What Is Dolby Atmos? And How to Bring It Into Your Home

Couple watching television with a white Sonos Arc and pair of white Era 100s

Imagine being fully immersed in a movie, feeling every explosion and whisper as if you were actually there in the scene. Or listening to your favorite artist's music and hearing every instrument as if you were in the recording studio. This level of immersion is made possible by Dolby Atmos, a revolutionary audio technology that takes listening experiences to new heights. Literally.

Keep reading to learn more about what Dolby Atmos is, how it differs from traditional surround sound, its applications in home theaters and music, and how you can bring this incredible sound experience into your own home with Sonos.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is an innovative spatial audio technology that allows engineers and artists to precisely place individual sounds in three-dimensional space to more accurately reflect how you experience sound in real life.

Introduced by Dolby Laboratories in 2012, Dolby Atmos marked a groundbreaking shift from traditional channel-based audio formats — such as mono and stereo — to an object-based audio format that incorporates overhead speakers for a sense of height.

Although Dolby Atmos originated in the movie theater with the release of Pixar’s Brave, it quickly made its way into homes and headphones, redefining the way audiences experience entertainment, including movies, music, and games.

Dolby Atmos vs. traditional surround sound

Dolby Atmos goes beyond traditional surround sound systems by adding a third dimension of sound: height. Instead of just having speakers around the room at ear level, Dolby Atmos introduces overhead speakers or upward-firing speakers that create a true three-dimensional soundscape.

Traditional surround sound limits audio to a certain number of channels, usually five or seven, which you may see represented by a number like 5.1 or 7.1. Because every sound has to combine into a limited number of channels, compromises often have to be made in the audio mix. For example, a choice to emphasize the music in a scene could come at the expense of dialogue clarity.

Dolby Atmos frees sounds from these limited number of channels, allowing creators to treat each instrument, sound effect, or word of dialogue individually. Creators can precisely place and move up to 128 of these “audio objects” within three-dimensional space for a more realistic and immersive sound experience. Helicopters will sound like they're flying above you, raindrops will sound like they’re falling from the sky, and overall you’ll experience so much more depth and dimension.

Animation of a 7.1.4 surround sound setup with Arc, Sub, and two Era 300 speakers

Dolby Atmos for home theater

Dolby Atmos has become increasingly popular for home theater experiences. By incorporating ceiling speakers or speakers with upward-firing drivers along with traditional surround sound setups, you can make your living room sound as good as an actual movie theater. Imagine watching your favorite movies with lifelike audio that envelops you from all directions.

To set up a Dolby Atmos home theater system, you’ll need some specific equipment. Most importantly, you’ll need an AV receiver or soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos, such as Sonos Arc. This soundbar has two upward-firing speakers that can distribute height content around the room. The optimal setup would also include left and right rear surround speakers with height channels as well as a subwoofer.

Just as virtual reality has revolutionized visual experiences, virtualized Dolby Atmos has transformed the soundscape for home theater audio. Leveraging sophisticated audio processing algorithms, a soundbar like Sonos Beam (Gen 2), can give the impression of overhead sound without the need for actual ceiling or upward-firing speakers.

In addition to your sound system, you'll also need a streaming service and device, such as a TV, that supports Dolby Atmos content.

Dolby Atmos for Music

Dolby Atmos isn't just for movies. It also enhances your music listening. With Dolby Atmos Music, artists and producers can create immersive tracks that allow you to hear each instrument, vocal, and sound effect with astonishing clarity and depth. It's like having a front-row seat at a live concert or being in the recording studio with your favorite musicians.

The number of artists and bands releasing music in Dolby Atmos increases each year, as the technology becomes more widely accessible. Learn more about how music is mixed in spatial audio in this post.

For a truly immersive music experience, you'll need a speaker or soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos Music, such as Sonos Era 300. You'll also need a subscription to a streaming service that offers Dolby Atmos Music tracks, such as Amazon Music or Apple Music.

White Sonos Beam placed under a television
A woman sitting in a chair while listening to music on a white Era 300

How to Bring Dolby Atmos Into Your Home

Bringing Dolby Atmos into your home is easier than you might think. First, you’ll need a Dolby Atmos-compatible speaker or soundbar, such as Sonos Arc. In addition to the processing power required to decode Dolby Atmos content, the speaker you choose should also have an upward-firing driver to create the third dimension of height or the ability to render a virtualized spatial audio experience.

If you’re only interested in Dolby Atmos Music, a standalone speaker like Sonos Era 300 can deliver that experience. To experience Dolby Atmos for movies, shows, and games in addition to music, you’d want a soundbar that can connect to your TV via an HDMI cable. (A traditional optical connection does not offer the bandwidth required to transmit a format as sophisticated as Dolby Atmos.)

Lastly, you’ll need Dolby Atmos-encoded content, which is typically available from popular media streaming platforms.

Where to find Dolby Atmos content

To fully enjoy the wonders of Dolby Atmos, you'll need access to content specifically mixed in this format. Fortunately, streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime Video offer a growing library of movies and TV shows with Dolby Atmos support. Additionally, music platforms such as Amazon Music and Apple Music provide a selection of songs in Dolby Atmos Music for an immersive musical experience.

Is Dolby Atmos Worth It?

You might be wondering if investing in a Dolby Atmos setup is worth it. The answer depends on your love for high-quality audio and immersive entertainment experiences. If you're passionate about movies, gaming, or music and crave an unparalleled level of immersion, then Dolby Atmos is undoubtedly worth considering. The ability to hear sounds from all directions creates a sense of realism that traditional surround sound systems can't match. Plus, as more and more content is being mixed in spatial audio, a Dolby Atmos setup prepares you for the future of listening.

Bring Dolby Atmos Home with Sonos

Sonos offers several options for experiencing Dolby Atmos at home.

Sonos Arc: The Ultimate Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Sonos Arc is a premium smart soundbar that delivers an immersive Dolby Atmos experience. With eleven high-performance drivers, including two upward-firing drivers, Arc creates a true three-dimensional soundscape that fills your room with breathtaking audio.

Sonos Beam (Gen 2): Powerful Soundbar for Virtualized Dolby Atmos

If space is a concern, Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is an excellent choice. Despite its compact size, this smart soundbar still packs a punch with its exceptional sound quality and support for virtualized Dolby Atmos.

Sonos Era 300: Breakthrough Dolby Atmos Speaker

Sonos Era 300 incorporates an upward-firing driver and is designed to deliver high-fidelity audio with precise placement and directionality. When you connect a pair of these speakers to Sonos Arc and Sub as part of a surround sound setup, you get the optimal 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos experience.

Whether you opt for Arc, Beam (Gen 2), Era 300, or a set of these speakers along with other Sonos speakers for multiroom audio, Sonos provides seamless compatibility and exceptional sound quality across its entire system of products.

Upgrade your audio setup today and unlock a whole new world of immersive entertainment with Sonos and Dolby Atmos.

Note: Dolby, Dolby Atmos, and the double-D symbol are registered trademarks of Dolby Laboratories.

Read More