The Dolby Atmos Music Ecosystem 0’47”
Dolby is deeply embedded in the end-to-end music ecosystem from music creation to distribution, to the consumer experience.
- Music Creation – Artists, record labels, studios and mixers.
- Content Distribution – Music streaming services – currently Tidal hi-fi and Amazon Music HD
- Playback Experience – Smart speakers, AVRs, soundbars, TVs, smartphones and tablets.
What Is Dolby Atmos? – 2’21”
Most music is recorded and mixing for delivery in stereo. There have been a number of experiments in delivering music over the years in formats with higher channel counts like quad and 5.1 but none have taken off because of the need for the end-user to have special hardware.
Dolby Atmos was originally created for cinema sound. Following widespread theatrical adoption, this technology has filtered through into the Home Cinema environment for both film and TV content spanning drama, documentary, and live events. This is consumed on Blu-Rays, Pay-TV channels, as well as online streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV+.
Dolby Atmos Music is a new ‘object-based’ immersive audio format for music production. This new format allows artists to push their creative boundaries. With Dolby Atmos Music, mixers have the ability to place and move sounds in a 3D environment with more precision, allowing for even more creative possibilities. Now, producers can create tracks that allow listeners to feel like they’re inside their favourite music.
With Dolby Atmos, you deliver one master file, called a Dolby Atmos Master File (DAMF). That is used to deliver the content to the end-user and then the end-user’s equipment plays a version of the content suitable for the equipment attached to it.
In this article, we look at what it takes to make your studio suitable to mix in Dolby Atmos for music, whether you need certification, what hardware and software you will need, how to build or convert your studio to Dolby Atmos, as well as our exclusive 6 part tutorial series on setting up and using Pro Tools Ultimate and Dolby Atmos Production Suite to work together in this exclusive everything-you-need-to-know guide to mixing music in Dolby Atmos.
The Role Of AvidPlay – 4’55”
AvidPlay enables you to stream and sell your music worldwide and it’s the first service to support Dolby Atmos.
Avid’s music distribution service, AvidPlay, was the first platform to enable you to distribute your music in Dolby Atmos to compatible streaming services such as Amazon Music HD, TIDAL HiFi and more recently Apple Music. In this article, we explore the new features Avid has introduced, including support for sample rates and bit depths up to 192KHz and 24 bit and the Dolby Atmos format.
Dolby Atmos Mixing Resources From Dolby
You can also find resources on the Dolby website to help you create music in Dolby Atmos
An Overview Of How Eric Works With Dolby Atmos For Music – 5’42”
This free tutorial will be using Pro Tools but a lot of the techniques he will be demonstrating in this extended tutorial apply to the other DAWs that support Dolby Atmos workflows.
Make Sure You Listen On Headphones
Eric will be playing some short clips from the demo song in Dolby Atmos. The audio has been rendered in Dolby Atmos binaural and so we strongly recommend you listen on headphones.
How To Connect Your Pro Tools System To The Dolby Atmos Production Suite – 6’36”
In the Peripherals menu in Pro Tools, there is a Dolby Atmos tab, which is where you can check that Pro Tools has made the connection to the Dolby Atmos Production Suite.
Configuring The Preferences In The Dolby Atmos Production Suite – 7’19”
The Dolby Atmos Production Suite is macOS only and uses macOS Core Audio to form the Dolby Audio Bridge, which enables you to route 130 channels of audio from your DAW to the Dolby Atmos Renderer.
You then route your audio from DAPS into your speakers from the Dolby Atmos Renderer. This means that if you have a Pro Tools HDX system, then using DAPS means you cannot use the DSP in the HDX cards for processing when using DAPS, all plugins will be Native, because in Pro Tools you also have to set your audio driver away from HDX and set it to the Dolby Audio Bridge.
Dolby Atmos – Using The Dolby Audio Bridge The Way Avid And Dolby Recommend – Free Expert Tutorial Part 2
In this article with a free video tutorial, the second in a series of 6 brought to you with the support of Avid, looking at Dolby Atmos Home Entertainment workflows, we cover the workflows recommended by Avid and Dolby, relating to using the Dolby Audio Bridge and the Dolby Atmos Production Suite.
Listen To A Section Of The Track – 8’42”
We take a listen to an excerpt of the track that Eric is using for this tutorial, Eternity by Spanish DJ, M.E.M.O released on Mobilee Records.
There are multiple ways that consumers can enjoy music in Dolby Atmos. Currently, there are two streaming services offering music in Dolby Atmos, TIDAL hi-fi and Amazon HD. For example, you can listen to the track that Eric is using in this tutorial in Dolby Atmos from either TIDAL or Amazon.
You can then enjoy music in Dolby Atmos in binaural using Dolby Atmos enabled smartphones or tablets, or you can hear it on loudspeakers when you have a Dolby Atmos home cinema system, soundbar smart speaker or similar.
How To Layout A Dolby Atmos For Music Session In Your DAW – 10’25”
Starting with the utilities, you need to insert a plugin on a dedicated track, that you can get from Dolby, which is the Dolby LTC Generator. This comes as part of the Dolby Atmos Production Suite (DAPS) and by default is installed as part of the DAPS suite. The LTC Generator plugin enables you to sync your DAW, in this case, Pro Tools, with the Dolby Atmos Renderer application.
Have The Stereo Master Mix In Your Session – 11’22”
Eric always has the stereo mastered version of the track he is remixing into Dolby Atmos under the LTC Generator track at the top of the session if the track has already been released in stereo, which is often the case. He has it in the session so that he can quickly hear what the creatic intention of the artist was for the track as a reference.
Session Structure – 11’57”
At the top are all the ‘maintenance type tracks. The main busses, the playout busses. Next comes the processing tracks, things like reverbs, delays etc.
Underneath the processing, we get to the tracks. Eric uses Folder Tracks in Pro Tools, to help him organise the session and for Eric colour is very important too. He uses the same colours in all his sessions. Drums are light blue, Bass is a reddish-brown and you see this in the image to the right here.
Session Delivery Notes – 12’52”
Quite often Eric receives stems and individual tracks that have been processed, they have had the EQ and compression rendered into the individual stems or files. For him, it is much easier to take a track this way rather than rebuilding a track from the original stereo session and making sure he has all the plugins used by the artist and so on.
Drum Group – 13’37”
Looking at the Drum Group, it starts with the Kick Drum. Eric feels that it is very important that the percussive tracks still come from the front speakers, however, when it comes to creating space, Eric often duplicated the Kick track, creates a duplicate track as an Object and routes it to the rear surround speakers. What this creates is that the Kick comes from all directions whilst maintaining a focus on the front.
The reason Eric uses the duplicate Kick track as an object is for the binaural downmix. With Dolby Atmos Objects, there is an option in the Dolby Atmos Renderer, with which you can set how far away that object will be, but only in the binaural downmix. The four options are off, near, mid and far.
If you leave the duplicate kick track going to the rear surrounds via a bed track, the kick can get too roomy. and wet but only for the binaural downmix. By using it as an object, Eric is able to turn off the binauralisation mode for the duplicate kick track going to the rear surrounds and keep everything tight.
Eric also uses the Time Adjust plugin to delay the duplicate Kick track by a few samples so that when you do a downmix the kick is not phase-cancelling, because it’s the same content coming from different speakers.
Drum Processing – 15’50”
Snaps, claps, hi-hat, snare etc should be treated in the same way as in a stereo mix. For the Dolby Atmos mix, Eric applies additional reverbs and new space elements to place these sounds into a 3D space.
He also uses parallel compression on the drum bus, duplicating the 7.1.2 drum subgroup so it has the same inputs and then uses different processing on the duplicate to create the parallel compression using the Empirical Labs Arousor plugin, as well as adding some tape saturation using the Avid Reel Tape Saturation plugin.
Using UAD Plugins In A Dolby Atmos Mix – 17’32”
If you are using UAD plugins, be warned that mixing in Dolby Atmos eats up your UAD processing capacity much more quickly because when you are working on a 7.1.2 bed track, you are dealing with 10 channels of audio rather than 2, when you are mixing in stereo. As a result, Eric now uses UAD plugins sparingly when mixing in Dolby Atmos.
The LFE Channel – 17’55”
Eric sends the Kick Drum into the LFE channel from the Dolby Atmos Panner. Both Eric and his friend Sreejesh Nair, create a Master Track on the feed to the LFE channel and use an Avid Pro Subharmonic plugin.
The reason for this has to do with the location of the LFE speaker in the room. More often than not, the sub, which also receives the LFE channel, is quite close to the front speakers, and so if you don’t do anything you can get some phase cancellation issues when you have the kick coming out of both the front speakers and the LFE. By using a plugin like the Subharmonic plugin from Avid, it makes sure that the signal coming out of the LFE channel is different to what is coming out of the front speakers and so you don’t get phase cancellation issues.
Playback of the Drum Sub Group – 20’08”
Make sure you are listening on headphones to get the best experience of the Dolby Atmos binaural downmix of the track. Eric takes the shakers and hi-hat and put them up the top at the front. At the back, objects 35 and 36, are the duplicate kick drum track, Eric referred to earlier.
Mastering and Dolby Atmos – 21’34”
With the stereo mix, the tracks get heavily mastered, especially on Electronic tracks. In Dolby Atmos, mastering is a little bit different. Although there are some boundaries in terms of maximum true peak and loudness, you don’t necessarily need to master it in the same way as stereo. This is especially true when you have a lot of objects because they are not going through busses and subgroups or even a stereo master fader.
One option, Eric suggests, if you want to do some mastering, is to take the finished ADM file and import that into a DAW like Pro Tools and then use more traditional mastering with multi-band compressors etc.
That said, this is isn’t necessarily needed because when you follow the guidance and loudness specifications for a Dolby Atmos mix, you will find that your mix sits well with all the other Dolby Atmos tracks because they are following the same guidelines. The other big difference with Dolby Atmos is that because you have so many more channels and space., there isn’t the necessity to compress and EQ to get everything to sit together in a stereo mix.
Bass Processing – 23’06”
This is often a very similar set of processing to the drum group, feeding a little to the LFE, as Eric did with the Kick track, then using another instance of Avid Pro Subharmonic to make sure there aren’t any phase cancellation issues.
Guitar Processing – 23’53”
In this track, there are four guitar tracks. The first is already panned left, a second has been heavily panned to the right in the stems and Eric chose to push this even more. He turned all the guitar tracks into objects, which enables you to be more precise in your placement of the tracks in the 3D space, as opposed to using panning in a bed track. Then, because they are objects, you can treat each object differently in the binaural downmix and set the localisation from off, through near, mid or far.
Creating objects in a music mix gives so much more control of localisation in the 3D space as well as the positioning and spacing in the binaural downmix, which is especially important in Dolby Atmos music mixing as the reality is that most music Dolby Atmos mixes will be consumed on mobile devices with earphones listening to the binaural downmix, making this a very important factor in mixing Dolby Atmos for Music.
Coming back to mixing the guitars, Eric experimented with increasing the size of the first guitar object and so spreads out the sound in the 3D space. For the second guitar, Eric panned it to the right, lifted it up in height and again increased the size of the object.
The other two guitars are playing some melody lines and Eric chose to put these more in the top and at the back, so they play behind you.
Playback of the Guitars Group – 27’27”
You can hear a little bit of movement here, especially if you listen on headphones to the binaural downmix in this extended video tutorial.
Synth Track Processing – 29’30”
With the Synth tracks, Eric has placed these in the 3D space using objects, just like he did for the guitars.
Playback of the Synth Group – 30’32”
Again there is some movement that is clear when Eric shows the objects in the Dolby Atmos Renderer.
The Elevation Mode In The Dolby Atmos Panner – 31’08”
For the Synth tracks, Eric has used the Dome Elevation Mode in the Panner. There are a number of Elevation Modes, one is called Freehand, which gives you complete freedom to steer the audio around the 3D space, but needs a lot of controls to be adjusted unless you have the joystick module in the Avid S4 and S6 control surfaces, but even then you need both hands.
The other options are Sphere, Dome and Ceiling mode. With the Dome mode, it automatically uses the ceiling speakers, which gives a movement over the audience. This is great because you don’t need to do a second pass of automation to take care of the height, the Doom mode handles it automatically and takes the sound over the top as you pan from front to back or vice-versa.
The Sphere mode is similar, with the difference being that when you go into a corner of the room it will not use the top channels at all. As soon as you go away from the wall the sound will start to be automatically fed into the height speakers.
The Ceiling mode doesn’t use the side surrounds, you go from the back via the ceiling speakers to the front or the other way around.
The Elevation modes can be a real time saver as you can do a height-related pan with one movement of the mouse.
Using an Upmix Plugin – 33’21”
On Eric’s template, all his subgroups each have an Upmix path that he can choose to use or not. Eric prefers to use the Nugen Audio Halo Upmix plugin, disabling the LFE path so that it does not muddy down the LFE path.
Vocal Group Processing – 35’16”
For this song, Eric has chosen to use the Avalon compressor on all the vocal tracks to get consistency and to match the mastering that was used on the stereo mix.
Eric has used two of the vocal tracks as objects and placed them quite far into the room and a little higher too, to reflect the sense and them of eternity in this particular song.
Then with the main vocal line, he has brought it to the front, down on the ground and narrower than the other two so that this line is coming mainly from the centre speaker. Again it’s all about using all of the space in the 3D soundfield that we have in a Dolby Atmos mix.
Demonstration Of The Two Vocal Positions – 37’40”
We can only play a very short clip, but in this example, you can hear how the different vocal treatments some bed track, some objects work in the full 3D space.
Client’s FX Processing – 38’45”
Eric asks his clients to render out any sound effect elements as well as all the reverb and delay effects rendered out as separate audio tracks, again so that he doesn’t have to have all the plugins the client has to be able to work on a track.
This also enables Eric to take out some of the effects the client used, make them into objects and place them creatively in the 3D space. In this case, Eric used a lot of the stereo reverb returns, routing them to an upmix plugin and adding them into the mix to further enhance the sense of immersion.
Dolby Atmos specific Reverb And Delay Effects – 40’31”
Eric uses 6 different reverb paths in his template.
The first 3 tracks all have the same reverb plugin, all fed from the same aux track, in this case, the FabFilter Pro R plugin, the difference is the predelay time and where the see stereo reverbs come back into the 3D space.
The first instance has a very small predelay, in this case, 4.5ms and it feeds the front left and right speakers as an object. The second instance has a predelay of 47ms and goes to the side surrounds as an object and is a little bit elevated. The third reverb has a predelay of 109ms and is fed into the rear surrounds as an object even higher than the 2nd reverb.
To create a 3D room, his 4th reverb, Eric uses the Exponential Audio Stratus 3D from iZotope, because with the Exponential Audio 3D plugins you can export a 7.0.6 path. Because Pro Tools cannot handle a 7.0.6 bus, the maximum bus is 7.1.2, Michael Carnes developed a neat little workaround to make it work, which Eric explains in this video at this point. This reverb is often set to a small room often used for drum and percussive elements.
With the fifth reverb, Eric has another instance of Stratus 3D, this one is a bigger space than the first Stratus and is usually a Plate preset configured as a 7.0.6 output. Then for the big, long, lush stuff, Eric uses the Exponential Audio Symphony 3D plugin set to a large hall with a decay time of around 4 seconds.
For a Delay, Eric uses the Eventide H3000 plugin, which he has configured in a similar way as the 3 FabFilter Pro R Reverb plugins, so there are 3 instances of the H3000, all fed from the same aux send, again fed to the front, side and rears as objects, but unlike the reverb set of plugins, the H3000 can have 3 totally different presets.
In this example the first one, going to the fronts, has a reverb preset with very few early reflections, the second is mainly delays going to the side surrounds and the last one is a mixture of delay and reverb patterns going to the rears, all as objects, to have control of location in the 3D space and in the binaural downmix.
The Infinite Delay – 47’34”
This was developed by Sreejesh Nair and tweaked a little by Eric. Essentially it is a chain of delays. The first delay feeds the left channel, the second delay is fed from the left channel and feeds the centre channel and so on around the 3D space. It will only stop when you take the volume right down to nothing.
Note these are all objects so you can assign them wherever you want. You could have a loop just in the height channels or a loop around the front bottom and top, whatever works best for the track. Eric has the tracks grouped so that when he adjusts the delay on one instance they are all adjusted by the same amount.
The Binaural Metadata Window – 49’26”
There are two ways to control the binaural metadata in the Renderer. One is to go to the Binaural Render Mode window in the Dolby Atmos Renderer application. The second option is to use a plugin that comes with DAPS, called the Dolby Atmos Binaural Settings, which you can have on a track in your DAW so you can set the binaural render settings without having to switch out of your DAW and into the Dolby Atmos Renderer application.
DAPS Binaural Render Window
Eric chooses to disable the binaural render mode for the front speakers on the main bed track and uses the Mid mode for all the surround and ceiling channels. He considers each object on its own merit, looking at what that object is doing and deciding how to set the binaural renderer to match what that object is doing.