Dolby Atmos: Coming To A Club Near You

Since night clubs are all about the music experience, it’s surprising that more time has not be spent on evolving the fundamentals of sound. While loudspeakers, speaker placement, and the quality of bass has improved dramatically over the years, the stereo format still remains king. With Native Instruments’ new Stems idea taking off, has the time finally come to explore new sonic territory? Dolby thinks so, which is why they are rolling out Dolby Atmos (multi-dimensional sound) in clubs.

Dolby Atmos: The Essential Low Down

Here is what we know, and can tell you now:

  • There will soon be a series of clubs equipped with Atmos sound systems around the world
  • Producers can put a dimensional “Panner Plug-in” directly on their tracks and design where the sound should be placed, or move it around on multiple axes.
  • The Dolby Atmos panner plug-in currently is AAX compatible
  • There is a Dolby-designed DJ software that plays back these special files and allows DJs to isolate and move parts around the room in real time.
  • This software is compatible with Pioneer CDJ-2000 NXS and DJM-2000NXS mixers –  so DJs can play songs on a familiar control surface.
  • All mixing, panning, and effects are done internally, in the computer.
  • There will probably be a series of shows featuring this new technology with artists that have begun mixing their material in the format.
The Dolby Atmos Panner Tool

Dolby Atmos Club Ecosystem Requirements

  • Plug-ins placed in the mix record metadata for movement and position.
  • A fairly large file containing all the musical “objects” and their associated metadata for that song
  • A DJ software that can play back these files and send the movement information to the club’s Atmos system
  • A web of speakers around the room and on the ceiling, which playback the producer’s vision
A Dolby Atmos enabled studio

In theory, the magical part is that the mix always sounds consistent from studio to club – regardless of size – thanks to clever spacial algorithms that can make sure the position and loudness of all objects stay constant. It’s important to consider that this represents a fundamental shift in thinking around music delivery. Producers would no longer be mixing music down to a stereo image, but instead placing objects in the room, with Dolby processors rendering the final results.

Why Build Dolby Atmos For Nightclubs?

Dolby is hoping that this Atmos experience will provide a richer creative pallets for producers and a more dynamic live experience for club-goers. With sounds coming from all directions, it should be a more immersive and exciting experience. With many clubs still running in mono, and most patrons in various states of alteration, we can’t help but wonder: will anyone even notice it’s in Atmos?

What Is Atmos? 

What is Dolby Atmos, and how is it different from Surround Sound? In short, Atmos is a multi-dimensional format that allows film creators (and soon, music producers) to place objects anywhere in the room – including above the listener. This format can be translated to any other sized room, including small or big clubs. They do this with sophisticated software, hardware, and custom speaker installations that cover the entire room.

With a Dolby Atmos-enabled room, you can hear parts not only separated (like the vocals coming from just overhead) but in theory you can also hear parts moving around the sound space (hi-hats could rotate around the room).

Dolby Atmos is not based on channels, but on audio objects. What is an audio object? Any sound heard in a film or song—a child yelling, a helicopter taking off, a hi-hat clanging, a bass line thumping—is an audio object. Artists using Dolby Atmos can decide exactly where those sounds should originate and precisely where they move as their experience unfolds.”

There are already many notable albums that have been mixed in Atmos and can be played back at home on Blu-ray including Roger Watters: The Wall – but this is their first foray into dance music technology.

Update: Dolby Atmos Residency at Ministry Of Sound in London

A new update (12/3/15) on this story from Dolby – they’re launching a new residency of the Atmos technology in the prestigious Ministry Of Sound nightclub in London. The series will kick off January 23, 2016 with drum and bass label Hospital Records at the helm. The Atmos system will be installed in The Box, the main room at Ministry of Sound (look for Atmos events on the official MoS website), and will continue to be used throughout 2016 for a series of shows from top dance music labels.

My Personal Opinion

The concept of spacial multi-dimensional sound in clubs is intriguing, I have heard many demos in the studio and here at a San Francisco club, and yes, it’s a pretty interesting experience. With so much space, a producer has the ability to really separate sounds and not have them fighting for the same sonic/stereo territory. Of course, the downside is that this totally eliminates years of dance music production techniques, including:

  • Layering of sounds to create masking or harmonics
  • Mastering and compression to induce rhythmic pumping

If successful and adopted, this would create a completely new language of mixing that would need to be developed and evolve in its own direction. For example, techno produced for Atmos might become something completely different as the fundamental elements can take on such different sonic roles. One idea: the kick and bass have fundamentally always shared the same speakers with synths, putting limitations on which sounds could occupy the lowest frequency range. Now, with dozens of speakers backing up the standard club system, a producer can (theoretically) be more generous with his musical palette and frequency spectrum.

Ultimately this is very audacious undertaking, and it remains to be seen if all the required elements (clubs/DJs/music/promoters) line up, but we are excited to see any new experiments in sound that push the boundaries of Dance Music Technology.

club sounddolbydolby atmosspeakersthree dimensional sound
Comments (27)
Add Comment
  • Mr. Person

    This will never work, for some pretty obvious reasons. In a crowded nightclub, people are all over and there will always be something or someone blocking most of the channels of sound. You could never have everyone in the club hear the same aural experience.

    The music may sound ok if you are standing in a magic spot, but hearing only some of the channels while the rest are muffled or totally inaudible? Not so cool. Epic fail, Dolby. Back to the drawing board on this one.

  • DVJ Rick Kraft

    Video DJing has much more impact and even that hasn’t gone mainstream. When lots of DJs are using 128kbps mp3s in clubs, buying legit atmos developed files is truly niche and won’t go mainstream, period. Most club owners, if they hear of this at all, will look at the cost/benefit ratio for upgrading and splitting all the channels to separate amplifiers with accompanying channel eq and peak protection/limiter boxes…

    Even as is, computers themselves cannot pass bitstream through anything except HDMI cables, PCM being limited on RCA to Dolby Virtual Surround specs. In that case, each computer must be able to pass Atmos through their HDMI and then be decoded by an HDMI receiver, which not all can do without serious tinkering. It’s true that an outboard Serato/Tracktor Box could be made with HDMI outs. Or CDJs with connections…any way you look at it it’ll be a nightmare for everyone.

    Most clubs don’t even pay their DJs well enough haha. It’ll be an interesting gimmick for those clubs with money pouring in and bosses too rich to care.

  • mikefunk

    Good luck with that!

  • Ryan Easte

    The iMax of nightclubs, or perhaps it will go the way of the 3D Dome cinemas? one or 2 will appear but nothing more than something to be experienced in the most “elite” of venues

  • AX11

    10 years ago I read a quite similar article about spacial audio and its possibilities in music production in some german music magazine which reminded me of another article about the same thing another ten years ago in just another music magazine… IMO they all missed the point: If you’re in a concert, does one instrument float around left behind you while another one approaches from somewhere front of you? Are instruments really in spacial positions around you? Not unless you’re a member of the band in which case you’ve got a monitor system to *cancel* this spacial madness so all the other instruments will sound like they are positioned in front of you, where they fricking belong. Because you’re going bananas if they are coming from everywhere else. After all you want to listen to the darn music, not feeling like you were on a carnival. Same happened to quadrophonia, btw, 40 years ago. Just guess why…

  • AuralCandy.Net

    Sorry, but I just don’t get the point. While it may be cool as a technology demo, it’s pointless in real life.

    Even the biggest clubs in Ibiza like Space and Pacha in particular have a horrible sound delivery. Nothing but sternum-crushing bass and eardrum-piercing highs delivered at ridiculous decibels enough to cause hearing damage even with earplugs on.

    I would much rather have technology that ensures a balanced and clear listening experience instead some pointless spatial gimmickry.

  • Charlie Macneil

    Great article! I’ve been working/researching in this area (what some call audio immersion systems) for nearly 5 years and I’ve developed a simple and effective format that addresses some of the questions Dominic raises – I’ve called it ‘Encircled’. I’m about to launch a series of workshops and events that will teach artists some techniques to use the format – Please message me or reply if you are interested!

    • Muhammad Ibrahim

      I’d love to hear more about Encircled.
      I’ve always been fascinated by 3d sound, and have been looking for ways to implement such techniques in my own music for forever.
      Not really much out there, but I feel like that’s all going to change very soon.

  • Alain Kalender

    Damn, this is exactly what I wanna be working with.

    Can yo do a starters tutorial on how to do the basic things with wich type of plugins an so?

    Love it <3

  • FightTheAds

    Good idea, but jesus, talk about sponsored content

    • mikefunk

      And farting music in demo video

  • killmedj

    I bet Dave Tipper and Amon Tobin will be pretty excited about this!

  • No Qualms

    I like the concept but in a large club if you are on one side you will not hear something that is only panned to the other side of the club, this is part of the reason why mono works.

    • Charlie Macneil

      It’s true that much of the current thinking is that everyone should hear the same thing – but why? … and really does everyone hear the same thing even if the same sound is reaching their ears?

      • No Qualms

        I am assuming you are an engineer by the fact you are holding workshops. Then you should know that a sound, sounds a certain way in relation to what it is next to. The same way a colour looks a certain way compared to what colour it is next to. If you remove the high end content like highhats or shakers the record can sound dull, if you remove the low end it can sound harsh.
        So yes it does matter if you can hear the whole song.

        • Charlie Macneil

          True, harshness can be bad… and this system seems based on presets that could be awful! But just to explore the subject in conversation… DJs regularly take the bottom end out of music for periods – even when the music was not designed that way by the engineer or artist. When it is done by design it might add expression to the music? Clearly Dr Dre’s original concept for Beats was to provide a standard listening environment so mixes could be translated from the studio to the consumer – a long held desire of engineers… but there are other angles from which to approach this e.g. many people prefer to tweak their sound systems (with EQ) to their own liking, and it is possible to enjoy the same music on a range of different systems – each with different frequency responses that in turn create different listening experiences. This gives the consumer/listener an active role in interpreting the music – they are in a small way finishing the song by the choices made. Headphones compress audio – and change the mix. Low fidelity computer speakers change the mix. Where I stand at a concert changes the mix – particularly if I like the guitarist and move close to the stage in front of the guitar. As a musician – on stage, I sometimes move closer to the drums for bits of the song – and that changes my mix. My point of view is that done artfully, changing the eq and or balance of an existing mix might be a good thing – and, done intentionally when composing music for a multichannel system, adding movement and variation opens a new type of possibility for musical expression and listening experience. They will not replace stereo but these systems are an addition to existing formats that technology has enabled.

          • No Qualms

            In each example you have given, you can still hear all the instruments. I’m a working DJ and the only reason you cut the bass out is to blend two songs together without the basslines clashing, but the bass from the other track is still there.

            As I said I like the concept and I can see it working in smaller venues much like systems currently in cinemas and surroundsound in your loungeroom. But in large loud clubs I can’t see any positives.

          • Charlie Macneil

            It seems we agree on most of this… Yes, I didn’t give any examples of instruments dropping out – and if that happened unintentionally that would possibly be a bad experience for that area of a large club… (what do you call large – 2000+ ppl?)

            Winding bass and other instruments out of the mix happens by design in music all the time – but thats a different story so we seem to agree we like the concept. I’d also guess – that as bass is the least directional sound a lot of any pre-programmed effects will concentrate on higher frequencies…

            As for the positives in a large club – I’ve yet to test an immersion system there – but I’m sure some one will give it a try at some point and the crowd response will be the measure of success.

            I’m having a small event next week as a further test of Encircled – expecting around 300 ppl – and I’ll be posting video (hopefully with a binaural recording) – the playback material has been designed specifically for Encircled but there are a multitude of listening positions so again – the crowd response is what I will be trying to gauge.

            My thinking at the moment is that *if* the music is written for the Encircled system it might stretch to 3000ppl in a large tent – but again I haven’t tested it – there must be some point where any system reaches its maximum effect.

  • Product tester

    Finally! Was waiting for this ages ago!

  • Monsieur Jean

    What about the guys from ? They are pushing the concept way further!

  • Chris Wunder

    Are you a dj?!?!?! Na gurl im a 3DJ……

    • vitamindevo

      THIS! ha

  • Dominic Vincenzo Bochicchio

    This is a very cool concept and I’m glad to see it coming out into the real world! But I have one major issue.

    Why are they putting this system into nightclubs? I get that some songs will be capable of utilizing the system for its intended purpose but I’m assuming that it’s very expensive to produce a song like this (unique studio, unique software, a new learning curve).

    Not only that but it sounds like compressing the song down to a traditional stereo song would not be possible as the sounds would clash without space dividing them. This means that it could only be used in specific clubs, by specific people, using specific software.

    That being said, I can see big producers developing whole albums based around this technology and touring around “Dolby Atmos compliant” venues and playing all of their songs that can handle the technology.

    DJ’s I think wouldn’t be able to really play this stuff though. Imagine you’ve been playing a bunch of “Atmos-ready” tracks and then you drop a traditional stereo track. The stereo track would sound absolutely flat.

    The system is very cool and it’s a big leap to get it made. Kudos!
    Until there is enough material and market momentum, I feel this system is going to be for singular touring artists only and even then they may be turned off by the fact that radio mix-downs would change the entire song.