Even More Atmos

Note: I’m focused primarily on commercial appeal. I’ve heard quad that is great, but every format beyond stereo has failed in the marketplace. I am also worried creatively. As in if the Atmos versions of originals become the standard. Atmos is the default in Apple Music. Which is criminal. Atmos should be opt-in, not opt-out. It’s bad enough that Beatles remixes are superseding the originals on platforms. It takes an effort to find the older, original versions. I mean when you mess with the Beatles… But it’s always about money. I’ve got nothing inherently against Atmos, although I don’t believe in remixing already recorded material. I’ve got nothing against the experience but do I think it will become anywhere near the dominant, accepted playback format? No.


In 1975, my band, Fireballet, recorded our first album, Night On Bald Mountain, in Sansui Quad.

Oh, it was fun having things bounce around the room, but that’s all it was,  sonic fun you could  only properly experience if you stood dead center in the control room.

We did not do the 2nd Fireballet in Quad.

Quad faded away very quickly.

We’re coming up on 50 years since my Quad experience.

I’m with Mr. Ezrin and Mr. Anderton about this.

Jim Cuomo


I’m sticking with the two Bobs on this.  I think Ezrin makes the most persuasive argument. Being blown away is exciting but it’s about where we focus our attention on a primal level. Like worshiping at church or a sacrifice. The difference between the energy at a rock concert versus silent disco where everyone is free to focus on whet they want. The best experience is when are attention is directed. As a producer I’m always aware of HOW I introduce the information.

I’m intrigued by the long game theory but I think it’ll end up applying more to VR experiences than music which will always be worshiped at the temple of stereo.

All the best,

Jeff Bhasker


One fallacy repeated here is that stereo is effective because people only have two ears. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. If you go back and review Steinberg and Snow’s papers presented to the IEEE ca. 1931-1934 on stereo and auditory perspective, you will notice that they always intended for stereo to be delivered via three speakers, not two. Dropping the center channel was a mistake made by the business folks involved, citing costs.

Jim Rondinelli


Music lovers use equipment to listen to their music,
Audiophiles use music to listen to their equipment

Rusty Hodge


Hey Bob, I’ve found it interesting that several of the most vocal and fervent supports of Atmos that have replied to you here also have a financial stake in it’s success. Add a paycheck to the equation and it’s easy to see objectivity go right out the door.

Bret Bassi


There is a big fallacy in spatial audio marketing, which is that two speakers cannot properly recreate a three-dimensional experience.

It’s just that, with the availability of multi-track recording, audio engineers seem to have forgotten how to produce true stereo recordings, i.e. with a coincident pair of cardioids, or, if you also want to capture what’s happening behind, with a pair figure of eight polar pattern microphones. On two tracks.

What has been happening since is the production of “fake stereo” where the spatial rendition is invented at the mixing table with or without the addition of effects. Atmos takes us even further down that path.

While Atmos may provide more life-like simulations for movies or gaming, I doubt it is necessary for music if the aim is to reproduce a live experience. Pleasing or not, the final effect will be us listening to sound engineers much more than musicians. But in this realm of product manufacturing, if it is the product that sells…


J-Dominique Sellier


As usual people are thinking about Atmos with dated thinking. It seems a waste of time to take stereo mixes of music created for stereo and try to create a spatial experience. Atmos  is a niche technology that people need to write a musical experience for. As Mr Ezrin says we a wired to look where sound comes from so this technology at its best would be coupled with immersive visuals.  It isn’t a mass market tech. Some people eat at Michelin rated restaurants. Most eat at McDonald’s. Looks like the industry is trying to add garnishes to our happy Meal.

Allan Davey


Atmos, or any future “immersive” scenario will definitely get traction from a generation that grew up on video games, that are also immersive and may eventually prove to be influential in future music creation … who knows? Humans evolve… or “devolve” depending on which side of the fence you fall on.

Which is a good segue to my stating that nonetheless, I’m on “Team Ezrin” 100%.

Jason Steidman


I haven’t seen anyone mention this and I believe it’s crucial.

The current technology is evolving towards the metaverse –at least that’s where many big players are placing their bets. Immersive audio may be a fad now, but once virtual/augmented reality becomes a… well, a reality, dolby atmos will not only make sense, but play a huge role in our virtual lives.

I guess that’s a whole other conversation. Not many people are talking about it from this perspective, I’m curious what are your thoughts.

Sergey Boket


How many households have 5.1 speakers for watching films/sports/movies?

How many have 7.1?

Most consumers will use the tv speakers or maybe a sound bar, similar to just AirPods.

I wonder if you went back though and looked at curmudgeons railing against new found stereo vs. mono would you see the same thing? Think of how bad early stereo mixes were because they were an afterthought after mono was done. Or how bad CD transfers were originally.

Dolby and others are continually pushing tech to deliver different audio experiences. But just like any tech, it will be for a small part of the general public. And that’s OK.


Ned Ward


Dirty little insider secret among many top engineers (please don’t use my name if you share this) is that Auro-3D is the best sounding of the immersive formats for music, due to speaker angle placement and lossless PCM playback (typically from Blu Ray disc).

Both Sony 360RA (which is a variant of MPEG-H) and Dolby Atmos are encoded in a lossy manner, Sony tends to have better imaging and placement and is a bit more “hi-fi”, Atmos was developed for cinema and can work quite well for music, but seems to be a few steps behind the others when it comes to ultimate audio quality and fidelity. The angle and placement of the height channels in Atmos tend to make it difficult to get a seamless audio image from top to bottom.

Sadly Auro is a tiny niche within the limited immersive niche itself. Sounds incredible though if you ever get a chance to check it out.

Funny to see the “old guys” (Ezrin, Fremer – who’s whole life is vinyl, etc) firmly rooted in the established standard. As you like to say, the cheese is being moved. Will they come along into the future (stereo isn’t going anywhere, immersive is a bonus), or stay stuck where they’ve been throughout their career? Anderton’s comment is correct, engineers are paid to listen to sound, and the good ones (along with the producer) are also listening for music -performance, artistry, magic, lightning in a bottle. Regardless of format or number of channels.

I could name a long list of horrible sounding vinyl LPs and CDs. Does that mean the formats suck? Not according to the market. Same goes for immersive. There’s cheesy dreck, rushed remasters that butcher the original as well as mind-boggling well done inspiring tracks, new and old. Just because not everything is incredible doesn’t mean it’s dead as a format. Caveat emptor, as always.



I remember not so long ago higher-ups in the business seemingly severely allergic to change screaming “PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS WANT TO HOLD SOMETHING IN THEIR HANDS – LIKE A CD!!! AND THE ARTWORK!!!  THIS WON’T STAND”!

It really doesn’t matter what people think – this thing is here to stay.  You know what, like Giles Martin says: “You don’t have to listen to it”.

Far from a wank, this format, done right, is transformative – it takes listening to recorded music to a whole new level – there is no doubt about this.

To my dear friend John Van Nest: You can’t listen to Atmos on stereo speakers – doesn’t work that way.

To my friend Bob Ezrin – I love the allegory of human beings spinning to face the new sound, but once we realize that it wasn’t a lion about to eat us, we relax and enjoy the immersive-ness (yep that’s the word) of an Atmos music mix.

For what it’s worth – the amazing kids I teach at USC are crazy for this shit!!

All my best, -b

Brian Malouf


Subject: Suddenly everyone is an Atmos expert

Hi Bob, respectfully disagree with almost everything that was posted on your pages regarding this topic.

I get it, most of the released Atmos is shit. So when people are complaining, it’s because they have a lack of skill or a lack of imagination.  Yet if a scientist compared three or four tracks for a few minutes each of a format with 70 years of experience versus a more complex format with just a couple of years of experience and came to any conclusions they would be fired.

This is mostly a headphone format not a speaker format as with cinema, and it’s the future of headphones, absolutely.  Apple invests billions per year in developing VR.  Atmos sounds objectively better when it’s done right in headphones versus the stereo in headphones.  More canvas, more dynamics. Better.

I have pioneered analog atmos mastering using 50 custom EQ’s and 48 analog compressors.  Better in headphones, always, compared to stereo.  Not only is 99.9% of Atmos released unmastered, the rare mastering paid for by the people who care is not sufficient for the format. Too safe, too clinical … something we wouldn’t pay for it if was a Stereo mastering job.

I had to figure out what was the purpose of mastering in this format (if any) and learn how to do it on any project in any genre, at any quality of mix, just like I do in stereo. I have done that work.

My analog Atmos mastering work sounds better in the headphones vs. stereo, every time, every headphone, every listener, every style, no exceptions, no excuses, no fish bowl of sound, no phase mess, no weird center vocal image, no lack of punch down the center … absolutely better, end of argument.

Analog while mastering atmos is needed else the distortion / harmonics sound like a demo.  No analog bus processing in atmos and no analog mastering processing as we have with the highly evolved stereo format.  Plugs in don’t add what Class A discrete op amps with juicy transformers do. So analog has to happen on every object (3D track).

As far as the skill set, almost everything released is middle to awful and the five percent that’s good could still be much better. And that makes sense.  This is new territory, and it’s a great opportunity for those of us who are older to be young again, to learn every day, to take everything we know about stereo and to apply it into an arena which is not a completely new invention. It’s just an extension of stereo into a larger field.

Everything we know about stereo still applies and it’s important.  Again we have 70 years working in stereo vs. just a couple years on this format, with many skilled people not even bothering.  And yet suddenly everyone is an expert?  I’m at the front of this and learning constantly, that is the mind to have.

This is not surround … or from the past … this is a streamable and accessible room full of sound decoding for every speaker system and every headphone. That is new.  As are the height speakers.

Humans are wired to expect sounds from behind to be a threat, and we hear them very well … so there is a stress thing that can happen.  Yet when the music is great, and we let that fear stress go, there is no greater feeling of euphoria assuming the music has the punch we expect down the middle like in stereo.

Yet again, Atmos is a headphone product 99.9%

What’s needed in atmos is Center Power and to combat the phase issues from the DSP in headphones.  That’s the skill of atmos.  What’s needed in stereo is to combat stereo phase issues, created by the limitations of the two speakers. And we have mastered that skill.  Phase issue either way, just a different issue.

Size is built from the center power out, in stereo.  Power is built from the inherent size inward, in Atmos.

Atmos is triple the canvas, and double the dynamics, and that’s good news for music.  It’s a better phase problem to have.

Stereo is not going away, this is not a contest.  Stereo is convenient for speakers and Atmos is superior for headphones and the rare speaker set up, when done well which most people have not heard.

Stereo headphones are actually quite terrible yet we accept that. What’s good about them is the phase clarity and punch of everything that’s mixed down the middle .  Except that center lives at our third eye, it’s not in the audio in front of us as in a room, it’s in our head.  There’s a whole empty space in front of us.  Stereo headphones have no center image like a room, it’s a weird image in the mind.

Those of us who understand and enjoy phantom center from speakers are in the .00001 percent of humans on the earth.  Meanwhile atmos on any headphone (highly recommend the new $200 Apple AirPod Pro 2) puts everybody into a room with not just a center, but a room experience all around … just like a studio with 2 speakers up front.

Putting the average person into real listening rooms is a big deal.  And just because we don’t have the skill on aggregate to do it consistently well yet, as we do with stereo, doesn’t mean anything about the format or its potential.

That potential is available today.  Send me anything and I’ll send it back better than the stereo in headphones.  That’s the job of Atmos mastering, something with an evolving understanding, to beat the stereo in headphones. Every time.

Yes atmos speakers don’t translate perfectly to the headphones yet, but that doesn’t matter.  Move on.

Brian Lucey


Everyone has the wrong take on Atmos. Personally I like The Beatles in mono but that’s just because that what I’m used to and I think most atmos mixes are disappointing because we’re used to the listening experience of stereo. The question is where is music listening experience going and how should we format for that?

Arguably, no one sits and listens to music anymore, well certainly no on under the age of 40, its generally a soundtrack to something, driving, washing up, working out, etc and sometimes accompanied by visuals, so what listening experiences are actually needed?

Ever since the Walkman, stereo as a listening experience became normalised and therefore more intense and where instruments were placed in the stereo field became an artistic choice tuned to that experience. Want the chorus to sound bigger? Add more stereo instruments, backgrounds, FX, etc.

As we move more into an immersive online experience, which if you speak to any 15 year old you will see they are already there, then sound has the opportunity of working in different and exciting ways with the visual. Companies like Dolby are building for that. Personally I love the way atmos mixes envelop you on even a straightforward Sonos 5.1 system and listen to a good atmos system in a Merc, its incredible but on AirPods some mixes work, some don’t. That’s the art form and over time the tech and engineers ability will improve exactly the way stereo mixes did. Remember all the drums on the left hand side in Beatles stereo mixes?

As a music creative my job is to take people on a journey and deliver messages and experiences through sound. Where the world is going is augmented reality and 360 immersive experiences, totally blowing stereo out the water and atmos will be imperative for that.




I’m with Tom Waits who said something along the lines of, music sounds best when you hear it blaring out the windows of a passing car.

Rob Radack


I admire and appreciate innovation and technology but hearing sounds in recorded music I do not recall from the originals is discomforting and disingenuous but I remain open.

Andrew Paciocco


A little late to the game, but so glad many said the same thing I was thinking – Ezrin nailed it. The man who got one of the best ‘no frills’ sound for guitar/bass/drums on a hard rock album with Love It To Death.


Thomas Quinn

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