Dolby Atmos has been a game-changer in distributing movies and music since its introduction in 2012. We have seen several studios, artists, and theatres across the globe integrating this technology into their processes to produce more immersive audio experiences for their audiences. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Apple Music are the streaming providers that now want the material to be supplied in this format.
At Molinare, Brad Rees is in charge of editing and mixing sounds for re-recordings. Since 2019, he has been using Dolby Atmos to mix for shows like Peaky Blinders and the Downton Abbey movie.
With Brad’s help, we’ll learn the ins and outs of the Dolby Atmos system and how to appreciate its enchantment fully.
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is an audio format that goes beyond stereo to give the listener a more realistic, three-dimensional soundstage.
Sounds emanating from the left or proper channels are the only ones we hear while listening in stereo. With the addition of surround sound, we could hear and feel effects from all directions. Dolby Atmos has recently introduced the ability to place and reposition sounds in a three-dimensional area. By doing so, we may improve the audio’s clarity, depth, and fidelity by giving the impression that it emanates from all directions surrounding the listeners.
Brad says Atmos is a fantastic tool for establishing aural contrasts compared to standard stereo. Downton Abbey’s Atmos mixing allowed seamless transitions between claustrophobic interiors and the vast, verdant British countryside. The stunning aesthetics of the film were elevated to a new level because of this.
The Setup For Dolby Atmos
A standard surround sound system’s left, centre, right, and surround speakers provide two or four distinct listening environments. The audio data is sent to all zone speakers simultaneously.
The addition of height and additional surround speakers in a Dolby Atmos system improves and expands these areas. In addition, each pair of Atmos speakers has its dedicated power supply and audio feed, creating spatial separation between them.
Dolby Atmos requires a speaker setup with front, rear, side, and above speakers. The bare minimum is a 7.1.4 speaker array, with 3 front, 2 sides, 2 rear speakers, 4 ceiling speakers, and 1 Low-Frequency Effects subwoofer (LFE).
Beds & Objects
The Atmos format is an object-oriented one. This implies that sounds come from distinct, physically-locatable sources inside the 3D environment.
Bedding and props are the backbone of any good Atmos set.
Beds are audio channels that may be used alone or in groups to distribute sound to various areas. You might think of them as the skeleton of the virtual world we’re building in 3D. These beds are ideal for laying down sounds like ambient effects or musical backdrops.
Contrarily, Objects are sonic entities that may be freely manipulated in a three-dimensional environment. In this way, directors may control how and where sounds are projected across a picture. Whether it’s from a helicopter hovering above the crowd or a vehicle zipping past on your left, there are plenty of vantage points from which to enjoy the show.
Dolby Atmos supports as many as 128 audio tracks, each broken down into 10 beds (with 9.1 channels/speakers). There are various methods for bringing all of these components together, and the specifics will vary greatly depending on the source material. Still, in Brad’s experience, most of the cinematic sound field can be realised by adequately implementing Beds and applying some of the workflow used for mixing in conventional surround. While it’s thrilling to position sounds in a 3D environment to improve the listening experience, it’s crucial to keep sight of the forest for the trees. The production’s audio should not detract from the show’s core message but rather serve to enhance it. It is keeping the blend at a level where it can be understood.
The speakers are essential, but that’s not all there is to it. The Atmos processing is crucial because it distributes the sound to each speaker in the room, independent of its dimensions. The Atmos engine is flexible enough to generate the same effect whether you’re listening in a 64-speaker theatre, on a smart speaker, soundbar, or mobile device.
Atmos Renderer is the software that allows these translation-friendly blends to be made. This programme outputs a master audio file in Atmos format with all the mixed information, including 128 channels, panning metadata, and binaural settings. To sum up, there is just one recipe you need. A unified format can be transmitted alongside various mixing formats and played on all Atmos-enabled systems and devices.
Mixing In Dolby Atmos
The Renderer also provides the option to playback the projects on various devices and with a variety of audio systems. This allows the mixes to be transferred to other studios with varying speaker setups without compromising the monitoring quality.
The production’s audio should not detract from the show’s core message but rather serve to enhance it.
When Brad is mixing in Atmos, he first does all the panning and object positioning for 7.1.4 while monitoring in stereo. He can decide which components to transmit to each speaker and how much signal to deliver based on his prior experience and knowledge of the system’s performance with various materials. Next, he’ll use the full-scale Atmos gear in the studio to fine-tune the mix and ensure it sounds its best. The Dolby Atmos Premier certified Mix Stage at Abbey Road was used to finalise the Atmos mix of the Downton Abbey soundtrack, which had been premixed in 5.1. Since Brad has been spending more time editing suites that only support stereo output, he has embraced the stereo to Atmos technique.
Brad prefers to use Atmos for his whole workflow whenever feasible when he is mixing rather than editing. As an editor, he will make decisions in stereo since he knows the final mix will take place in a studio with full Atmos capabilities, regardless of whether he is the mixer.
Binaural rendering makes it possible to listen to surround-sound tracks on headphones while monitoring. Binaural audio consists of two channels sent straight to the listener’s ears. It gives them a similar, natural aural environment to that found in the wild.
Engineers would benefit significantly from being able to initiate Atmos mixes with only a pair of headphones and hear how the mixes would translate into consumer devices. To explore the potential of spatial audio on headphones, Brad has begun using some of the latest available equipment to listen to Atmos mixes in ambisonics. It’s still in the early stages of development, but it’s an intriguing attempt that might assist when 7.1.4 systems are unavailable, but Atmos mixing is a need.
The days when Atmos was reserved for expensive movie theatres playing expensive movies are over. Distributors, manufacturers, and artists are increasing including Atmos in their offerings. The Atmos process is being taught to the next generation of audio post-production professionals at Abbey Road Institute. Our new Advanced Diploma in Audio Post Production for Film and TV features mixing in Atmos, a customised masterclass on the Mix Stage at Abbey Road, and instruction from some of the most respected names in the post-production business.