Dolby Atmos Finally Goes Mainstream

Dolby Atmos Amazon Music HD image

I posted this on my Music 3.0 blog last week but it’s a significant enough development that I thought I’d post it here as well. We finally know where all that immersive audio content that Dolby has been collecting from Universal Music Group is going to end up. The company announced its partnership with Amazon Music to distribute the Atmos Music format on that company’s high end HD tier.

Engineers have been working 24/7 at UMG studios all over the world for the last few months furiously mixing hit tracks from some of the world’s biggest artists such as The Beatles, Billie Eilish, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Luciano Pavarotti, Marvin Gaye, and The Weeknd. There has been a lot of speculation as to where that material would end up (some even predicted a joint Dolby/UMG streaming service), but there was never a hint of a connection with Amazon Music until the official press release.

So you’re probably asking, “That’s all well and good, but how will the average music consumer actually hear this immersive experience?”

Amazon is on the ball here as well with the announcement of a new smart speaker called the Echo Studio. The little unit supplies 360 degree sound from a single speaker, and while this most likely won’t give you the same experience as listening in a true Dolby Atmos-certified playback room, it’s a step in the right direction. Reportedly, most of the consumer electronics manufacturers are already working on their version of “3D sound” devices as well.

The reason why this surround-style format has a chance this time is the fact that, unlike during the old 5.1/DVD-Audio/SACD days, the speakers can be wireless and intelligent, so precision placement might not be as critical to get at least some of the effect.

Also, where the last time there was a dearth of surround software product when the gear was ready, this time there’s a pretty good catalog (no numbers yet) to start with. As well as the artists mentioned above, the library will “cover multiple labels across UMG and feature a wide range of genres including hip-hop, pop, rock, country, jazz, and classical music.”

Presumably if you’re an Amazon Music HD subscriber and you purchase an Echo Studio ($199) you can have an immersive audio experience right now. By the way, the new iPhone 11‘s are Atmos-ready right out of the box!

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