How Do We Make Surround Sound Better?
One of the things you learn when studying engineering is to release “iterations“. Never give your best until you’ve been paid for all the work you did to get there. Release versions 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 2.0, 2.1, 3.0, and 3.1 before you give them what you have now.
Those in the science world, specifically in sound reproduction, were incredibly beyond 5.1 when surround sound was released for public consumption. The truth is that there is a room in a university (It’s been there for over a decade. I know because I read about it in 2005 while studying engineering.), where you can walk around and hear a specific member of an orchestra playing right beside you…from a recording. Pinpoint directional sound.
That room was specifically designed by engineers to do this. The challenge with consumer products is that every room in which their speakers will be used is different. Even rooms of the same shape and size will have the speakers placed in a different layout, with a different amplifier, and different settings.
Engineers have to do their absolute best to recreate near perfection as cheap as possible, in a universal way.
The fact is that the wonderful technology that comes out year after year is new to you and me, but it isn’t new.
The Next Engineering Stepping Stone For Surround Sound
Dolby has been the golden standard for cinematic audio for generations. They are the magic behind the sound on DVDs and Blu-Rays. They decide how to separate the sounds into the channels that your speakers emit. Virtually all productions that are worth enjoying have paid Dolby a fee to use their newest technological breakthroughs as part of their marketability.
On the other side of things, because of Dolby being a part of virtually all media being played on home theatres, they also dictate exactly how speaker and amplifier companies (and TV companies with respect to Dolby Vision and Dolby 3D) engineer their products.
Since Dolby Stereo was released to theatres in 1975, they have evolved their way through Dolby Surround, Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, EX, Pro Logic II, Digital Plus, TrueHD, and in 2009, Dolby Pro Logic IIz (which took them to Atmos).
So, What Is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is essentially 9.1 surround sound, except instead of adding two more ear level channels to 7.1, there are two channels aiming at the ceiling. It is 7.1 surround sound plus two “height” channels.
In true engineering style, with the new dimension of sound comes a new naming convention, 7.1.2 (ear level.sub.height) as an example.
With the added height channels comes an incredible depth of sound. Atmos is not the linear over-here/over-there sound that most home theatres utilize, which was a glorious improvement on stereo sound, but an experience that places you in the middle of whatever you are watching.
Instead of a plane being in front of you, then behind you, it flies over you.
All sound gets closer to where it should be in the room.
This is closer to that pinpoint directional sound being in our living rooms than we have ever been before.
How are Home Theater Companies Responding?
Klipsch is known worldwide as one of the best home audio speaker companies in history.
They have embraced Dolby Atmos in their newest lines of speakers and, instead of designing standalone height speakers, have incorporated them into floor model front channel speakers.
To see an example, click here.
Or, if you already have 5.1 or 7.1 that you do not wish to upgrade to use the wonderful effect of Dolby Atmos, they have also released a much smaller, standalone Atmos speaker, seen by clicking here.
If using the smaller standalone version, they should be placed on top of, or within 3 feet of the front channel speakers, aiming toward the listening position (where the rest of the speakers aim).
Receiver companies, like the extremely high-rated Denon, have also added Atmos to their impressive list of included technology in their newest receivers.