Dolby Atmos: Everything You Need to Know

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what is dolby atmos
According to quantum physics, ancient religions, and very weird and mind-boggling researches being done to clear Alzheimer’s from mice, either everything is sound, or sound is everything.

With that, it makes sense for us to want the best out of our audio setup, be it wanting the best home theater speakers, the best headphones, or figuring out how to put together the ultimate home theater system… you get the point; we all want the best.

When it comes to surround sound, then, a technology that’s been hailed as “the best”, Dolby Atmos is laying claim to being the best in that category, meaning, the best of the best. It’s seen implementation everywhere, big and small, from the retailers and producers to the consumers’ end.

What is Dolby Atmos, however, and what makes it so great?

What Is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is a technology that utilizes a surround sound format that has been implemented and accepted hands-on not only in commercial theaters, cinemas, and arthouses, but also for home theaters, soundbars, TVs, specific streaming services, and even headphones and smartphones.

It’s uniquely impressive just how fast Dolby Atmos gained traction, being introduced less than a decade ago, in 2012, and being a household name as of 2020.

Defined as an “object-based” surround sound system, Dolby Atmos is beyond the best of 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 surround sound, going from 64 to 400 speakers when deployed in a cinema setting.

Best described as a metadata instead of just a cleverly crafted soundtrack, it is the metadata of Dolby Atmos that compatible audio gear interprets and uses to identify which sounds are embedded on what channels, with all sound being designed to be as finely distinct from the various components, elements and parts that make up the whole of the sum.

The result: a placement of sounds that go well-beyond being perceived as sharply three-dimensional.

How Does Dolby Atmos Achieve This?

Dolby Atmos utilizes previous Dolby surround sound signals and technology to create the information that the hardware then expresses in a physical format.

The two types of surround sound that Dolby Atmos uses are Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus – compressed and uncompressed, high-bandwidth and low-bandwidth, respectively, with the latter being used as optimized especially for streaming services such as Disney+ and Apple TV and being supported by personal devices such as laptops and boxes like Roku, with Dolby TrueHD requiring an HDMI cable or soundbar to get the format transmitted to an AV receiver from a compatible Blu-ray player.

The word ‘compatible’ is key to a Dolby Atmos setup.

There are five components we consider when building a true Dolby Atmos home theater: the audio file must have been encoded with Dolby Atmos (either with TrueHD or Digital Plus), the hardware you’re playing on has to be compatible with Dolby Atmos (either with native decoding or a “pass-through”), the audio device you’re using must be compatible with Dolby Atmos (either your TV, AV receiver, or soundbar), the streaming service, app, or TV box must be Dolby Atmos playback compliant, and, very importantly, the app and device must both be compatible with each other to produce or pass-through Dolby Atmos sound, together.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Dolby Atmos Setup

Installing a Dolby Atmos system involves a complete calibration of your room, wherein each speaker is set up to allow sound mixers to “place” the sounds exactly where they’re meant to be, with each speaker complete with its discrete feed that enables all kinds of new height channels (front-mounted, surround, and ceiling-mounted).

The way a Dolby Atmos system is set up allows for very simple and a very diverse number of options when it comes to growing your audio jungle: here are some fast “best practice” tips you can factor in to get the most out of your Dolby Atmos.

First off, what is Dolby Atmos’ strength? The near-limitless possibilities of the multispeaker setup are the crown jewel but paying special attention to height channels and even soundbars (in place of stereo bars) can do wonders for playing to Dolby Atmos’ strengths. We also recommend ceiling speakers – but also recommend upward-firing speakers in case you can’t (or don’t want to) get the former. You also forgo installation needs and speaker mounting hassles!

Or, while you could simply spring for buying a purpose-built Atmos speaker system, you could work with adding speaker modules to the top of your already-existing front L/R speakers with one set or two sets to both the floor standing and/or bookshelf L/R and rear and surround speakers.

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