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As we’ve said before, Dolby’s Atmos 3D audio format is about to have its breakout year, finding its way from the cinema to your smartphone, speaker system, games console, and even Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service. With many home assistants now doing double duty as home speaker systems, it’s no surprise that Dolby is teaming up with record labels to create mixes that take advantage of the format’s spatial capabilities. But what does that actually mean for your mix?
Earlier in the year, Dolby announced they were partnering with Universal Music Group to create immersive 3D versions of the label’s back catalogue. The partnership will also give current artists the ability to “share their music directly as intended and created in the studio”, delivering a layer of immersion not possible with traditional stereo mixes.
Initial reviews of Atmos-enabled home speakers, from the entry-level Amazon Echo Studio to the high end Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar, have been positive. Reviewers credit the Dolby mixes’ additional height and precise positioning with making them feel more immersed in the sound. So, as other record companies take interest and speaker sales rise, we asked our experts: what do you need to make this transition?
The Ambisonics standard – and the ambisonic mics that use it – have been around for some time, and offer a stable, well-tested workflow for capturing 3D audio. The standard can initially seem complicated: it requires that you capture sound in A Format, in which multiple channels are combined to create a spherical sound field, then convert to B Format for mixing and post, before a final conversion to Dolby Atmos for playback. However, support for these formats is already built into Pro Tools, several DAWs and other studio hardware.
The most popular ambisonic mics – Sennheiser’s AMBEO range – are easy to work with. You don’t need a hardware encoder to manage that A-B Format conversion, just an audio interface with four or more mic inputs and the free A-B conversion plugin to convert B-format material into a broad range of output formats and loudspeaker arrangements, ranging from 4.0. to 5.1.4 and Dolby Atmos 7.1.4.
Another excellent option is the Røde NT-SF1, which pairs with the SoundField by Røde app for conversion. The mic records a full spherical sound field, which means that in post you can alter the mic directivity, position and rotation to suit your mix (as well as converting it for Atmos playback). The SoundField by Røde app covers both A-to-B and B-to-Atmos conversion.
Exponential Audio provide 3D versions of their world-leading reverb tools. They’re best known for their PhoenixVerb and R2 Surround reverb tools, but have recently introduced upgraded tools designed for 3D. The upgraded Symphony 3D package includes 24 extra channels so you can create full 3D mixes, while their Stratus 3D toolkit allows you to create natural surround and immersive environments with great reverb clarity. The latest version has support for up 24 channels and with the help of up to 1700 presets, so is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal the first time you tackle a 3D mix.
We’re big fans of JBL monitors, and have been recommending this 7.1.4 bundle to customers looking to kit out their first Atmos room. However, if you don’t have the clearance to mount four traditional monitors on your ceiling, the PMC Wafer Series are a great-sounding alternative with a very shallow profile. The Focal 300 Custom Install Series are also provide great in-ceiling options, including directional in-ceiling mounted speakers with good SPL handling, pitched at an affordable price point.
If you’re not able to go up to a 7.1.4 room straight away, you can pre-mix in a 5.1.2 room using a MTRX with an SPQ card as a calibratable and time-aligned monitor controller, or an external monitor controller like JBL’s Intonato solution.
We’ve set up many Dolby Atmos rooms for post-production. We can help you make sure your Pro Tools setup is sufficiently powerful and has enough channels to handle a full 7.1.4 mix, help you calibrate your speakers to Dolby’s exacting standards, and help you ensure you’ve got all the necessary plug-ins and add-ons to convert your recording to Dolby Atmos format for delivery.
If you’d like advice on the hardware and software you need to get started with Dolby Atmos for music, get in touch with the team on the details below.
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