From Billboard: Studios Are Rushing to Record Music in Hi-Def Surround Sound

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Studios Are Rushing to Record Music in Hi-Def Surround Sound

Artists are paying a high premium to have songs mixed for Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio -- formats that have seen a "massive rate of adoption" at studios.
BY STEVE KNOPPER

For the past two years, Sylvia Massy has spent more than $100,000 upgrading her recording studio, The Oddio Shop in Ashland, Ore., with numerous speakers on the ceiling, a “constellation of monitors,” a $10,000 recording interface called the Antelope Galaxy 64 and high-end German cables so she can mix tracks using the deeper, richer sound technology Dolby Atmos. “We went for the best equipment we could possibly get,” she says. “Which was a little nutty. Big job.”

Eighty percent of Massy’s clients, including Brazilian singer-songwriter Amon Tobin and Des Moines, Iowa-based King Bartlett & The Royal Band, now employ the immersive surround-sound audio format, which is available for streaming on Amazon Music and Apple Music (combined with a complementary format called Spatial Audio). This sound technology has been available for years from high-quality-audio streaming services like TIDAL and in movie theaters, but it has surged since 2019: Most of today’s hits, from Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” to Jack Harlow’s “Dua Lipa,” plus classics like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers & All the Rest and catalogs from Katy Perry, J. Cole, The Doors and others, are mixed or remixed this way; the number of Amazon Music tracks mixed in immersive-audio formats has grown over 400% during that time.

For engineers and studios, it may be just the beginning. “I’m excited about the applications of this type of listening in clubs and cars and home systems,” Massy says. “For some of us studio owners, we’re not going to wait till it catches on.” At Los Angeles’ Larrabee Studios, producer-engineer Manny Marroquin has spent the last few years revamping his mixing room with a high-end Dolby Atmos system including nine speakers carefully placed around the room, five subwoofers and four overhead speakers, all hidden behind fabric to seem unobtrusive. “Apple opened the floodgates so we could all start experimenting with it,” says Marroquin, who has worked with Bruno Mars, The Rolling Stones and many others. “The tidal wave is too big to ignore. You’re going to have to learn how to swim.”

TIDAL and Amazon Music first made tracks available through Spatial Audio three years ago, and last June, Apple Music offered thousands of tracks mixed in the format — Apple and Amazon do not charge extra for the higher audio quality, while TIDAL’s monthly cost for the immersive format is $20, compared with $10 for standard stereo. (Conspicuously, Spotify and YouTube remain stereo-only.) Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vp of internet software and services, called the new technology — ideally heard through the company’s latest AirPods or a multispeaker home-theater system — “a real game changer.”

‘It’s Evolving Pretty Quickly’

The new formats have changed the way artists, engineers and studios work: In March 2020, according to Dolby, just 30 studios were equipped for mixing in Dolby Atmos, but today the number is nearly 600 — a 1,900% increase. “A massive rate of adoption,” says Christine Thomas, Dolby’s senior director of music partnerships.

Since Apple Music and Amazon Music almost simultaneously announced they would be offering the immersive-audio streaming to subscribers for no added cost in May 2021, they’ve used the technology as their latest weapon in the streaming wars. Spotify, noticeably, failed to roll out its own hi-fi streaming plans promised last year; in January, the company said the program has been delayed without new “timing details to share yet.”

Meanwhile, whether or not high-quality audio attracts meaningful numbers of new subscribers, Apple and Amazon are pushing it to artists and fans alike with editorial playlists and marketing. (The companies have the added bonus of selling more Spatial Audio-equipped AirPods and Dolby Atmos-friendly home-theater equipment.) That means mixing for Atmos is becoming increasingly in-demand and studios see it as an important new service — one they don’t want to risk missing out on. Massy’s studio, which works with many independent musicians, charges roughly $350 per track for a “Mastering for Atmos” mix, usually in addition to the initial $1,200 stereo mix. And major labels are all-in on the new formats, sometimes ushering artists to their own studios, like Universal Music’s Abbey Road in London and Sony’s Battery in New York.

The new mixing process generally takes three hours, but it can range from 90 minutes to multiple days. For DIY producers, Pro Tools builds Dolby Atmos functions into its latest software, and Logic offers a free plug-in. “It’s evolving pretty quickly,” says Michael Frey, Universal Music Group’s president of operations, global studios and technology. “It’s not materially more expensive.”

For artists, the financial benefit is more prominent placement on streaming playlists, which spotlight the services’ high-definition audio. “We tell the artist to submit to Apple Music so they can get on the Atmos playlists,” says Chris Johnson, manager of The Oddio Shop. “It’s a good boost, for sure.” On Apple Music’s homepage, “Spatial Audio” is listed as a top category among rock and hip-hop, and most of Apple Music’s global Top 100, from Kendrick Lamar to Morgan Wallen, is mixed this way. “A bunch of [digital service providers] are clearly believing Spatial Audio adds value to the streaming service,” says a major-label executive. “We want to support that.”

Tracks remixed in Spatial Audio and similar formats have a depth that isn’t comprehensible in stereo recordings. Heard on Apple Music, the “hey, ho!” chants in the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” sound like they’re all over the room rather than coming from a central microphone; the synths in Bad Bunny’s “Moscow Mule” appear to call and respond to the vocals like a symphony. Tony Gervino, TIDAL’s executive vp and editor in chief, learned from the newly remixed version of Roberta Flack’s 1973 classic “Killing Me Softly With His Song” that percussion noises came from a gospel choir, as opposed to what he assumed were instruments. “If you can hear the people recording it while they’re recording it, there’s emotion you really can’t replicate,” says Gervino, a former top editor at Billboard.

“It definitely should sound like ‘here’s my mix’ and ‘here’s my mix on steroids,’” adds Emily Lazar, founder and chief mastering engineer at New York studio The Lodge, who won a Grammy Award for working on Beck’s 2017 album, Colors, and has worked with Foo Fighters, Coldplay and others. “It should have an element of that experience and movement and excitement.”

Enthusiasm for the immersive formats has spread from room to room at studios. Joan Jett recently mixed her upcoming acoustic album in Dolby Atmos, as well as a competing sound technology, Sony 360, at The Hit Factory/Germano Studios in New York, which upgraded its Studio 1 for these formats over the past few years. When artists and other potential clients toured the studio while Jett and her team were recording earlier this year, the veteran rock star played the mixes and talked them up.

“That would energize the whole situation,” says Tony Germano, the studio’s owner and president. “Someone walks out and thinks about immersive audio in a whole new way.”

As the new formats dominate studios, engineers and producers are pitching artists directly.

Alex Solano, owner of Alex Pro Mix, emails potential clients about hiring him to upgrade their mixes. To the veteran engineer, Dolby Atmos and the other formats are finally pushing back against years of compressed audio files and poor sound quality. “The consumer has been accustomed to listening to MP3s for the last two decades — that has changed,” says Solano, adding that Dolby Atmos mixes and masters cost roughly one-and-a-half times the stereo mix. “If music creators and producers don’t adapt to this technology, they’re going to be left behind.”

‘It Just Sounds Terrible’

The Spatial Audio format, which Apple Music pairs with Dolby Atmos for the surround sound experience on AirPods and high-end stereos, is not popular with all top engineers. Ronan Chris Murphy, a producer and engineer who has worked with King Crimson and GWAR, has blogged and posted YouTube videos suggesting the new formats are reminiscent of stereo-store tricks in which salespeople simply crank up the bass to get consumers to buy new speakers. Referring to a beloved classic album, which he won’t name, he says: “When I switch on headphones between the original mix and the Spatial Audio mix, it just sounds terrible.

“It might have sounded fantastic in a 17-point system at the studio,” he adds, “but the fold-down” — listening to music recorded with many channels on an audio system with fewer channels — “sounds like a bad demo tape.”

Murphy is also critical of Apple’s early marketing, using phrases such as “Beyond Stereo,” when his own A-B comparisons between stereo remasters and Spatial Audio mixes suggest something less than revolutionary. He also complains that many of the new mix engineers did not work with the original artists and producers who “maybe slaved over them for three weeks.” Says Murphy: “I don’t understand why the music industry isn’t revolting against all of this.”

Dolby senior vp of entertainment John Couling counters that the new formats inherently give recordings more depth and clarity, as top studio adopters such as producers No I.D., FINNEAS and Bob Clearmountain have pointed out over the past year or two. “You don’t have the conflict of the guitar and the vocal on top of each other anymore,” Couling says. “You can separate them.”

The most potent evangelists for the new formats, though, are the artists themselves. Sabrina Claudio, an R&B singer-songwriter, recorded her latest album, Based On a Feeling, at Marroquin’s Larrabee Studios with the idea of mixing the tracks in Dolby Atmos.

“When you sit in the middle of the room and close your eyes, you can hear the strings going around in a circle. It feels like you’re in a whirlwind that you can’t hear in your normal stereo headphones,” she says. “I get lost in music even more than I have in the past. It’s going to change the industry.”
 

humprof

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Studios Are Rushing to Record Music in Hi-Def Surround Sound

Artists are paying a high premium to have songs mixed for Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio -- formats that have seen a "massive rate of adoption" at studios.
BY STEVE KNOPPER

For the past two years, Sylvia Massy has spent more than $100,000 upgrading her recording studio, The Oddio Shop in Ashland, Ore., with numerous speakers on the ceiling, a “constellation of monitors,” a $10,000 recording interface called the Antelope Galaxy 64 and high-end German cables so she can mix tracks using the deeper, richer sound technology Dolby Atmos. “We went for the best equipment we could possibly get,” she says. “Which was a little nutty. Big job.”

Eighty percent of Massy’s clients, including Brazilian singer-songwriter Amon Tobin and Des Moines, Iowa-based King Bartlett & The Royal Band, now employ the immersive surround-sound audio format, which is available for streaming on Amazon Music and Apple Music (combined with a complementary format called Spatial Audio). This sound technology has been available for years from high-quality-audio streaming services like TIDAL and in movie theaters, but it has surged since 2019: Most of today’s hits, from Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” to Jack Harlow’s “Dua Lipa,” plus classics like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers & All the Rest and catalogs from Katy Perry, J. Cole, The Doors and others, are mixed or remixed this way; the number of Amazon Music tracks mixed in immersive-audio formats has grown over 400% during that time.

For engineers and studios, it may be just the beginning. “I’m excited about the applications of this type of listening in clubs and cars and home systems,” Massy says. “For some of us studio owners, we’re not going to wait till it catches on.” At Los Angeles’ Larrabee Studios, producer-engineer Manny Marroquin has spent the last few years revamping his mixing room with a high-end Dolby Atmos system including nine speakers carefully placed around the room, five subwoofers and four overhead speakers, all hidden behind fabric to seem unobtrusive. “Apple opened the floodgates so we could all start experimenting with it,” says Marroquin, who has worked with Bruno Mars, The Rolling Stones and many others. “The tidal wave is too big to ignore. You’re going to have to learn how to swim.”

TIDAL and Amazon Music first made tracks available through Spatial Audio three years ago, and last June, Apple Music offered thousands of tracks mixed in the format — Apple and Amazon do not charge extra for the higher audio quality, while TIDAL’s monthly cost for the immersive format is $20, compared with $10 for standard stereo. (Conspicuously, Spotify and YouTube remain stereo-only.) Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vp of internet software and services, called the new technology — ideally heard through the company’s latest AirPods or a multispeaker home-theater system — “a real game changer.”

‘It’s Evolving Pretty Quickly’

The new formats have changed the way artists, engineers and studios work: In March 2020, according to Dolby, just 30 studios were equipped for mixing in Dolby Atmos, but today the number is nearly 600 — a 1,900% increase. “A massive rate of adoption,” says Christine Thomas, Dolby’s senior director of music partnerships.

Since Apple Music and Amazon Music almost simultaneously announced they would be offering the immersive-audio streaming to subscribers for no added cost in May 2021, they’ve used the technology as their latest weapon in the streaming wars. Spotify, noticeably, failed to roll out its own hi-fi streaming plans promised last year; in January, the company said the program has been delayed without new “timing details to share yet.”

Meanwhile, whether or not high-quality audio attracts meaningful numbers of new subscribers, Apple and Amazon are pushing it to artists and fans alike with editorial playlists and marketing. (The companies have the added bonus of selling more Spatial Audio-equipped AirPods and Dolby Atmos-friendly home-theater equipment.) That means mixing for Atmos is becoming increasingly in-demand and studios see it as an important new service — one they don’t want to risk missing out on. Massy’s studio, which works with many independent musicians, charges roughly $350 per track for a “Mastering for Atmos” mix, usually in addition to the initial $1,200 stereo mix. And major labels are all-in on the new formats, sometimes ushering artists to their own studios, like Universal Music’s Abbey Road in London and Sony’s Battery in New York.

The new mixing process generally takes three hours, but it can range from 90 minutes to multiple days. For DIY producers, Pro Tools builds Dolby Atmos functions into its latest software, and Logic offers a free plug-in. “It’s evolving pretty quickly,” says Michael Frey, Universal Music Group’s president of operations, global studios and technology. “It’s not materially more expensive.”

For artists, the financial benefit is more prominent placement on streaming playlists, which spotlight the services’ high-definition audio. “We tell the artist to submit to Apple Music so they can get on the Atmos playlists,” says Chris Johnson, manager of The Oddio Shop. “It’s a good boost, for sure.” On Apple Music’s homepage, “Spatial Audio” is listed as a top category among rock and hip-hop, and most of Apple Music’s global Top 100, from Kendrick Lamar to Morgan Wallen, is mixed this way. “A bunch of [digital service providers] are clearly believing Spatial Audio adds value to the streaming service,” says a major-label executive. “We want to support that.”

Tracks remixed in Spatial Audio and similar formats have a depth that isn’t comprehensible in stereo recordings. Heard on Apple Music, the “hey, ho!” chants in the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” sound like they’re all over the room rather than coming from a central microphone; the synths in Bad Bunny’s “Moscow Mule” appear to call and respond to the vocals like a symphony. Tony Gervino, TIDAL’s executive vp and editor in chief, learned from the newly remixed version of Roberta Flack’s 1973 classic “Killing Me Softly With His Song” that percussion noises came from a gospel choir, as opposed to what he assumed were instruments. “If you can hear the people recording it while they’re recording it, there’s emotion you really can’t replicate,” says Gervino, a former top editor at Billboard.

“It definitely should sound like ‘here’s my mix’ and ‘here’s my mix on steroids,’” adds Emily Lazar, founder and chief mastering engineer at New York studio The Lodge, who won a Grammy Award for working on Beck’s 2017 album, Colors, and has worked with Foo Fighters, Coldplay and others. “It should have an element of that experience and movement and excitement.”

Enthusiasm for the immersive formats has spread from room to room at studios. Joan Jett recently mixed her upcoming acoustic album in Dolby Atmos, as well as a competing sound technology, Sony 360, at The Hit Factory/Germano Studios in New York, which upgraded its Studio 1 for these formats over the past few years. When artists and other potential clients toured the studio while Jett and her team were recording earlier this year, the veteran rock star played the mixes and talked them up.

“That would energize the whole situation,” says Tony Germano, the studio’s owner and president. “Someone walks out and thinks about immersive audio in a whole new way.”

As the new formats dominate studios, engineers and producers are pitching artists directly.

Alex Solano, owner of Alex Pro Mix, emails potential clients about hiring him to upgrade their mixes. To the veteran engineer, Dolby Atmos and the other formats are finally pushing back against years of compressed audio files and poor sound quality. “The consumer has been accustomed to listening to MP3s for the last two decades — that has changed,” says Solano, adding that Dolby Atmos mixes and masters cost roughly one-and-a-half times the stereo mix. “If music creators and producers don’t adapt to this technology, they’re going to be left behind.”

‘It Just Sounds Terrible’

The Spatial Audio format, which Apple Music pairs with Dolby Atmos for the surround sound experience on AirPods and high-end stereos, is not popular with all top engineers. Ronan Chris Murphy, a producer and engineer who has worked with King Crimson and GWAR, has blogged and posted YouTube videos suggesting the new formats are reminiscent of stereo-store tricks in which salespeople simply crank up the bass to get consumers to buy new speakers. Referring to a beloved classic album, which he won’t name, he says: “When I switch on headphones between the original mix and the Spatial Audio mix, it just sounds terrible.

“It might have sounded fantastic in a 17-point system at the studio,” he adds, “but the fold-down” — listening to music recorded with many channels on an audio system with fewer channels — “sounds like a bad demo tape.”

Murphy is also critical of Apple’s early marketing, using phrases such as “Beyond Stereo,” when his own A-B comparisons between stereo remasters and Spatial Audio mixes suggest something less than revolutionary. He also complains that many of the new mix engineers did not work with the original artists and producers who “maybe slaved over them for three weeks.” Says Murphy: “I don’t understand why the music industry isn’t revolting against all of this.”

Dolby senior vp of entertainment John Couling counters that the new formats inherently give recordings more depth and clarity, as top studio adopters such as producers No I.D., FINNEAS and Bob Clearmountain have pointed out over the past year or two. “You don’t have the conflict of the guitar and the vocal on top of each other anymore,” Couling says. “You can separate them.”

The most potent evangelists for the new formats, though, are the artists themselves. Sabrina Claudio, an R&B singer-songwriter, recorded her latest album, Based On a Feeling, at Marroquin’s Larrabee Studios with the idea of mixing the tracks in Dolby Atmos.

“When you sit in the middle of the room and close your eyes, you can hear the strings going around in a circle. It feels like you’re in a whirlwind that you can’t hear in your normal stereo headphones,” she says. “I get lost in music even more than I have in the past. It’s going to change the industry.”

Especially interesting to get at least one data point on the (additional) cost of mixing in Atmos. I doubt most struggling indie artists could afford the 25+% surcharge.
 

fredblue

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thank you privateuniverse 🤗

great article, this was one of my favourite bits!!

Tony Gervino, TIDAL’s executive vp and editor in chief, learned from the newly remixed version of Roberta Flack’s 1973 classic “Killing Me Softly With His Song” that percussion noises came from a gospel choir, as opposed to what he assumed were instruments. “If you can hear the people recording it while they’re recording it, there’s emotion you really can’t replicate,” says Gervino, a former top editor at Billboard.
 

jamesc

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Seriously what is the difference in the 5.1 Blurays that came out 10 years ago or the DVD-A discs 15-20 years ago. It is still surround sound with just more speakers that 99% of people who don't have like me
I do wish they would be more accepting of 5.1 systems. I would have tried out Tidal streaming years ago but I didn't have an Atmos capable AVR and the reports weren't very positive of people getting the streaming devices working on older 5.1 systems. I know an Atmos mix folded to 5.1 isn't exactly what the mixing engineer intended us to hear but it's certainly a better experience than being played on stereo headphones, which is apparently what the majority of Atmos listeners are doing. And just think of all the 5.1 systems already out there in homes and cars!
 

Blrac

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Studios Are Rushing to Record Music in Hi-Def Surround Sound

Artists are paying a high premium to have songs mixed for Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio -- formats that have seen a "massive rate of adoption" at studios.
BY STEVE KNOPPER

For the past two years, Sylvia Massy has spent more than $100,000 upgrading her recording studio, The Oddio Shop in Ashland, Ore., with numerous speakers on the ceiling, a “constellation of monitors,” a $10,000 recording interface called the Antelope Galaxy 64 and high-end German cables so she can mix tracks using the deeper, richer sound technology Dolby Atmos. “We went for the best equipment we could possibly get,” she says. “Which was a little nutty. Big job.”

Eighty percent of Massy’s clients, including Brazilian singer-songwriter Amon Tobin and Des Moines, Iowa-based King Bartlett & The Royal Band, now employ the immersive surround-sound audio format, which is available for streaming on Amazon Music and Apple Music (combined with a complementary format called Spatial Audio). This sound technology has been available for years from high-quality-audio streaming services like TIDAL and in movie theaters, but it has surged since 2019: Most of today’s hits, from Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” to Jack Harlow’s “Dua Lipa,” plus classics like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers & All the Rest and catalogs from Katy Perry, J. Cole, The Doors and others, are mixed or remixed this way; the number of Amazon Music tracks mixed in immersive-audio formats has grown over 400% during that time.

For engineers and studios, it may be just the beginning. “I’m excited about the applications of this type of listening in clubs and cars and home systems,” Massy says. “For some of us studio owners, we’re not going to wait till it catches on.” At Los Angeles’ Larrabee Studios, producer-engineer Manny Marroquin has spent the last few years revamping his mixing room with a high-end Dolby Atmos system including nine speakers carefully placed around the room, five subwoofers and four overhead speakers, all hidden behind fabric to seem unobtrusive. “Apple opened the floodgates so we could all start experimenting with it,” says Marroquin, who has worked with Bruno Mars, The Rolling Stones and many others. “The tidal wave is too big to ignore. You’re going to have to learn how to swim.”

TIDAL and Amazon Music first made tracks available through Spatial Audio three years ago, and last June, Apple Music offered thousands of tracks mixed in the format — Apple and Amazon do not charge extra for the higher audio quality, while TIDAL’s monthly cost for the immersive format is $20, compared with $10 for standard stereo. (Conspicuously, Spotify and YouTube remain stereo-only.) Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vp of internet software and services, called the new technology — ideally heard through the company’s latest AirPods or a multispeaker home-theater system — “a real game changer.”

‘It’s Evolving Pretty Quickly’

The new formats have changed the way artists, engineers and studios work: In March 2020, according to Dolby, just 30 studios were equipped for mixing in Dolby Atmos, but today the number is nearly 600 — a 1,900% increase. “A massive rate of adoption,” says Christine Thomas, Dolby’s senior director of music partnerships.

Since Apple Music and Amazon Music almost simultaneously announced they would be offering the immersive-audio streaming to subscribers for no added cost in May 2021, they’ve used the technology as their latest weapon in the streaming wars. Spotify, noticeably, failed to roll out its own hi-fi streaming plans promised last year; in January, the company said the program has been delayed without new “timing details to share yet.”

Meanwhile, whether or not high-quality audio attracts meaningful numbers of new subscribers, Apple and Amazon are pushing it to artists and fans alike with editorial playlists and marketing. (The companies have the added bonus of selling more Spatial Audio-equipped AirPods and Dolby Atmos-friendly home-theater equipment.) That means mixing for Atmos is becoming increasingly in-demand and studios see it as an important new service — one they don’t want to risk missing out on. Massy’s studio, which works with many independent musicians, charges roughly $350 per track for a “Mastering for Atmos” mix, usually in addition to the initial $1,200 stereo mix. And major labels are all-in on the new formats, sometimes ushering artists to their own studios, like Universal Music’s Abbey Road in London and Sony’s Battery in New York.

The new mixing process generally takes three hours, but it can range from 90 minutes to multiple days. For DIY producers, Pro Tools builds Dolby Atmos functions into its latest software, and Logic offers a free plug-in. “It’s evolving pretty quickly,” says Michael Frey, Universal Music Group’s president of operations, global studios and technology. “It’s not materially more expensive.”

For artists, the financial benefit is more prominent placement on streaming playlists, which spotlight the services’ high-definition audio. “We tell the artist to submit to Apple Music so they can get on the Atmos playlists,” says Chris Johnson, manager of The Oddio Shop. “It’s a good boost, for sure.” On Apple Music’s homepage, “Spatial Audio” is listed as a top category among rock and hip-hop, and most of Apple Music’s global Top 100, from Kendrick Lamar to Morgan Wallen, is mixed this way. “A bunch of [digital service providers] are clearly believing Spatial Audio adds value to the streaming service,” says a major-label executive. “We want to support that.”

Tracks remixed in Spatial Audio and similar formats have a depth that isn’t comprehensible in stereo recordings. Heard on Apple Music, the “hey, ho!” chants in the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” sound like they’re all over the room rather than coming from a central microphone; the synths in Bad Bunny’s “Moscow Mule” appear to call and respond to the vocals like a symphony. Tony Gervino, TIDAL’s executive vp and editor in chief, learned from the newly remixed version of Roberta Flack’s 1973 classic “Killing Me Softly With His Song” that percussion noises came from a gospel choir, as opposed to what he assumed were instruments. “If you can hear the people recording it while they’re recording it, there’s emotion you really can’t replicate,” says Gervino, a former top editor at Billboard.

“It definitely should sound like ‘here’s my mix’ and ‘here’s my mix on steroids,’” adds Emily Lazar, founder and chief mastering engineer at New York studio The Lodge, who won a Grammy Award for working on Beck’s 2017 album, Colors, and has worked with Foo Fighters, Coldplay and others. “It should have an element of that experience and movement and excitement.”

Enthusiasm for the immersive formats has spread from room to room at studios. Joan Jett recently mixed her upcoming acoustic album in Dolby Atmos, as well as a competing sound technology, Sony 360, at The Hit Factory/Germano Studios in New York, which upgraded its Studio 1 for these formats over the past few years. When artists and other potential clients toured the studio while Jett and her team were recording earlier this year, the veteran rock star played the mixes and talked them up.

“That would energize the whole situation,” says Tony Germano, the studio’s owner and president. “Someone walks out and thinks about immersive audio in a whole new way.”

As the new formats dominate studios, engineers and producers are pitching artists directly.

Alex Solano, owner of Alex Pro Mix, emails potential clients about hiring him to upgrade their mixes. To the veteran engineer, Dolby Atmos and the other formats are finally pushing back against years of compressed audio files and poor sound quality. “The consumer has been accustomed to listening to MP3s for the last two decades — that has changed,” says Solano, adding that Dolby Atmos mixes and masters cost roughly one-and-a-half times the stereo mix. “If music creators and producers don’t adapt to this technology, they’re going to be left behind.”

‘It Just Sounds Terrible’

The Spatial Audio format, which Apple Music pairs with Dolby Atmos for the surround sound experience on AirPods and high-end stereos, is not popular with all top engineers. Ronan Chris Murphy, a producer and engineer who has worked with King Crimson and GWAR, has blogged and posted YouTube videos suggesting the new formats are reminiscent of stereo-store tricks in which salespeople simply crank up the bass to get consumers to buy new speakers. Referring to a beloved classic album, which he won’t name, he says: “When I switch on headphones between the original mix and the Spatial Audio mix, it just sounds terrible.

“It might have sounded fantastic in a 17-point system at the studio,” he adds, “but the fold-down” — listening to music recorded with many channels on an audio system with fewer channels — “sounds like a bad demo tape.”

Murphy is also critical of Apple’s early marketing, using phrases such as “Beyond Stereo,” when his own A-B comparisons between stereo remasters and Spatial Audio mixes suggest something less than revolutionary. He also complains that many of the new mix engineers did not work with the original artists and producers who “maybe slaved over them for three weeks.” Says Murphy: “I don’t understand why the music industry isn’t revolting against all of this.”

Dolby senior vp of entertainment John Couling counters that the new formats inherently give recordings more depth and clarity, as top studio adopters such as producers No I.D., FINNEAS and Bob Clearmountain have pointed out over the past year or two. “You don’t have the conflict of the guitar and the vocal on top of each other anymore,” Couling says. “You can separate them.”

The most potent evangelists for the new formats, though, are the artists themselves. Sabrina Claudio, an R&B singer-songwriter, recorded her latest album, Based On a Feeling, at Marroquin’s Larrabee Studios with the idea of mixing the tracks in Dolby Atmos.

“When you sit in the middle of the room and close your eyes, you can hear the strings going around in a circle. It feels like you’re in a whirlwind that you can’t hear in your normal stereo headphones,” she says. “I get lost in music even more than I have in the past. It’s going to change the industry.”

Screw the naysayers! This would be amazing if old artists would embrace it and re-release their music! The potential is amazing. Also, I assume that even without Atmos, or some other soon to be released 3d sound format war, that it will sound great in 5.1 as well. I don't know what type of physical media will be used, but hopefully one is used that we can all play. Blu-ray or DVD seems to be the most logical way to address the amount of space required, since there are blu-ray players (all of which play DVD) in a very high percentage of households. Maybe this will be the push needed to get some blu-ray car audio too.

Here's hoping this works out better than DVD-A and SACD!!!
 

sjcorne

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Seriously what is the difference in the 5.1 Blurays that came out 10 years ago or the DVD-A discs 15-20 years ago. It is still surround sound with just more speakers that 99% of people who don't have like me
Two notable differences:
1. Streaming delivery rather than discs
2. Atmos mixes can play back over headphones (binaural render) or speakers (5.1, 7.1, 7.1.4, etc)
 

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Screw the naysayers! This would be amazing if old artists would embrace it and re-release their music! The potential is amazing. Also, I assume that even without Atmos, or some other soon to be released 3d sound format war, that it will sound great in 5.1 as well. I don't know what type of physical media will be used, but hopefully one is used that we can all play. Blu-ray or DVD seems to be the most logical way to address the amount of space required, since there are blu-ray players (all of which play DVD) in a very high percentage of households. Maybe this will be the push needed to get some blu-ray car audio too.

Here's hoping this works out better than DVD-A and SACD!!!


Aretha Franklin is one of the older players as is Tom Petty and David Bowie . So are Atmos mixes of: The Beatles ...The Stones ...John Lennon etc.


But for me if it doesn't fold down in a credible 5.1 surround presentation, then I'll pass.
 

salsdali

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The inherent problem is how a song is recorded/mixed in surround in high bit rate vs the delivery in low bit rate to less than the same number of channels.

This will always be the issue.

Streaming doesn't solve this problem, soundbars with many speakers in them don't solve this problem, headphones don't solve this problem.

Nothing solves this problem except a home listening environment that mirrors the studio and this is not/ and will not ever be adopted.
 

Bill B

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Perhaps this comment is ignorant since I haven't actually tried it (with headphones) but what difference does it make if 99% of listeners aren't willing to spring for an Atmos capable system and the associated speakers? I can't imagine it makes much difference if you are listening on earbuds. While it is exciting to read this article, I can't help but think back to similar articles touting sacd and DVD-a when they were new.
We'll see but I can't imagine the majority of listeners caring about this one way or the other if history tells us anything.
 
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fredblue

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Perhaps this comment is ignorant since I haven't actually tried it (with headphones) but what difference does it make if 99% of listeners aren't willing to spring for an Atmos capable system and the associated speakers? I can't imagine it makes much difference if you are listening on earbuds. While it is exciting to read this article, I can't help but think back to similar articles touting sacd and DVD-a when they were new.
We'll see but I can't imagine the majority of listeners caring about this one way or the other if history tells us anything.

while for me its not a serious Surround substitute for the proper Atmos speaker setup at home, i do find myself increasingly enjoying Atmos and Dolby Audio content on Apple Music through the AirPod Pro's, its not often that Surround-y but its often quite Spacious with a feeling of elements and instruments widened and sometimes given depth or rather a feeling of being more set back in the mix, not behind you, almost further in front, it can give quite a curious effect.. is it Surround as i've long known it with stuff popping up over your shoulder or whizzing round the room? no.. but it can be engaging and enjoyable enough through the AirPod Pro's and its often quite a jolt going back to the straight Stereo afterwards 👍
 

sjcorne

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The one single nagging problem I have with this is that majority of the work put in will be for optimizing the sound on stereo headphones.
Guys, come on, it's called surround sound for a reason, two channels doesn't cut it. I blame Apple's marketing for this.
Well, they do need some angle to make it profitable! And I wouldn't necessarily say all the Spatial Audio content is geared for best results on headphones - some albums obviously are (the latest John Mayer and Dua Lipa releases spring to mind), but the new Harry Styles is quite an aggressive mix with discrete content in all seven floor channels.
 

AYanguas

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Thinking about that history repeats itself, then:

...Quad died in the second half of 70's BUT we now have a lot of Quad mixes to be enjoyed, 5 decades later.

The actual spatial audio (Atmos, 360RA, Apple flavor, Amazon flavor, etc.) will dissapear for the masses some years later, due to they don't understand the rare differences over traditional stereo sound.
MQA could prevail if people keep listening with earbuds instead of Home Theaters.

BUT.... we will have and we have now, a LOT of new mixes in Immersive Atmos, 360RA, or whatever come next.

So, carpe diem...
 

César

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Thinking about that history repeats itself, then:

...Quad died in the second half of 70's BUT we now have a lot of Quad mixes to be enjoyed, 5 decades later.

The actual spatial audio (Atmos, 360RA, Apple flavor, Amazon flavor, etc.) will dissapear for the masses some years later, due to they don't understand the rare differences over traditional stereo sound.
MQA could prevail if people keep listening with earbuds instead of Home Theaters.

BUT.... we will have and we have now, a LOT of new mixes in Immersive Atmos, 360RA, or whatever come next.

So, carpe diem...
I fully agree with you and I have to admit I cannot see the rationale behind what it's happening.
History taught us that propietary standards and different hardware platforms always tend to converge in one and eventually disappear. How many format wars have already happened?
But this time there's a major difference: for one half of the equation (the music itself) there's not a physical deliverable. There are still original quad tapes and records, some 50 years old, doing the rounds. Now, when companies decide that it's not worthy to keep on paying for storage fees for Terabytes of music in Atmos, MQA, 360RA or whatever, they will simply delete them. Us paying for the monthly subscription will have no rights to complain if they remove any content, unless they change the business model to downloads again.
Eventually, all this bonanza period we're living may end leaving us nothing, apart from toothless QQ'ers babbling about past memories of very nice Atmos stuff.
While I enjoy these streaming services, I've got very clear that they are ephimeral.
What I don't understand is why companies are investing so much in mixing studios and the mixes themselves. It's dirty money what it's at stake here and I can't see how investors are going to get a return.
Are streaming subscribers supposed to increase because of the Atmos/360RA hype? I honestly doubt this is happening, specially if buyers need to purchase yet another piece of HW.
Are then the HW sales supposed to rocket up because of people wanting to listen to music in the new formats? Again, let me have my doubts. Maybe some people will want to purchase new earbuds, but it's the same set of people that will buy them anyway, I'm afraid.
Soundbars? Come on, I don't see the general public massively buying them.
And people investing on AVRs and multiple speakers... even us that are a very small niche market are reluctant to buy and deploy multiple new speakers on the ceiling.
At some point the investors will claim for their money back and unless I'm missing something very relevant, I see no way for these new formats to take off and be profitable.
Maybe I'm being too negative, but I'd really like to see physical releases for these new mixes. They won't turn the situation around, but at least we will have something to keep and listen to when we're toothless
 

MidiMagic

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Introduce incompatibility into any system and part of it must die. So is the system compatible or combatable?

They shoved a ton of incompatibility into quadraphonics, with discrete tapes and CD-4. Everything discrete was incompatible. The matrix systems were less incompatible because the recordings would play on conventional stereo systems with no damage and a good stereo image.

The battle finally trickled down into Dolby Surround, with three different decoders over time. These were fully compatible with stereo and coexisted for years.

Then the discrete camp had to put discrete in again. We had several kinds of feature films and the theaters had to have multiple playback systems to use them all.

As long as VHS was the main home film system, everything had to be stereo or Dolby Surround. Everything was compatible. The same was true with NTSC stereo TV.

Then the DVD appeared. Since it was a new format, it was introduced with discrete 5.1 surround. And the players were made to downmix the 5.1 down to Dolby Surround for the stereo outputs so compatibility was maintained.

Now we are talking about more incompatibilities.
 

AYanguas

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Who said anything about incompatibility? You can play this format on everything from headphones all the way up to a 12 speaker home theater system.

I hope so.

But reading into this article:

Apple Spatial Audio - Who Will Benefit? | Production Expert

who explains in detail all doubts about the upcoming trends on new TV/Films/Music immersive mixes. Who is going to pay for it? Is it worth for a non-existent or very low demand?

Three things caught my attention in this article:

- He talks about the interest of real mixing in Atmos for Full Home Theater, and let streamers like Apple to "downmix" to binaural stereo for the masses. Then we will have the opportunity of having "Real Atmos" mixes for our Home Theaters. But the cost is higher...

- He also talks about the Apple algorithm to "upmix" from legacy stereo to the new Spatial Audio. Would many Apple releases be just upmixes?

- The fear that if not willing to pay for it, the trend will be to mix for just "Binaural stereo" (cheaper and for the eventual 99% of demand) and miss the opportunity for real Atmos mixes in the future.


What an uggly word: To be in a "niche" market.
 
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