Do you know what Dolby Atmos is? Surely you already associate it with an integrated technology in theaters, but in recent years it has made the leap to home and you will see it (or rather listen) on your everyday devices such as 4K TVs, home theater players, bars Sound and services streaming like Netflix and Disney +.
But despite this enormous brand effort in home entertainment products, you may still wonder what Dolby Atmos is, why you should be interested in this sound and what you need to enjoy it in the comfort of your home. We have all the answers and much more.
Dolby Atmos in theaters: how is it different?
In theaters, Dolby Atmos significantly amps the speakers used, as well as the way surround sound is used, opening up new possibilities for filmmakers to provide a more realistic and immersive sound experience. Before the arrival of Dolby Atmos sound, cinemas can only play a maximum of eight individual surround sound tracks, spread across a variable number of speakers.
For example: with the 7.1-channel surround sound that is still used in most cinemas, you get three front channels (left, right and center), two side surround channels (left and right), two rear channels (left and right) and a channel of subwoofer. When the soundtrack of a movie is designed, directors are guided by these different channels to direct the sound effects around the room. But no matter how many speakers are placed in a certain area (for example, the left side of the room for the left surround sound channel), all those speakers are limited to one sound channel, so they all reproduce the same sound at the time
In contrast, Dolby Atmos is capable of processing up to 128 sound channels, which can be routed with up to 64 individual speakers. In this way, sound engineers can essentially leave behind the usual channel restrictions, instead of placing "sound objects" in precise places and moving them throughout the cinema.
With Atmos, the ceiling can also be covered with any number of full-range speakers that work in conjunction with the rest of the speakers in the room, so that these objects can be placed almost anywhere within a virtual hemisphere. In a way, you can chase the sound with your ears, tracking it and correlating it with the action on the screen. For example, if it rains in the film, the rain comes directly from above. If a helicopter flies above and to the right, the sound will start at the back of the room, move over and disappear on the right side.
Of course, for home theater, Atmos is greatly reduced.
How does Dolby Atmos work at home?
We have good news: there are now more ways than ever to experience Dolby Atmos sound at home, and some of them do not require new speakers or more cables. In fact, you may already have everything you need for it.
Dolby Atmos discreet speakers
To get the most authentic Dolby Atmos experience, a conventional 5.1, 7.1 or 9.1 surround speaker configuration is needed, plus the addition of two or four ceiling mounted speakers. Next, we describe these speaker configurations in greater detail. It is the best Dolby Atmos sound that can be obtained, but it is also the most expensive and the most invasive, since it involves considerable rewiring and probably some holes and repairs in the wall.
This option also requires a Dolby Atmos compatible A / V receiver (see below).
Speakers compatible with Dolby Atmos
An excellent alternative to ceiling speaker wiring is to buy Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers. These speakers transmit additional “height” channels by bouncing the sound on the ceiling to your viewing position. You can buy Atmos-compatible speakers as combined speakers: front and rear left and right speakers that have Atmos modules integrated at the top, such as those used in the Dolby Atmos speakers from Pioneer Elite or the more flexible Sib Evo from Focal.
People who have already invested in a set of surround sound speakers can opt for independent “Atmos modules” that are placed above existing left and right front or rear speakers, such as the R-26FA and R-14SA from Klipsch.
Regardless of the option you choose, you will need some additional speaker cables that follow the same path as your front and / or rear speakers to a Dolby Atmos-enabled A / V receiver.
Dolby Atmos compatible sound bars
This is the perfect option for someone who wants to get the benefits of Dolby Atmos without the hassle of wiring (or rewiring) an entire room, or for those with smaller spaces. Although each manufacturer tends to take a different approach when playing Dolby Atmos sound from a single device, Dolby Atmos-enabled sound bars always include a set of up-turn controllers to achieve the same height sound reflected in the ceiling as the Dolby Atmos enabled speakers. Some of these sound bars, like Sennheiser's Ambeo Soundbar, do a spectacular job of recreating the 3D quality that Dolby Atmos technology is known for.
Even the most impressive soundbar cannot match the accuracy of the specific speakers, but unless you are an expert of surround sound, we doubt you will be disappointed.
Dolby Atmos virtualized
A recent trend aimed at reducing the cost and complexity of Dolby Atmos to manageable levels is virtualized Dolby Atmos sound. It is an ingenious software and audio engineer that allows a Dolby Atmos-enabled A / V receiver to mimic the effect of Dolby Atmos but without the use of discrete or Atmos-enabled speakers. The more speakers you have, the more convincing the virtualized Dolby Atmos system sounds, but you can even get subtle tracks of this technology with just a 2-channel stereo configuration. This is also the reason why some televisions can claim that they offer Dolby Atmos sound through their modest built-in speakers.
You can also find sound bars that offer this virtual Dolby Atmos sound, which tend to be much more affordable than their Atmos-enabled counterparts, because they have fewer speaker drivers.
Make no mistake: the virtualized Dolby Atmos system will not sound as spectacular as the other options, but if you have a tight budget, you can experience some of the benefits of Dolby Atmos sound.