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Beginners Guide To Dolby Atmos. 7 Main Things To Know

Dolby Atmos is a form of surround sound technology created by sound giants Dolby. At its most basic, Dolby Atmos allows different sounds to be used as 3D objects. This allows for more immersive and realistic soundtracks for TV, film, music, and video games. In this guide, we look in more detail at what Dolby Atmos is, and how it works.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is an audio technology that adds a third dimension to a surround sound setup. Traditional surround sound uses multiple channels to create directional sound but it is constrained within these channels. 

Dolby Atmos removes the constraints of these channels and instead handles audio as objects. The objects can move freely and thus can be treated as three dimensional. The result is that sound can move anywhere and audio engineers can use this to create realistic audio that moves in multiple directions.    

A common example used to describe Dolby Atmos is that of the movement of a helicopter. With a Dolby Atmos setup, if the helicopter was flying from behind you, over your head, to your right onto the screen, you would hear an accurate representation of this sound. The result would be that you feel like the helicopter is actually flying over you due to the realistic sound path.

How Does Dolby Atmos Work?

Dolby Atmos can allow up to 128 audio tracks to be distributed throughout a surround sound setup. This includes 118 audio objects, and 10 ambient stems (also known as center dialogue). 

Each audio object can also include metadata – this is important information that states how the object is used and how it is processed. The number of available tracks and the metadata combine to create detailed and realistic directional sound.

Also, during playback, the Dolby Atmos system renders in real-time. As a result, audio objects are projected from a designated spot on different speakers – this helps create the immersive directional audio. 

What are the Benefits of Dolby Atmos?

So why should you invest in a Dolby Atmos setup? This sound setup has numerous benefits which we have listed below:

  • It is versatile and works with many home cinema configurations
  • It can be used with mobile devices
  • It can offer an immersive experience for VR
  • It provides a 360-degree sound that is more lifelike

Firstly, and most importantly, Dolby Atmos gives a fantastic lifelike sound experience. As mentioned above, audio objects are not limited to channels but instead treated as individual objects. The result is a new level of immersion with sounds moving by your side, over your head, and behind you – in all directions. It essentially takes surround sound to a new level, literally!

Secondly, this immersive sound is also compatible with VR headsets and mobile devices. This means you can experience 360 degrees sound on your tablet, or whilst playing awesome VR games like Vader Immortal.

In addition, Dolby Atmos is a versatile system that can be upgraded and used in multiple configurations. It is also expandable. As you will see below, Dolby recommends a 5.1.2 setup with a minimum of seven speakers. Over time, you could add additional ceiling speakers to this setup to further boost the 360 degree sound quality.

Common Questions Relating to Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is still a relatively new technology for home-usage. As a result, it is not fully understood and you may have a host of questions relating to its implementation and usage. To help, we have listed a handful of common questions below:

Do you Need eARC for Dolby Atmos?

This is a common question relating to Dolby Atmos and is important to understand. It is not vital to have eARC for Dolby Atmos. However, the answer is a little more complex than this.

There are generally two versions of Dolby Atmos that are used – compressed, or uncompressed. The compressed version is sent using DD+ and is mainly used by streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The compressed version of Dolby Atmos can be sent using standard ARC and does not require eARC.

The uncompressed version of Dolby Atmos (Or Full Dolby Atmos), however, does require eARC. This is because there is much more data to process. 

To conclude, for the best quality Dolby Atmos sound experience eARC is advised, but it is not essential and you can still get some form of Dolby Atmos with ARC.

How Many Speakers do I Need for Dolby Atmos?

Seven speakers are the bare minimum to create an effective Dolby Atmos setup at home. In other words, you need a 5.1.2 surround sound setup. Alternatively, some soundbars can provide a Dolby Atmos setup. You can find more info about the ideal Dolby Atmos speaker setup here. In addition, there is a variety of equipment you may need to create this seven-speaker setup including:

  • Ceiling speakers
  • Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers
  • A Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar

Ceiling speakers or speakers with Dolby Atmos enabled will provide the positional sound as they project the sound upwards which then reflects off the ceiling. The result is a fantastic lifelike overhead sound that adds to the immersive experience.

The 5.1.2 setup includes the following:

  • One subwoofer
  • Two height speakers (ceiling speakers)
  • Five surround speakers

Dolby actually recommends that you have a minimum of four ceiling speakers for a better sound experience. You can find full details of the traditional 5.1.2 surround sound setup here.

Can I use Just a Soundbar to Create a Dolby Atmos Setup?

It is possible to create a Dolby Atmos setup just by using a soundbar. Some soundbars are Dolby Atmos enabled and offer a much cheaper alternative to a complete 5.1.2 system. Great examples include the award-winning Sonos Arc, the entry-level Sony HT-G700, and the affordable Sony HT-ZF9. 

When Dolby Atmos was first introduced, there was only a handful of incredibly expensive sound bars and equipment available. However, now that the technology is gaining traction, you can find a great range of soundbars like the ones listed above to suit various budgets and setups. Also remember, that generally, if you spend more, you will get a larger array of features.

Is Dolby Atmos Good for Gaming?

In one word, yes! In recent years we have seen video games become increasingly immersive. Games compatible with Dolby Atmos sound is a natural progression of this and helps take the gaming experience to whole new levels. In particular games, Atmos can also provide situational awareness and give a tactical advantage!

Popular first-person shooters like Call of Duty Warzone, Star Wars: Battlefront II, and Overwatch are compatible with Dolby Atmos and the result is glorious. You gain a new level of positional audio – bullets whizzing over your head, footsteps to your left, a helicopter flying off in the distance. You almost feel like you are there, and it makes the gameplay that much better.

What is the Best Dolby Atmos Movie?

Many modern films have implemented immersive sound using Dolby Atmos technology. One of the current best examples is Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame. This was one of the most highly anticipated films of 2018 and was the culmination of over a decade of superhero flicks.

In this film, we see the Avengers and other superheroes take on Thanos once again on an epic scale not seen before. The sheer scale of this film was perfect for a Dolby Atmos flex. One of the best examples of Dolby Atmos in action was during the final battle scene – the action was frantic, and the multi-layered and positional sound really added depth and a new level of awareness to the fighting.

The Bottom Line – Is it Worth Getting Dolby Atmos?

This is subjective and depends on your own circumstance. For its raw sound quality and the immersive experience it provides, Dolby Atmos is definitely worth it. You can experience sound like never before and movies, music, TV series, and gaming will be so much better.

However, it can come with an associated cost if you want to go all-out and create a 5.1.2 surround sound setup which can include myriad of expensive speakers. This is not essential, however, as you can use one of the affordable soundbars mentioned above to create a much cheaper Dolby Atmos setup.

If you are a movie buff or an ardent online gamer, Dolby Atmos is definitely the way forward. You may already have a surround sound setup or expensive electrical equipment. As a result, creating a Dolby Atmos setup would be logical, and would allow you to enjoy what you love in a more immersive way.


All you need to know about Sonos Trueplay

There is a whole art that goes behind positioning speakersin a room. Whether it’s an audio system for listening to songs or a home theatre, you have to put some thought into where and how to place the speakers for the sound to be clear and flow in the room. There is a whole field called “home acoustics” that studies the positioning of speakers and they have actually come up with a rule called the “golden triangle.” 

Now, you can either spend your precious time on learning more about the golden triangle and all the other factors that should be taken into account or keep reading this article to learn more about an elegant solution to the speaker position problem called Sonos Trueplay. 


What is Sonos TruePlay 

In short, Sonos TruePlay is a special software designed for Sonos speakers that allows for them to be positioned anywhere in the room without compromising the quality or volume of the sound. Sonos Trueplay analyses acoustic factors including room size, layout, decor and speaker placement, which tend to impact a speaker’s sound quality. The software then uses this data to optimise the speaker for its surrounding to ensure the speaker sounds as good as possible regardless of its location. It is essentially a speaker tuner that spares you the trouble of getting tangled in “a golden triangle.” So, whether your speaker is hidden behind the sofa or placed under the table, it will still sound great. 

TruePlay is compatible with single speakers as well as two speakers or more speakers configured as a stereo pair or as a home cinema setup. 


How does Sonos TruePlay work? 

To understand the actual science and engineering behind Sonos TruePlay, we need to have a number of crash courses in physics and acoustics. To satisfy your curiosity, here is a brief and less science-heavy explanation of how Sonos TruePlay works. Currently, Sonos TruePlay is available only for Apple products(hang in there Android users!). When you install and run Sonos TruePlay, it makes your speakers emit a sequence of tones, sweeping across the frequency range,  the microphone of your idevice receives the results. 

The goal is to listen to soundwaves and the way they move and bounce around that particular room. The software analyses the specific acoustic properties of that room and tunes the speakers accordingly, so that the sound is as good as it possible can be given the acoustic surroundings. 

How to use the software to tune Sonos speakers? 

For starters, to use the Sonos Trueplay software you need an iDevice (e.g. iPhone, iPad) and of course, Sonos speakers. After you download the app, it’ll give you a set of directions to get the software working. First, you will need to flip your device and raise it to the same height as your head so that the mic has free access to the room sound (make sure you’re not covering the microphone with your hand). The less noise there is in the room, the more accurate the data collection process, so minimize the noise. TruePlay will emit a series of tones to measure your room, then tune your speakers accordingly. Once the calibration is done, your Sonos speakers will emit a loud sound. 

If you wish, you can move your speakers and try out the TruePlay in a number of different positions and choose the one that sounds the best to you. It’ll be a combination of old-school speaker positioning and an innovative approach that Sonos call TruePlay. 


Does Sonos TruePlay make a difference? 

This software has been around for the past 5 years and generally speaking, it has received a positive response from most Sonos users. It’s safe to say that the software doesmake a difference in the sound but people have different preferences, so it’s up to you to decide whether you want to leave it on or not. Going back to our previous suggestion, you can try to run the Sonos TruePlay feature with the speakers in a number of different positions and choose the one that works best for you. 

It’s also worth mentioning that some users have reported that TruePlay made some questionable changes to bass performance in home theatre setups, but considering that it uses the mic of an iDevice as it’s primary data collection tool, I guess it won’t be perfect, If you dislike the changes it made my suggestion is run it again. For more review and feedback, you can follow this Reddit threadand ask your questions to TruePlay users. 

Final thoughts

Unless you’re a musician, chances are low that your house is constructed and decorated based on acoustic architectural principles. But it doesn’t mean that you should have crappy sound or spend hours of your time figuring out where to put your Sonos speakers. Give TruePlay a try – you’ve got nothing to lose and a lot to gain!