"We foresee Atmos becoming the predominant way and format of listening to music in the future."
“Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” – Ray Charles
Music is as much an emotional experience for the artist as it is for the consumer and Dolby wants to bring the two together more intimately than ever before, with Atmos. The company in fact is so bullish about it, it foresees Atmos becoming the “predominant” way and format of listening to music in the future. To do that, it must make the technology more accessible. Partnering with Apple is just one of the ways it is trying to do that.
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Cupertino rolled out support for spatial audio through Dolby Atmos on Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV free of charge for all Apple Music subscribers globally in June. This was made available for Android users soon after.
“This partnership opens up the possibility of changing the lifestyle experience of people in a very mainstream way,” Pankaj Kedia who is managing director for emerging markets at Dolby tells Financial Express Online, adding “together, we can change how people listen to music.”
Dolby Atmos is accessible through its own toggle inside the Apple Music app. You can choose to let this stay always-on or turn on automatically when you’re connected to a supported audio accessory like the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. Apple is also making Dolby Atmos content easily discoverable through playlists and putting out tutorials for people to understand the differences, say for instance, between conventional stereo and Atmos music.
“Apple’s done a fantastic job of really driving that consumer education and awareness around what this new experience is. They care a lot about content creators. They care a lot about content. So, there is lot of alignment in terms of how both companies work and think from a cultural perspective,” Kedia says.
That education and awareness are important since Atmos is a newer technology relative to stereo which has been the status quo for the last 40-50 years. A lot of other factors are contributing to fuel its growth prospects, simultaneously though.
There’s a lot of innovation happening on the hardware side. There’s a lot of variety available across different price points today. Whether you talk about headphones or speakers, the options are a dime a dozen. Even more importantly, “consumers are voting with their wallets and going in for better devices,” Kedia says.
Though he is also quick to add that Dolby Atmos does not have a headphone dependency since the technology from a playback perspective is actually implemented on the device — phone/tablet — itself. It is also agnostic of whether you’re using wired or wireless headphones.
“But of course, better headphones are going to output better quality. Every headphone is going to be doing it differently.”
Every device that is built with Dolby’s technology in it has to go through a testing and certification process. There are minimum levels of technical quality and implementation pieces that have to be in place. The engagement and partnerships are very deep, and if there are opportunities to build on things, “everything is on the table, and we work with our partners very closely.”
Apple Music alone offers thousands of tracks in spatial audio with Dolby Atmos currently and Apple says it will add more titles regularly. Having said that, Atmos music is still relatively new in India from a content creation perspective. It started over a year back roughly but it is seeing “tremendous acceleration.”
Dolby feels very confident with the amount of content that has already been created. There’s a lot of independent music being made. Lot of old tracks being remastered.
Kedia says the infrastructure cost is not a challenge in this transition but the shift in how music is created and consumed that could be a deterrent initially.
“We are talking about status quo change, and it is difficult to put a number on how much time it takes. But we have been part of similar transitions in cinema, on OTT and broadcast. I would say it happens earlier than we think.”
Again, awareness and education are key and that’s what Dolby is focused on right now.
Dolby is working closely with the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) to get the word out and educate artists of all types. It is working with the Anahad Foundation that’s doing a lot of groundwork on folk music, going out and recording artists using in-house techniques. The company is also working with mixing engineers “who are now trained, set up, have the infrastructure fully equipped, and are putting out content.”
In the midst of all this, Dolby continues to learn and adapt to make the whole process easier and more scalable so anybody can create a Dolby Atmos track of their music.
“It’s a journey, it is not going to happen overnight. Hopefully, we will do it correctly. Hopefully, we will be able to scale it in a way where anybody can create in Dolby Atmos and then finally the preferred way of listening to music will be Dolby Atmos. All music should be in Dolby Atmos. That’s the goal we are working towards.”
So, what exactly is Dolby Atmos?
The idea is to think about sound as an object that you can then put anywhere you want, in space. This gives creators a lot of space to place their sound and instruments and the flexibility to also move them around, essentially making sure, you hear a lot more than what you could have with an ordinary or stereo mix. Think detail, clarity, depth.
“This unlocks a lot of benefits and then from a technology perspective, we take that material and then ensure that it translates accurately in any kind of listening environment,” Kedia says.
This translates into a uniform audio experience spanning across a myriad of devices.
Given the pandemic, creators have had to adjust in terms of how they have been mixing their music, sometimes. They have not had access to studios.
“Fun fact, we have a lot of people mixing Dolby Atmos music directly on headphones also,” Kedia quips.
Then when you hear all this detail, in a sense, it brings you closer to the artist.
“You get the sense that you are sitting in the studio. It doesn’t sound like recorded music. It’s an immersive experience. It really helps create a deeper connection with the music itself and with the artist.”
That sense of immersion and just being in the moment is what makes Dolby believe Atmos could do even more, going forward.
“Dolby Atmos music can actually help with wellbeing also, in terms of immersive meditation and things like that. So, it is just the start and there is going to be a lot of things coming out in the future,” Kedia adds.