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Dolby Atmos on Tidal, Apple Music Spatial Audio, Impressions on Earphones vs Speakers for Surround Sound Music

stevenswall

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Anyone trying Dolby Atmos music on a surround sound system or headphones? What did you think of the two?

So far:

-Listening to surround music on headphones isn't as good as binaural, especially not the Starkey Cetera treated stuff, but it works for the ones that were done well. Some of Eilish's songs I like better in virtual surround over earphones. Some over the older remasters of 80's music I don't.

-Half of what is available in surround/atmos sounds tonally different and there is a volume difference. Maybe 8dB softer in Apple Music, and nearly 15dB softer in Tidal for surround audio... Needs better volume levelling.

-Tidal's app is a mess on LG TVs and hardly better on mobile... Need a better way of discovering Atmos albums. Like a tab or a setting where you can browse all atmos music by genre and popularity.

-A surround sound system with multiple speakers seems to work best, but the surround speakers seem to need to be higher than for movies. Downmixing to headphones is okay, more likely to sound a bit weird. I wonder if most of these are checked on surround systems and not headphones?

-Apple has the right idea being able to toggle between stereo and surround audio instead of them being listed as separate songs and albums.

If anyone in Utah wants to try it on speakers instead of headphones you're welcome over!
 

Strato007

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Are you using any headphone certified for Atmos?? I think the Apple airpods are but I didn't try.
 
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stevenswall

stevenswall

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ThatM1key

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Theres a way to download the atmos files directly from Tidal. Thats what I did for my small HT setup. Its pretty easy to find Atmos tiles on Tidal, just search for Atmos Playlists, they'll pop up.

Tidal's Dolby Atmos music sucks. Most of it is just 2 channel music mixed into Atmos. My receiver can mix a better atmos with any music I throw at it.

I heard on the internet "Dolby Atoms for headphones" (On PC) is good but I'm sure its not that different from a 2000s Creative soundblaster with its "Virtual Surround" effect.
 

kyle_neuron

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I heard on the internet "Dolby Atoms for headphones" (On PC) is good but I'm sure its not that different from a 2000s Creative soundblaster with its "Virtual Surround" effect.

I purchased the Atmos for Headphones APO a few months back as part of some research. It’s doing a bunch of spherical harmonics so a little more advanced than the old virtual surround stuff, but as every your mileage varies very much by the content.

The remixed content I’ve tried didn’t seem anything but a novelty in longer listening sessions. I think perhaps it’ll take music to be actively made with the system in mind to stand out.

I find it good for the odd AAA game or watching film content on headphones, but it’s not something I’d use for music unless the content came highly recommended.
 

Hewbacca

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Agreed, music done in spatial surround/Atmos is a gimmick, although I suspect it will be a successful one. Surround for games or movies is a different story. Atmos is actually object-based audio, as in, the audio signal includes data about what objects appear where in space at what times; this allows your Atmos receiver to actually know where sounds are supposed to be coming from and is a very powerful effect that I don't find gimmicky. On headphones of course this is simulated, but it is still more effective than just trying to add spatial qualities to music that was recorded and intended to be heard in normal stereo sound.

One additional point, there is no such thing as Atmos-certified headphones, Atmos is entirely done in software and can work with any headphones (or speakers for that matter, assuming an Atmos-aware receiver (read: software)). This is important when evaluating what to use for gaming, you may think you need something new but any high quality pair of headphones can use the Atmos plug-in (or games' built-in surround features which is often better).
 

OdysseusG

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I just set up an Nvidia Shield Pro to replace my trusty Roku, mainly for access to Tidal Atmos on my 7.1 system. My expectations were low and the thread so far sums it up pretty well. 15db down sounds about right and I get pretty nervous cranking the volume that much. As to tonal shifts, I didn't notice it so much on the new stuff. Somewhere around a year ago when I first tried it at someone else's theater (via Apple TV) everything we heard was obviously brighter, to an unpleasant degree. Bass seemed rolled off too.
Billie Eilish's stuff was ok, not a bad place to start. I started getting into surround music this year and I haven't heard anything yet that compares to the good mixes I have on disc like the 50th anniversary Beatles Blu-rays, Beck's Sea Change, John Legend's Get Lifted, Stankonia, etc. Unfortunate that those discs are hideously expensive and/or out of print. So far most of the stuff I heard on Tidal was playing it safe with atmospheric surround vs more intentional and bold choices. I'm not saying you have to ping pong stuff back and forth and swirl around like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. If the intended effect is having the listener in the middle spacing a backing chorus separately from lead vocals goes a lot farther than just kinda smearing everything wider till it hits the surrounds.
 

kyle_neuron

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I just set up an Nvidia Shield Pro to replace my trusty Roku, mainly for access to Tidal Atmos on my 7.1 system. My expectations were low and the thread so far sums it up pretty well. 15db down sounds about right and I get pretty nervous cranking the volume that much. As to tonal shifts, I didn't notice it so much on the new stuff. Somewhere around a year ago when I first tried it at someone else's theater (via Apple TV) everything we heard was obviously brighter, to an unpleasant degree. Bass seemed rolled off too.
Billie Eilish's stuff was ok, not a bad place to start. I started getting into surround music this year and I haven't heard anything yet that compares to the good mixes I have on disc like the 50th anniversary Beatles Blu-rays, Beck's Sea Change, John Legend's Get Lifted, Stankonia, etc. Unfortunate that those discs are hideously expensive and/or out of print. So far most of the stuff I heard on Tidal was playing it safe with atmospheric surround vs more intentional and bold choices. I'm not saying you have to ping pong stuff back and forth and swirl around like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. If the intended effect is having the listener in the middle spacing a backing chorus separately from lead vocals goes a lot farther than just kinda smearing everything wider till it hits the surrounds.
I’m not too keen on the concept of going back to remaster classic works in a new format, but what they’ve done to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue on Tidal 360 is worth a listen.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether that’s because it’s terrible or great :)

Agreed, music done in spatial surround/Atmos is a gimmick, although I suspect it will be a successful one. Surround for games or movies is a different story. Atmos is actually object-based audio, as in, the audio signal includes data about what objects appear where in space at what times; this allows your Atmos receiver to actually know where sounds are supposed to be coming from and is a very powerful effect that I don't find gimmicky. On headphones of course this is simulated, but it is still more effective than just trying to add spatial qualities to music that was recorded and intended to be heard in normal stereo sound.

One additional point, there is no such thing as Atmos-certified headphones, Atmos is entirely done in software and can work with any headphones (or speakers for that matter, assuming an Atmos-aware receiver (read: software)). This is important when evaluating what to use for gaming, you may think you need something new but any high quality pair of headphones can use the Atmos plug-in (or games' built-in surround features which is often better).
I sprung for the Atmos plug-in for Windows a while back. It’s great for headphone gaming at home and watching films on the laptop when I’m traveling. Doesn’t seem so well supported for music, though. I had a run with Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon HD and none offered Atmos tracks.

You can buy the plugin for just a few dollars if you're *in* South America. Handy if you take a holiday there, either by plane or by VPN...

However it was annoying to enable and disable before, and more than once I’ve been wondering why things sound strange before realising it’s still running on the entire PC audio output. It’s gotten even worse on Win 11, since you now seem to have to dig into the Settings app to change it rather than a right-click on the volume icon. The otherwise excellent EarTrumpet system tray app for per-app volume mixing and audio interface routing doesn't seem to be aware of APO stuff like the Atmos plugin either.
 
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