Sound is nothing if not complex. In any given scene of a movie, concert, or game, there are dozens of different sounds happening simultaneously, each of which contributes to the overall quality of the audio. Surround sound systems seek to include each of these contributing sounds for a rich listening experience, but doing so requires both advanced audio storage methods and a flexible speaker system that can blend multiple different sounds at different levels of intensity. As one of the most complex surround sound systems on the market, Dolby Atmos can play sound from a wide range of objects at once, allowing you to experience every element of modern audio.
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is one of the latest and most advanced methods used to produce surround sound. Unveiled in 2012 for the theatrical release of the Pixar film Brave, this technology made an instant impression on audiences, who enjoyed the highly complex, crisp audio of the movie. Growing numbers of theatres have adopted Atmos sound systems since then, and in 2015, it first became available for home theatre systems.
In order to understand how Dolby Atmos works, it is first necessary to consider the history of surround sound technology. First developed in 1969 and popularized in the 1980s and ‘90s, surround sound seeks to mimic the way that people experience sound in the real world. Sound is an immersive experience, with different elements coming from every direction at different levels of intensity. Only by matching the way that sound surrounds the listener, moving back and forth and from left to right, can audio systems make you feel that you are truly experiencing what you are listening to.
The earliest successful sound system was the Dolby 5.1, which set the standard for all future surround sound endeavors. This device used five speakers: typically 3 speakers in the front (Left Centre Right) and a back left and back-right speaker, with the centre channel handling most dialogue and music and effects being assigned to the other speakers. The 5 in “5.1” refers to these speakers, while the 1 refers to the device’s single subwoofer. By separating out sounds in this way, Dolby was able to prevent them from mixing together and confusing the listener, thereby avoiding the problems that had foiled previous attempts to develop surround sound. Along with new, more discrete methods for encoding audio files, this made it easier than ever to offer a rich, varied listening experience in any environment.
While the Dolby 5.1 remains the standard for surround sound systems, the company and its competitors have developed increasingly complex versions of this technology since its release. These have included the Dolby 6.1, which uses 6 speakers and one subwoofer; the Dolby 7.2, with 7 speakers and two subwoofers; and the Dolby 11.2, which possesses eleven speakers and twin subwoofers. Each of these systems brought surround sound to new heights of quality and complexity.
The Dolby Atmos surround sound system continues this march toward clearer, crisper, more complex sound. Able to support as many as 64 speakers at once, the system can process 128 different sound objects in one scene, each at a different location and level of intensity. It also distributes sound among speakers differently. Whereas previous surround sound systems mixed sounds together and tied individual effects to particular speakers, Atmos systems move sound from one direction to another. The hardware determines which speakers should play an effect at any given moment, moving the sound around the room to create a three-dimensional feel.
For example, on a 5.1 system you may hear a helicopter flying from right to left, but on an Atmos system you’ll hear it from 200 ft away….100 ft away…50 ft away…then right on top of you as it passes. From music to films to video games, this technology makes virtually any listening experience more immersive and realistic. To achieve this level of “3D Sound”, Atmos systems include speakers that fire upward or are mounted in the ceiling; a Dolby 5.1.2 system, for example, uses two upward or ceiling speakers (the extra ‘.2’) out of 5 total speakers, along with a single subwoofer.
Setting Up Dolby Atmos Surround Sound in Your Home
Homeowners have a wide variety of options for bringing the benefits of Atmos surround sound into their homes. Most people will choose one of the following three solutions:
1. Comprehensive Ceiling Installation
The most comprehensive way to experience Atmos surround sound in your home is to build a Dolby Atmos sound system directly into your entertainment room. By installing speakers in a number of key locations, particularly in the ceiling, you can achieve full audio depth from as many channels as you choose, given your budget and preferences.
This type of Atmos sound system offers the highest levels of quality and is thus the preferred solution for homeowners with a commitment to audio excellence. It is, however, the most expensive method, as it will require you to make physical changes to your home to hold both the speakers and their wiring. There are also some logistical difficulties. Because you cannot move the speakers around once they are installed, you will need to figure out the room’s acoustics before you install. Even a minor mistake can lead to significant audio problems that are difficult to fix once the system is in place. Nonetheless, homeowners with the budget to install such a system often find that the audio benefits are well worth the cost and risks.
If you opt for a full audio system installation, you’ll need a receiver that can support all the channels that you install. The Paradigm AVM60, Denon AVRX6300H, and Yamaha RXA3060B all offer support for large numbers of speakers and subwoofers.
2. Utilizing upward firing speakers
If you’re not up for transforming your entire living room, you can get many of the same benefits by utilizing Atmos’ signature upward firing speakers around your entertainment room. While the sound quality is unlikely to be quite as good as if you had installed a ceiling system, you can still get many of the same 3D effects at a much more affordable cost.
Audio Video Unlimited carries Pioneer SPBS22ALR speakers, which we sell in pairs of two. Able to handle up to 80 watts, these speakers provide an immersive listening experience. We also offer compact Pioneer SPEBS73LR speakers, which can serve as either forward or rear Atmos channels.
3. Set Up an Atmos Enabled Soundbar
Rather than investing in multiple speakers for separate locations, consider setting up a single soundbar with more than a dozen speakers on it. Modern soundbars include speakers that fire upward, allowing them to create a three-dimensional listening experience from a single location. This method is often the cheapest, as it only requires you to invest in a single piece of equipment and does not necessitate disrupting your house. This option is perfect for those in condos, apartments, or want to set up their home theatre in a smaller room where having rear speakers is simply not possible.
The Samsung HWK950 Atmos Home Theatre System features one of the best soundbars with Dolby Atmos. With 15 speakers, including four that fire upward, and a combined 500 watts of power, this home theatre system lets you enjoy immersive Dolby Atmos audio from virtually any location.
For more information on Dolby Atmos surround sound and other audio advances, contact Audio Video Unlimited today.