What Does Spatial Sound Mean to You?

Spatial SoundIn May 2021, Apple Music launched Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, as well as Lossless Audio.

What does this mean for rights holders and music creators?

Dolby Atmos Music is an immersive audio mix inspired by Dolby Atmos – originally designed for cinematic experience. Lossless is a compression algorithm which reduces the spaces in audio data to reduce the file size without compromising sound quality.

Stereo mixes place audio in two channels (from left ear to right ear) and typically balance sound between the ears. Dolby Atmos Music enables extra-dimensional listening experiences placing sounds above or below you, behind or in front of you and everywhere in between. Having proven itself in cinematic experience, gamers adopted this technology for more immersive experience.

This diagram from Xbox visualises different kinds of audio mixes. Dolby Atmos achieves spatial sound.

The Apple Air Pod Pro series adds a Spatial algorithm to Dolby Atmos Music in order to track your head for the music experience. This works with Apple TV.

Steve Savoca (Music and Business Partnerships Apple) – announced the launch of Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, as well as Lossless Audio for the entire Apple Music catalogue.

How do I create a Dolby Atmos Music mix?

Dolby Atmos Music is now available as an isolated music mix plug-in. Now that creators are able to create their own Dolby Atmos Music mixes, Dolby Atmos Music workflows are integrated into many of the world’s leading digital audio workstations. Supported DAWs include Ableton Live, Apple Logic, Avid Pro Tools, and Steinberg so you’re in control of your own stem mixes.

In the UK, you can also work with experienced studios like Dean Street Studios to learn more about spatial mixing.

How is this different to 8D, 5.1 or surround sound?

Many of these mixes take compressed files and upmix them into multiple speaker set ups. This either means that you’re just upmixing a compressed file or that you need several speakers to playback. Binaural is not a new term. Producers and mixers have been filtering and effecting sounds since the 50s to create distance and movement in the location of sound in your headphones. Currently it implies using headphones to achieve a 3D effect. Binaural beats are used in virtual reality and augmented reality games to elicit an autonomic sensory meridian response – shivers down the spine. This gave rise to the reference 8D audio which personally all amounts to the same thing – different ways of calling a production technique that implies the audio is coming from different directions.

The Dolby Atmos Music mix is an object based mix with 120 channels that places sounds into different spatial dimensions that can be played back for a better immersive experience by Dolby Atmos Music enabled devices. Once immersive technology develops and democratises, I believe the Dolby Atmos Music mix will prove its potential for headphone users and open opportunities in collaborating with sonic VR and immersive experiences.

Sony have created a similar technology that they call Sony 360 Reality Audio in a 360 spherical sound field.

Where can I access Dolby Atmos Music mixes as a listener?

Dolby Atmos compatible soundbars, TVs, and AVRs, in addition to your Dolby Atmos compatible Android mobile devices. When a device and/or connected playback system is not Dolby Atmos enabled, the app will recognize this and the stereo version of the track will be played. The user will be notified with an in-app notification.

In order to play an Atmos mix through a soundbar/home entertainment system, the track needs to be up on Amazon HD, Tidal or Avid Play.

AMAZON Currently you would have to purchase an Amazon Prime account to access the Amazon Music HD package and playback on Echo Studio. They call this 3D audio as they use Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360.

TIDAL is available on TIDAL HiFi which is an upgrade on the premium member subscription. This can be played back on smart phones and Samsung TV soundbars

Avid Play

Apple’s Spatial Audio enables headphone experience with any iPhone (after 7) and relies on an iOS upgrade.

What devices currently carry Dolby Atmos for music? (correct 4th January 2021)

Apple TV 4K (running tvOS 13 or later)

Fire TV (Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Gen 3 2017, Fire TV Cube 1st Gen or 2nd Gen)

Nvidia Shield TV and Shield TV Pro (2019 and newer models)

Android TVs from Sony and Philips.

Listening using headphones only works when connected to Dolby Atmos enabled Android smartphones and tablets

BT Sport have launched their Dolby Atmos set top boxes for audio-visual Dolby Atmos.

https://www.bt.com/help/bt-sport/dolby-atmos-with-bt-sport-ultimate-channel

APPLE – All new Apple products are Atmos enabled and Apple Music will carry this soon.

AUDIO PRODUCTION AND DATA MANAGEMENT

“As a publisher or synchronisation team, we’re often far down the production line. We’re not asking any artist to change the way they create or choose to make music.  I recommend creating a folder of stems standard to a Dolby Atmos Music mix so that music creators are better informed and in control should third parties want to prepare Dolby Atmos Music mixes. To do this I feel music makers need to seriously understand the process of creating these mixes and the potential opportunities for these mixes to be played back in future. Ideally, for those artists who are not quite ready to adopt Dolby Atmos Music or similar tools right now, we really need artists to start preparing a standard of studio project files (not just stems) in a folder that various stake-holders can access to pull out relevant files for different immersive playback points in future. Those artists who want to reformat their back catalogues will achieve a better result being able to access their project files. It’s going to prove costly and time-consuming for some artists to access their studio files for reformatting. So any music mixes being printed from now onwards should anticipate preparing well organised folders of audio assets that they can refer to in future. If you were struggling to get to grips with 24 bit WAV files and instrumentals… you need to get on board with the project files to anticipate an immersive future.” Lynden Campbell 4th January 2021

CREATIVITY & SMART WELLNESS

“Whilst this will be championed as a new format, this gives music creators an opportunity to explore a way of redefining music experience and better future-proof our existing music assets as music users move away from genres to mood based wellness experiences and VR for gaming adjacent listening. But more than anything – the sound is amazing and it assists deep engagement with audio. With the potential for deeper audio engagement improving, we should anticipate a new generation of audiophile for whom music has wellness potential. Medicinal music will become more appreciated with headphones becoming medical tools for movement, mental health monitoring and smart wellness. With smart wellness, you’ll start to realise that sonic waveforms are as important an IP as the musicology of recorded sound. We should re-learn to JUST listen to music – deep engagement with sound is hugely beneficial.

It’s still early days for this technology but as Amazon, Apple and Universal are involved in developing this technology, it is likely this will develop quite rapidly.” Lynden Campbell 4th January 2021

DEFINING THE DOLBY ATMOS MIX – Music versus Post?

“Legally rights holders need to be able to define and understand the different Dolby mixes so they can differentiate between Dolby Atmos Music and Dolby Atmos (Post). We understand these as being two entirely different deliverables.

Dolby Atmos is a near field home cinema mix which won’t translate into a large auditorium far field which is achievable in Dolby Atmos Music. How do we define the mix and deliverables to supply files for a bespoke delivering to BT Sport, Netflix, Amazon Prime without losing consistency in audio quality or misunderstanding the request for files in a sync or work-for-hire deal?

Dolby Atmos – mixes for film and games audio (let’s call this “post mixes”) have competing elements beyond music. There’s sound effects, voice over, in-action audio and various layers of dubs and sonic effects. The mix deliverables are not exactly the same as a Dolby Atmos Music mix and sometimes this can lead to some unusual results which may be detrimental to the music listener and overlooked by the post production mixer. Understanding this better means artists will have more control over the mixes and be able to understand how to prepare files.

It is worth noting that a Dolby Atmos Music mix also facilitates 7.1 and 5.1 surround as well as normal stereo mixes.” Lynden Campbell 4th January 2021

LIVE

“Spatial audio has the potential to give the live music sector an alternative. The one-off Barbican orchestra edition of an album could become, yes, a real time livestream – but using this technology in the live arena could open a whole new industry sector where specialists produce live editions for online catch-up, public play or pure HD audio editions. It will always be aspirational for people to access venues in person. Live shows have always presented limitations to those with mental or physical access needs, those who can’t conveniently travel to or from a venue, those with jobs or family commitments that clash with gig schedules or those for whom tickets are too hard to come by. This could potentially enable people to access a wider choice of high definition live shows in their homes. For artists who find it hard to travel extensively, or for those who cannot schedule tours to their fans because of the nature of booking gigs, this could open up a better quality experience and a bigger audience. You don’t need fancy avatars or ridiculous gimmicks. With quality sound, the music speaks for itself. It could give rise to a new kind of public venue use for community playbacks of immersive sound.” Lynden Campbell 4th January 2021

INDUSTRY PLAYBACKS AND SHOWCASES

“The immediate win is for playbacks and showcases to be performed in this way. The ability to present music at such good quality to industry contacts will revolutionise how business partners fall in love with music.” Lynden Campbell 4th January 2021

CONTACT HOTHOUSE MUSIC TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SPATIAL SOUND

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Lynden Campbell

Lynden Campbell

After two decades in the music industry, Lynden has established herself as a music futurist ready to embrace complex and strategic licensing problems. Continue Reading...

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