into all sorts of home and mobile experiences—in living rooms, on smartphones and headphones, and even in live venues and in cars. With increasing consumer demand (thanks in part to the simplicity and accessibility of consumer devices) and full support throughout the production chain, from creation to distribution to delivery to device compatibility, Dolby Atmos is gaining traction everywhere.

Several well-known producers and studios have already recorded and mixed in Dolby Atmos. Adrian Hall, whose studio is equipped with a full 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker system, has worked with such artists as Tori Amos, Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp, The Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Robbie Williams, and Shakira, to name just a few.

Damon Albarn’s private studio is also outfitted with Dolby Atmos and is home to Grammy-nominated recording and mix engineer Stephen Sedgwick, whose work includes Gorillaz albums Humanz and The Now Now, Blur’s The Magic Whip, Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots, Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe, Benjamin Clementine’s I Tell A Fly, and Songhoy Blues’s Music In Exile.

Tristin Norwell, an award-winning composer and producer of albums and music for film and television, has also embraced the technology, as has internationally renowned mixer and producer Ash Howes, whose discography reads like a who’s who of British pop music.

Dolby Atmos at London’s Ministry of Sound. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

This growth is accelerating as streaming services get onboard. Tidal and Amazon Music Unlimited now offer Dolby Atmos content, while Apple introduced Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos earlier this year. As competition heats up, labels are rushing to release both new titles and re-issues in Dolby Atmos.

This scenario presents a host of new business opportunities for the music producer. And the great news is you don’t need to have mountains of new gear or years of experience to create incredible-sounding tracks. Getting started with Dolby Atmos is easier than you think.

How Dolby Atmos Works

Dolby Atmos lets mixers manipulate any audio track as an object that can be placed anywhere within a 3D space, without directly assigning it to a particular speaker. Dolby Atmos brings a height element to the soundstage: Typical Dolby Atmos speaker configurations include seven speakers, a sub, and four height speakers (7.1.4), but Dolby Atmos is capable of processing up to 128 channels of sound; can be routed to up to 64 speakers; and by applying virtualization, can deliver immersive experiences on a sound bar, pair of speakers or headphones. Because Dolby Atmos receivers compensate for various speaker setups, producers don’t have to adapt mixes for every configuration.

“When we looked at developing Dolby Atmos, we wanted to find a way to deliver these amazing audio experiences without adding unnecessary burden. We want to find more ways for creators to be creative and have to spend less time generating deliverables,” explains David Gould, Dolby’s Director of Audio Content Solutions.

The Dolby Music Panner in Pro Tools. Image courtesy Dolby.

The Dolby Atmos Workflow

Dolby Atmos content-creation tools integrate into standard mixing and editing workflows, making it easy to get up and running fast and keep your focus on your creativity. Unlike Dolby Atmos for cinema, Dolby Atmos for music does not require studio certification; you don’t have to build an immersive room from the ground up, and you can even get started at home with a laptop and headphones. (Of course, the more speakers that are available to you, the more precise the execution of your creative decisions.)

A Dolby Atmos mixing workflow includes three basic components: a compatible DAW, the Dolby Atmos Renderer, and a compatible monitoring system. Editing and processing are handled by your DAW; mixing applications and plug-ins stay the same, the difference is in output routing, panning, and mixing workflows.

Dolby Atmos is supported by Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro, Avid Pro Tools, and Steinberg Nuendo. Some DAWs, such as Pro Tools, Nuendo and Logic Pro, have native Atmos support built right in. For other platforms, download the free Dolby Atmos Music Panner plug-in, available in AAX, AU and VST3 formats.

The Dolby Atmos Renderer works alongside a DAW to render up to 128 inputs (comprising audio beds and objects) to your monitoring configuration and to render to standard channel-based layouts for monitoring and deliverables. The Renderer also generates the Dolby Atmos master file, which is used for encoding for final distribution to streaming services or Blu-ray. The Dolby Atmos Renderer is built into some DAWs and is available in the Dolby Atmos Production Suite, which runs on a Mac alongside a DAW for a single-workstation Atmos workflow; and the Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite, which runs on a dedicated PC or Mac workstation with MADI or Dante I/O. Both applications are available as free 90-day trials.

The Dolby Atmos Renderer. Image courtesy Dolby.

Here’s where it’s important to understand the difference between channel-based mixing and object-based mixing. In a channel-based format, individual tracks are routed to an output bus; pan controls determine which channel is sent a given signal. The mix is committed to a specific channel count; playing that mix back requires a system with the same number of speakers.

With Dolby Atmos, audio output is routed to one of 128 channels in the Renderer. Pan controls still apply, but instead of sending audio, they generate metadata describing XYZ position coordinates; that metadata is sent along with the channel audio signal. Sounds can be assigned to ten fixed paths or speakers (“beds”); up to 118 discrete “objects” can be placed throughout the virtual space and are not tied to speakers or beds.

Dolby Atmos masters are easily distributed to streaming services for listeners to experience on a range of Dolby Atmos-enabled devices. The playback device receives the Dolby Atmos mix as a file containing separate audio and metadata and adapts the mix to the playback system configuration. This means creative mix decisions are preserved regardless of the listening format.

The Dolby Atmos-equipped Studio C at Capitol Studios. Image courtesy Dolby.

Get Started, Get Inspired

Dolby Atmos opens up a vast new palette for creative exploration, an opportunity to move beyond conventional channel limitations to express mixes with more nuance, space, and depth. If you’re ready to explore all Dolby Atmos for Music has to offer, download a free software trial today. Get up and running fast with Dolby’s tutorials and inspirational tips and tricks from the pros, and you’ll be on your way to creating immersive audio experiences with true multidimensional sound and clarity.

For more information, visit: https://www.dolby.com/technologies/d...ontent=article