April 3, 2023

What Is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos Sound in 3-D …. Kind of

In June 2012, Dolby introduced to the entertainment world a technology that would forever change how we experience movies, music, and video games. During the premiere of Disney’s Brave at the El Captain Theater in Los Angeles, California, moviegoers became immersed in the first-ever Dolby Atmos experience. This new form of delivering audio took the concept of stereo sound and brought it into a multidimensional domain. Furthermore, it provided the audience with a complete experience as they could now hear, feel, and connect more with the visuals than ever before. It did take some time for this new technology to become more commonplace, but now with more than 10,000 theaters, multiple music and video streaming platforms, and video game developers using this mixing technology. We can now officially say we are entering a new era of audio consumption.

The Audio’s Popping up from 2-D To 3-D

The critical difference between Atmos and traditional surround sound systems or even stereo mixes is that it uses a 3D audio space rather than a conventional 2D layout. This allows audio engineers and artists to have a more dynamic and realistic soundstage. In addition, the Dolby Atmos Renderer, the software needed to produce mixes in this format, provides users with 128 channels of audio to control. These channels are divided between beds and objects; beds represent single or groups of channels that send audio to speaker locations. Objects are sounds that can be panned or moved freely throughout the immersive space. The way Dolby Atmos files are able to playback on any type of speaker system and not lose data is through a file type called ADM BWF. This acts as a responsive container that houses all of the data needed for playback. Whether there are 7, 5, or 2 speakers, the playback of that piece of audio will be heard in complete context. Now to the end user, all this probably sounds like fancy audio jargon used to sell some speakers. However, to the audio professional, this means more opportunities. 

Now that this technology is more accessible in the entertainment and content creation industry, the demand for new and old pieces of content to be rendered in this format has seen a massive boom. For example, Apple and Tidal introduced Dolby Atmos mixed music to their premium subscriptions. This has caused the music industry to not only begin mixing almost all new releases in Atmos but also dig deep into the archives and remix many of our most beloved songs from the past in the same way. Likewise, in the world of video games, many developers have added that their projects are mixed in atmos as a selling point in their marketing; the same goes for cinema. So for those professionals operating as sound designers or audio engineers, there is a scramble to become fluent in this new technology to remain competitive in the marketplace. 

Training Your Ear for Dolby Atmos

The benefit for many audiophiles looking to enter into the industry or those looking to refresh their education is that their more options now than ever when it comes to gaining hands-on or, should we say, ears-on experience with Dolby Atmos. Educational facilities such as F.I.R.S.T. Institue have been equipped with studios with a full Dolby Atmos system, granting students the opportunity to gain these in-demand skills. 

If you are a creative looking to get into the audio industry, click here to learn more about F.I.R.S.T. Institute’s Recording Arts & Show Production Program.