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.
Vintage King: Your Partner In Dolby Atmos Design And Integration
Vintage King is your partner for all Dolby Atmos related design and integration needs. We can outfit our customers with the tools and technology that complement this software in the studio, in addition to providing on-site installation. Thanks to our special relationship with Dolby, we can also help you receive official Atmos certification.
Below, you can take a 3D walkthrough tour of two Dolby Atmos rooms that we’ve played a critical role in outfitting.
3D Walkthrough Of Blackbird's New Studio C Immersive Mix Room
3D Walkthrough Of SNAPSOUND's New Dolby Atmos Room
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is a proprietary immersive audio technology that was first released by Dolby Laboratories in 2012. Atmos takes advantage of the best of channel-based audio, and adds the concept of audio objects in the channel-based world. It expands upon traditional 7.1 surround systems by introducing two overhead channels, resulting in what Dolby calls a 7.1.2 bed.
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.
In 2014, Dolby announced partnerships with Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Yamaha, and many 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 Xbox. Since the format’s release, over 1725 film titles, 2000 home entertainment releases, and more than 200 live events have utilized Dolby Atmos.
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 content creation tool that when used in conjunction with native integration in Pro Tools or Nuendo via Mac and PC, can be used to create and deliver immersive Dolby Atmos mixes.
Dolby Atmos Master Suite consists of the following software:
- Dolby Atmos Renderer Application for Mac
- Dolby Atmos Production Suite (3 copies of in-the-box render 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 channel-based surround 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! The Dolby Atmos Renderer software records a Dolby Atmos Master File and exports to BWAV ADM, which is used for Blu-ray and streaming service encoding.
The Dolby Atmos Music Panner Plug-in, available as AAX, AU, VST allows you to pan sources around a 3D environment using X, Y, and Z-axes. This tool expands DAW support to include Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, and is available as a free download from Dolby’s website.
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 7.1.4 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. One option is a Pro Tools rig with an Avid S6 console and MTRX Studio.
The Biggest Changes In Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite v3.4
In March 2020, Dolby released an update to Dolby Atmos software that included numerous upgrades and new features. Continue on below to learn what’s been changed.
Users are able to measure the loudness of a master in real-time (when monitoring) or offline.
New Re-Render Options: 7.1.4 And Loudness
There are two new layouts included in the re-render output matrix, including 7.1.4 and Loudness. You can access these layouts when creating and mapping a re-render while configuring the re-render output matrix.
Limiting on Output And Re-Render
A soft clip limiter can now be applied to output and re-render when selecting Processing preferences.
Once a user creates a master, they are now able to modify and reassign groups.
Display of Object Numbers or Binaural Distance Model Settings of Objects in Objects View
In the objects view, Dolby Atmos users can display numbers for objects or the binaural distance model settings (off, near, mid, and far) for each input object.
The Dolby Atmos Renderer now offers offset controls for aligning timecode to audio and a linear timecode plug-in for when users send audio from Pro Tools to the Renderer.
Trims And Downmix Controls Included With Production Suite
The Dolby Atmos Production Suite now offers the ability to write trim and downmix settings to a master file.
Additional Improvements And Changes in Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite 3.4
- The 5.1 and stereo downmix typewritten to the master in downmix settings, as well as the trims settings, are now included in the MP4 export.
- Low-Frequency Effects (LFE) limiter removed.
- Descriptions for beds and objects (as defined in the Input configuration window) are now also shown in the Binaural render mode window.
Now that we’ve covered the basic tools and what has changed in the most recent version of Dolby Atmos, we’ll talk about how to create a mix using the software.
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 adapt 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, playback, and pre-mix Dolby Atmos projects.
The Production Suite allows 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.
When creating a Dolby Atmos mix, your DAW establishes communication directly with your Atmos Renderer and can automatically create the correct number of beds and objects based on the I/O 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 (Z) control is also an essential parameter of the Atmos format, allowing you to creatively place sound elements 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 automation for a 5.1 or 7.1 mix into an Atmos mix automation, without having to rewrite the existing automation.
The Dolby Atmos Renderer
An important part of any Atmos set-up is the Dolby Renderer. Currently, there are two different Dolby Renderers, one for home theatre or nearfield applications and one created for theatrical applications (only available on loan from Dolby). Let’s talk a little bit first about the Renderer for nearfield application.
The Dolby Atmos Renderer is a Mac or Windows-based system that processes the rendering of objects, manages pans and authors your file, in addition to controlling your speaker configurations and room calibration. This system, which must be configured to Dolby’s guidelines, will include interface options for DANTE or MADI and work in conjunction with your DAW workstation.
As we mentioned previously, the Renderer for theatrical or cinematic purposes (RMU) is not actually available for sale and can only be used on loan from Dolby or via licensing of the tool. If you’re interested in pursuing the use of this style of RMU, we can connect you with Dolby to work through the details.
So, why use a hardware-based Dolby Renderer? In order to handle sessions with large track counts seamlessly and deliver .atmos files, a dedicated hardware Dolby Renderer is absolutely necessary to your post-production studio. By laying out high standards and specifications for the Renderer hardware, Dolby has ensured that these systems will provide you with the most streamlined workflow for routing, mixing, and controlling your monitors.
Monitoring Outputs For Dolby Atmos
One of the most important elements of creating content for Dolby Atmos is your monitor set-up. Currently, there are only a handful of facilities in North America that have been certified for Dolby Atmos, but that number is growing swiftly. Vintage King has been a part of the monitor installs for many of these studios, including Blackbird Studio’s Studio C and SNAPSOUND in Los Angeles.
The control room for a studio working in Dolby Atmos should be laid out with monitors set up in at least a 7.1.4 speaker layout. This layout provides enough positional resolution that mix engineers will have confidence that their content will translate to both larger and smaller systems. The monitors used in these layouts should consist of the same brand and model, with the lone exception being the subwoofers.
In addition to the monitors themselves, creators mixing for Dolby Atmos must be equipped with a monitor control, bass management, and correction/calibration.
The monitor controller used in a Dolby Atmos environment must have enough input and outputs with the correct channel count to support your entire workflow and signal flow. It’s helpful for users to have instant access to individual speaker mutes and solos during mixing and understand which speakers are in use.
This is important for the redirection of lower frequencies to speakers that are capable of carrying the load. It is particularly necessary for studios creating Dolby Atmos music.
Correction And Calibration
Having complete control over variables like room acoustics, delays for speaker position differences and individual speaker frequency response are essential for mixing with Dolby Atmos. Vintage King offers a number of tools from brands like Trinnov Audio and Sonarworks that are able to achieve correction and calibration for any room. Avid's new MTRX Studio features SPQ processing, which can be used for delay, bass management, and EQing of monitor signals.