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Creating A Studio Set-Up And Mixing For Dolby Atmos

The evolution of the listener's audio experience has led the post-production world to the vast frontiers of immersive mixing. Thanks to Dolby Atmos, mix engineers can now plunge their listeners into lush three-dimensional sonic worlds that feature well-placed, accurate sounds. The best part? With Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite, it's easier than ever before.

If you've heard about Dolby Atmos and have been wondering why you need to start thinking about it when it comes to your mixes, you've come to the right place. Throughout this blog, we'll be outlining the concepts behind Dolby Atmos, the creation process for immersive mixing and some of the tools of the trade that you'll need to do the job right. 

What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is a proprietary immersive audio technology released by Dolby Laboratories in 2012. Atmos expands upon traditional 7.1 surround systems by introducing two overhead bed channels, resulting in what Dolby calls a 7.1.2 surround mix.

In addition to assigning audio to these 10 bed channels, Atmos allows mixers to create up to 118 “audio objects.” These are individual sources that can be placed anywhere in the room, independent of the surround beds, based on X, Y, Z coordinates and the number of speakers available in the room.

Since the format’s release, over 900 film titles, 350 TV releases, and 200 live events have utilized Dolby Atmos.

In 2014, Dolby announced partnerships with Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Yamaha, and more to create Atmos-enabled home theater AV receivers. In 2018, Dolby partnered with Netflix, allowing users to stream titles in Dolby Atmos directly to their smart TVs, computers, or Xboxes.

As more and more homes begin adopting Dolby Atmos, the demand for Atmos-ready rooms and engineers experienced with immersive mixing has skyrocketed.

So, what kind of hardware and software do you need if you want to break into the world of immersive mixing with Dolby Atmos? Let's find out.

Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite
The Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite is a hardware and software solution that, when used in conjunction with Pro Tools or Nuendo, can be used to create and deliver immersive Dolby Atmos mixes.

The Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite includes the following software:

  • Dolby Atmos Renderer Application for Mac 
  • Dolby Atmos Production Suite (3 copies of in-the-box render application)
  • Dolby Atmos Panner Plug-ins for VR for Pro Tools 
  • Dolby Atmos Monitor Application 
  • VR Transcoder Application 

The Dolby Atmos Renderer software monitors, records and plays back Dolby Atmos content. It renders the 7.1.2 bed audio, object audio, and metadata to your defined monitoring configuration, as well as rendering to traditional surround sound and stereo formats for monitoring and deliverables.

For years, mixers have had to render separate mixes for 9.1, 7.1, 5.1, and stereo systems. With Dolby Atmos, you can create all your deliverables from a single mix-down!

The Dolby Atmos Renderer software also records the Dolby Atmos Master File, used for Blu-ray and streaming service encoding.

The Dolby Atmos Panner Plug-in allows you to pan sources around a 3D environment using X, Y, and Z-axes.

To gain additional control over your deliverables, use the Dolby Atmos Conversion Tool, which offers you head/tail trimming, stitching, concatenation, and frame/sample rate conversion.

While Atmos mixes can be enjoyed on any system, you’ll need a 7.1.2 system (or higher) for mixing in order to take advantage of their fully immersive quality. If you’re looking to take your Atmos mixes to the next level, integrate an Atmos-equipped mixing console into your setup. We recommend Pro Tools with an Avid S6 console and MTRX I/O.

Now that you know the basics of what you need to create Dolby Atmos mixes, let’s talk about how to create Dolby Atmos mixes.

Creating Immersive Mixes with Dolby Atmos
Dolby Atmos mixes use channels 1-8 just like a traditional 7.1 surround system, with channels 9 and 10 representing the ceiling beds.

There are two basic approaches to creating mixes in Dolby Atmos:

  • Mixing entirely in Dolby Atmos and rendering surround sound formats from the Atmos session 
  • Converting 5.1 or 7.1 mixes to Atmos format from dialogue, music, FX and background stems and/or units

For maximum flexibility, it’s always best to mix sessions entirely in Atmos, although the Dolby Mastering Suite makes it easy to convert 5.1 and 7.1 mixes to full Atmos mixes.

Modern workflows often require mixers to set up and prepare sessions outside of the main mix room, which is why the Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite also includes three copies of the Dolby Atmos Production Suite (Mac only) — a software-only solution that allows engineers working in-the-box or on non-Atmos-enabled systems to open, play back, and pre-mix Dolby Atmos projects.

The Production Suite supports up to 16 audio outputs, allowing mixers to monitor beds and sound objects on traditional 9.1, 7.1, or 5.1 systems. After “pre-mixing” tracks, you can reference the placement of your sound objects and apply the final touches on a proper Atmos-enabled system.

Alternatively, a more limited approach is to use stems from 9.1, 7.1, or 5.1 and choose which elements remain in the traditional channel-based beds and which can be turned into audio objects. All panning and automation information can be extracted from the original session and applied to object audio.

Now that you know the basics of creating an Atmos mix, let’s dig a little deeper.

Getting Technical
When creating a Dolby Atmos mix, your DAW establishes communication directly with your Atmos Renderer and automatically creates the correct number of beds and objects based on the IO configuration of your Renderer. Your DAW will create the necessary 7.1.2 beds, map them to objects, and even label the objects to match your naming conventions in the Renderer, a huge time-saver compared to assigning everything manually.

All Atmos surround panners feature a link function, which lets mixers bind the front and rear left/right positional controls together, making it more efficient to place sound sources without having to manage the front and rear playlists separately. Linking is enabled by default and allows you to create pan moves with just two knobs. By unlinking the controls, you can pan from front to back diagonally.

The Height control is also an essential parameter of the Atmos format, allowing you to creatively place sound elements directly above the audience. Atmos panners use an auto-height function, which uses the X and Y pan automation to automatically generate new height automation based on the available Atmos speakers. This allows mixers to convert a 5.1 or 7.1 mix into an Atmos mix automatically, without having to rewrite the existing automation.

Now that you know everything you need to start creating immersive mixes with Dolby Atmos, it’s time to start mixing! Whether it’s film, video games or even music, Dolby Atmos can bring a new level of depth to your tracks. If you need help getting your studio Atmos-equipped, just give us a call! Here’s what Chris Bolitho, our resident post-production expert, had to say on getting started with Dolby Atmos:

“Our team can help build an immersive room from the ground up or help turn a stereo or 5.1 mixing studio into an immersive room. We offer turnkey solutions for speakers, interfaces and software to help make it easy.”

Chris Bolitho
If you'd like to set up your studio for Dolby Atmos, please contact Chris Bolitho and the Vintage King Post Production Team through email or by phone at 866.644.0160

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