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  • Sam Ryan

~ My Atmos Mixing Manifesto (FREE templates)

Updated: Jun 8



With the right tools knowledge Atmos mixes actually can be done without an expensive immersive speaker system!

Table of Contents

 


Introduction


Welcome to My Atmos Mixing Manifesto. While Dolby offers an extensive learning program at learning.dolby.com, this blog focuses on best practices, efficient workflow, and essential tools for beginning mixing in Atmos. I am writing this to help fellow producers and engineers make mixing in Dolby Atmos accessible and without the need for an expensive studio upgrade.


In June 2021, Apple Music added Dolby Atmos to their streaming service. I have been wanting to work with immersive audio for over 20 years, yet there wasn't a feasible way for consumers to access it, and it was very expensive to create content in. I made a goal to upgrade my studio but didn't have the budget to do so. Instead, I began learning Atmos and mixing just with headphones. There was a ton of researching and trial / error, especially as it is not advised to mix solely on headphones without checking or mastering the mix on a properly calibrated Atmos system before release.


Fortunately, I connected with Justin Gray, a pioneer in mixing Dolby Atmos who mastered my first Atmos mixes done in headphones and provided valuable feedback on my mixes. Since summer of 2023 I now have a 7.1.4 Atmos Music enabled studio. Listening back to my later mixes done on headphones, I was pleasantly surprised by how well they translated to speakers!


There have been many advances in technology since then, making it much more accessible. I wanted to share my knowledge and countless hours of trial and error and show fellow producers and engineers that this format is more accessible than it may seem. While there is a lot to learn, the baseline tools are now quite affordable.


That all being said experiencing a great Atmos mix on a good system is absolutely mind blowing and is SO INSPIRING to work on!


 

What is Immersive Audio?



Immersive audio refers to technology that creates a three-dimensional sound experience, enhancing the perception of audio to simulate a more realistic and enveloping environment. Unlike traditional stereo or surround sound, immersive audio systems use techniques such as object-based or spatial audio to place sounds in specific locations around the listener, creating a lifelike auditory experience. Applications include virtual reality, gaming, cinema, and other entertainment forms.


Adaptive Object-Based Format vs Discrete Channel


  • Discrete Channel-Based Audio: Pre-mixed content assigned to specific channels with fixed speaker layouts and limited spatial precision.

  • Object-Based Audio: Sound elements are separate objects with metadata describing characteristics like position and movement, allowing dynamic placement in the sound field and flexible speaker configurations. This provides enhanced spatial precision and realism.


In the past, with discrete channel immersive formats, a movie would need to have separate mixdowns for different speaker configurations such as stereo, 5.1, 7.1, and 10.1. This was both time-consuming and limiting as each mix was tied to a specific speaker layout. Dolby Atmos solves this problem by working with objects that exist in a virtual 3D space. Each sound is treated as an object with its own panning metadata, indicating its position within the 3D space. The Atmos file remains a multitrack format with this panning metadata intact. During playback, the system renders the 3D space to match the specific speaker setup available, whether it is stereo, binaural in headphones, or any multi channel speaker configuration. This adaptable format makes Dolby Atmos future-friendly as it can seamlessly render audio for any current or future playback system.


Speaker Layouts


Even if you don’t have an immersive speaker system it is very important to understand how they work so that you can mix with headphones in a way that somewhat accounts for speaker translation. The numbering system in speaker layouts represents the number of main speakers, subwoofers, and height speakers in a setup. For example, in a 7.1.4 system:

  • First Number (7): Number of main (ear-level) speakers.

  • Second Number (1): Number of subwoofers for low-frequency effects.

  • Third Number (4): Number of height (overhead) speakers.


Examples of Layouts


  • 2.0: Stereo (Atmos mixes actually fold all the way down to stereo)


  • 5.1: Surround Sound (adds a center channel, 2 side speakers and a LFE (sub)



  • 5.1.2: Dolby Atmos - This add 2 hieght speakers




  • 7.1.4: Dolby Atmos (Minimum Recommended Speaker layout for Authoring a Dolby Atmos Master for distribution)- This adds rear channels and height fronts and rear. In a 7.1.2 the heights are in the center above the listener as opposed to infront and behind in 7.1.4.  A 7.1.4 folddown is what Apple uses to derive Apple Spatial (Binaural) from. This will come in handy later to know. I have just highlighted the additional speakers.



  • 9.1.6: Dolby Atmos - Compared to 7.1.4 this adds Wides which are in between the L/R and side speakers. (The wides are 68 f/r on Pro Tools and the Dolby Panner which is a useful pan position) It also adds Side Hieght speakers.



Bed and Objects


A Dolby Atmos master can contain up to 128 channels. Channels 1-10 are typically reserved for the Bed, while channels 11-128 can be used for Objects. You can relate to objects like an aux track that can be panned anywhere in a virtual 3D space. The bed is basically the same but has fixed panning to speaker placements in a 7.1.2 system.



The main differences between beds and objects are:


Fixed Speaker Locations vs. 3D Dyanmic Object Placement:


  • Bed: The 10 bed channels are routed to fixed speaker locations. They can be used for foundational elements of the mix, like dialogue, music, and certain sound effects that you want to anchor in specific positions within the audio space. However all i use the Bed for is sending to the LFE (sub)

  • Objects: Objects can be freely placed in the 3D space, allowing for precise spatial positioning and movement. This flexibility enables a more immersive and dynamic audio experience, as objects can be independently panned and moved around the listener.


Flexibility and Adaptability:

  • Beds: When you pan a track within the bed channels, the sound is mapped to the nearest available speaker location. If the pan position does not correspond directly to a speaker, the system creates a "phantom center" by interpolating the audio between the adjacent speakers. This can make the audio less adaptive when the mix is played back on different speaker configurations, potentially affecting the spatial accuracy.

  • Objects: Since objects are not tied to specific speaker locations, they maintain their spatial integrity across different playback environments. This makes objects more adaptable to various speaker setups, ensuring consistent spatial positioning and movement regardless of the specific configuration.


In summary, while the bed channels provide a solid foundation for your mix, they are less flexible in terms of spatial placement compared to objects. Objects offer greater adaptability and precision, making them ideal for elements that require dynamic positioning and movement in the 3D audio space. I recommend using objects and especially when panning outside of an exact speaker location in the 7.1.2. I do however sometimes use Beds for 7.1.2 Immersive FX Returns in Logic Pro.


Consumer Experience - How is Media Delivered?


  • Cinemas: Dolby Cinema theaters provide an enhanced cinematic experience with immersive sound.

  • Blu-ray Discs: Dolby Atmos is included in audio tracks of Blu-ray discs for high-quality home theater experiences.

  • Gaming: Video games support Dolby Atmos for immersive audio, with compatible gaming consoles and headphones.

  • Streaming Services: Platforms like Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video offer Dolby Atmos content.

  • Music Streaming Services: Apple Music, Tidal, and Amazon Music Unlimited.


Systems for Consumer Experience


  • Headphones: All headphones can support Dolby Atmos for an immersive audio experience however Apple Airpods, and Beats also support dynamic head tracking which can create a more immersive experience. The headtracking gives the listener an augmented reality experience of the sounds coming from the environment. When you turn your head they stay in the same location. While this is an amzing feature for AR/VR experiences with Apple Vision, I find this distracting for listening to music but this feature is useful for mixing in Dolby Atmos as it gives  a better sense of where all of the sounds are coming from and emulates better how you will hear it on an immersive speaker system.

  • Atmos-Enabled Soundbars: Soundbars that support Dolby Atmos provide a simpler, less cluttered setup for immersive audio.

  • Home Theater Systems: Advanced home theater setups with multiple speakers, including overhead speakers, to fully support Dolby Atmos.

  • Newer Devices: Newer MacBooks, iPads, Homepods, Apple TV and other devices that support Dolby Atmos playback.

  • Cars: Some luxury car models come equipped with Dolby Atmos-enabled sound systems for an enhanced audio experience. I expect we will see this becoming a standard in above base models of cars in the future.

  • Theaters: Commercial theaters equipped with Dolby Atmos technology for a premium viewing experience.


 

Tools Needed


There are several options for mixing in Dolby Atmos. We will focus on the accessible options that will require little or no additional investment other than your DAW.  Apple Spatial is a format that is necessary to be able to monitor while mixing in the Dolby Atmos, however Logic Pro is the only DAW that has Apple Spatial natively.  For every other DAW a third party software that is only OSX compatible is required to monitor Apple Spatial.  Embody’s Immerse Virtual Studio Signature Edition Apple Music is my preferred solution. So for every DAW other than Logic Pro I suggest investing in this software. It currently retails for $99USD.


The following DAW’s have Dolby Atmos built in:

  • Pro Tools

  • Logic Pro

  • Cubase

  • Nuendo

  • Studio One


For every other DAW Fiedler audio has a free solution to working with Dolby Atmos.Dolby Atmos Composer Essential. This software comes with 2 plugins. Dolby Atmos Beam which gets inserted on every channel and Dolby Atmos Composer Essential which is a Dolby Atmos Renderer. The free essential version is missing a few features such as level metering and trim and downmix controls and LFE.


Pro Tools is my first choice for mixing Atmos. It has 9.1.6 busses which allow Bus style processing with multichannel plugins. It has the most flexible routing which makes the worksflow for quick A/B comparisons between the differnt monitor formats. Pro Tools can do plugin linking where you can tweak multiple instances of the same plugin across multiple channels.



 

Mixing Atmos in Headphones



Dolby Atmos uses binaural audio technology to hear immersive audio in headphones. Binaural audio simulates 3D audio in headphones. There are two Binaural formats we need to address in our mixdown. Dolby Binaural and Apple Spatial.

  • Dolby Binaural (BIN): The Dolby Renderer has its own binaural format, which consumers hear on services like Amazon Prime Music and Tidal. 

  • Apple Spatial: Apple Music has its own proprietary format called Apple Spatial. Apple has created their own format so that Dolby Atmos is compatible and integrated with their new Apple Vision augmented reality ecosystem.

  • 2.0 Stereo Fold Down: This allows us to hear the mix in 2 channels without binauralization. This is useful to be able to hear the mix balance of regular stereo on headphones or speakers. This is helpful for checking eq moves.


When mixing, it is essential to monitor in both Dolby Binaural, Apple Spatial and 2.0 Stereo  formats to ensure your mix will translate..


 

Free Dolby Atmos Mixing Templates



  • Pro Tools - Free Atmos Mix Template

    • Requires

    • Pro Tools is my first choise for mixing Dolby Atmos as it has the most flexible routing and the ability to generate rerenders internally which allows for the fast A/B's of the Reference Stereo Master, Apple Spatial, Dolby Binaural, & 2.0 Stereo folddown.

  • Logic Pro - Free Atmos Mix Template

    • No extra software required

    • Logic Pro has some great stock immersive plugins that are ready to go in the template.

    • While Logic can play all of the different monitoring formats we need to reference while mixing in Atmos I find it a bit slow and awkward to switch between them







 

What Settings Do We Need In Our Mix Session?


  • Sample Rate: 48khz or 96khz

  • Bit Depth: 24bit

  • Frame rate: 24fps

  • Trim and Downmix Settings (

  • 5.1 & 5.1x Downmix : Direct Render

  • Trims: 0.0dB (Put all Trims for Surround and Height) Monitoring Options

    • Dolby Binaural Monitoring (BIN)

    • Apple Spatial Monitoring (If your not using Logic Pro this will require Immerse Virtual Studio Signature Edition Apple Music)

    • Stereo 2.0 fold down Monitoring

    • Reference Stereo Mastered Mix (this will need to be turned down about 7-10dB when comparing to the Atmos Mix.) This needs to be routed so that it is only going through the LR and doesn’t have any binauralization applied.


  • A way to Monitoring Loudness - Dolby Atmos mixes should be hitting -18LUFS Integrated with True Peak Level below -3dBtp. How to do this will depend on the software you are using.  Pro Tools requires you to make a 5.1 Fold Down and then using a multichannel level plugin like Youlean. If you use Fiedler Audio Dolby Composer Essential it doesn’t have a Loudness meter in it. You will need to get the Dolby Atmos Mastered for the levels to be optimized for distribution.


  • 9.1.6 Object Bed - I work with an Object Bed in my mixing templates. This is similar to the 7.1.2 bed but it has more channels and to do this we need to use Objects. To avoid undo phase interference on speaker systems it is safest for the majority of sounds to be panned directly / discretely to where speaker pairs would be and not share the same sound very much with other speakers. IE: In my experience it is fine to have the same sound come out of any pair of speakers Left and Right of each other as it creates a phantom center that we are used to in stereo however front to back phantom centers and up and down phantom centers can be noticeably phasey to my ear. It is important to understand this even when mixing only in headphones as you won't be able to hear these issues.


 

How to Properly Bounce Out Stems From Your Stereo Mix Session


When played all together the stems should sound as near identical to the stereo mix session as possible. This is a great starting place to mix in dolby Atmos.


  • Stems must be 48khz or 96khz and 24bit

  • Bounces out stems as separated as possible. (the more separated the more ability you have to customize the immersive sound stage.

  • Keep FX returns and separate stems so they can be panned independently of thier source dry sounds.

  • Make sure stems are printed through bus processing in your session so that they sound like the final mix when played together. 

  • Keep in mind dynamics processing on busses doesn't react the same when you solo individual sounds through them. Shane Grush has a good video on this and explains how to bounce stems using sidechain on bus compression. This is a bit challenging but when i figured this out a few years ago i had way better results with my stems sounding like the final mixdown. If you dont do this technique there may be some rebalancing needed to the stems to sound and feel like the reference stereo master.

  • If you are using a limiter in your mixdown at the end of the master bus make sure to bypass it though.


 

Approaches to Panning


  • When mixing in headphones the Immerse Virtual Studio Apple Music lets you monitor like you have a 7.1.4 system allowing you to click on the speakers translate solo the sounds from discrete speakers positions which is helpful to localize and understand how it may translate.



  • For a majority of the placement of your tracks stick to fixed speaker positions. 


  • Pretend like you have a 9.1.6 speaker system.

    • Compared to 7.1.4 you have 2 extra speakers on the horizontal plane called “Wides”. These are in between the LR and the Side speakers. There are also 2 more speakers in the heights which are height sides which are placed directly in between the height fronts and rears. This gives us 2 stereo pan positions that when played out on a 9.1.6 system will come directly from the speakers and not a phantom center.

    • The panning to the wides:

      • Pro tools panner - f/r: 68

      • Logic panner - Spread:112

      • Dolby Composer Essential (Beam) has a button called reset objects and if you click on the stereo option it has snapping positions for all 9.0.6 speakers

      • Dolby Music Panner Y:68 - (for Ableton External Render Template)

  • Make sure to use objects anytime your are panning outside of 7.1.2 speaker positions


  • Center Channel : Be mindful to placement in the center channel


  • Left right panning in Dolby atmos isn’t as wide sounding in headphones as in stereo. If you want a sound to sound really wide, pan it to the side speakers.


  • Phase Decorrelation

    • We mostly want to avoid the same sounds coming out of multiple sets of speakers as when it combines has phase interference. Our brains are used to phantom center Left to Right as we are used to that in stereo. However, phantom centers front to back and vertically can tend to sound phasey. Meaning be careful when panning sounds between speaker locations front to back and vertically.

    • SIZE: If you are going to use the “size” in the paneer make sure to be very sparing with it. If you turn up the size all the way it will give you a giant mono phasey sound as the same sound comes from all the speakers. I usually only use it on the odd thing and less than 10%.

    • Our goal is Phase Decorrelation - When putting the same sound through multiple speaker sets and have it come from “all over” it helps to de-correlate the sound. What does this mean? It needs to be different in a significant way to disrupt its phase relationship.  An example of this is having my main drums in the LR and I also want them in the Rear speakers. I could do an aux send from those drums to a short room reverb and pan that to the back. The short room reverb will have a very different phase relationship and not destructively interfere with the drums in the front.


  • Dynamic Head Tracking - When listening to the Apple Spatial mix with Airpods they can have dynamic head tracking enabled. This is an augmented reality feature that when you move your head the sounds stay where they are perceived in space.  This is honestly annoying for listening to music and more applies to Apple Vision AR/VR experience however this is a really useful feature when mixing on only headphones as it helps you localize where the sound is coming from better with spatial cues as you move your head.


  • The localization in Binaural isn’t as pronounced as when listening to speakers. Using the Immerse Virtual Studio you can solo speakers and hear what would be coming out of any speaker. This helps me envision whats happening on speakers with just my headphones. I tend to listen to solo speakers in pairs and listen. 

    • LR

    • LFE

    • C

    • Sides

    • Rear

    • Height Front

    • Height Rear

 

Dolby Atmos Reference Songs


  • Make sure to listen to Dolby Atmos in Headphones. Apple music will stream Spatial Audio  and Tidal and Amazon Dolby Binaural.

  • It is a bit complicated but possible to get Apple Music to play 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos without speakers using a 16 channel audio aggregate like loopback and route the channels into the Immerse Virtual Studio plugin. With the immerse plugin you can solo speakers to really get a sense of how the panning was done. FYI Dolby Atmos over steaming services has a lossy compression algorithm and when you solo speakers it becomes noticeable


 

Binaural Settings



For the Dolby Binaural there are additional binaural settings that only affect the Dolby Binaural Mix. These settings do not affect the speaker mix or the Apple Spatial Mix.  Because of this I recommend starting the mix focusing on the Apple Spatial Mix and speaker mix and then when they are sounding right move on to the Dolby Binaural mix. The binaural settings are as follows.

  • Off: No binaural rendering; delivers standard stereo sound. Useful for elements that should be firmly centered or don't require spatial positioning.

  • Often good for percussive sounds, sub bass, and possibly lead elements like lead vocal.

  • If you are using the 9.1.6 Object Bed the LR is usually set to Off.

  • Near: Simulates close proximity, enhancing presence and intimacy. Ideal for whispered dialogue or close-up sound effects.

  • I suggest a majority of sounds use Near as Mid and Far can start to sound to “Roomy”

  • If you are using the 9.1.6 Object Bed I set the Wide and Sides to Near

  • Mid: Places the sound at a moderate distance from the listener, balancing presence and spaciousness. Suitable for elements that are neither too close nor too far.

    • If you are using the 9.1.6 Object Bed I set the Heights and Rears to Mid

  • Far: Creates a sense of distance, adding depth and spaciousness. Suitable for ambient sounds or distant effects.


The Apple Spatial isn't affected by these settings as it derives its Binauralization from a 7.1.4 of the Atmos mix.


 

LFE in Dolby Atmos



The LFE is channel 4 in the beds and is the only thing i regularly use the beds for. Be very sparing with the use of the LFE and treat it only as a very slight support to the low end. I usually add bass and kick.  I often put a sub enhancement plugin on the LFE Aux channel like Waves Rbass to fill out the low end.

  • Purpose: The LFE channel handles low-frequency sounds (20 Hz to 120 Hz) for impactful effects like explosions.

  • Usage: Use the LFE selectively for specific effects, not for all bass content. Regular bass should be managed by other channels.

  • Mixing:

  1. Avoid using the LFE send in Atmos panners as they send a full-range signal.

  2. Do the LFE as an aux send

  3. Filter signals sent to the LFE with a low-pass filter (LPF) at around 120 Hz or lower.

  4. Use a linear phase filter to avoid phase issues. If unavailable, it's better not to use the LFE send.

  5. Binaural Rendering: In headphone mixes, balance the LFE content to maintain impact without overwhelming the listener.

Just a note that the LFE isn't added to the 2.0 folddown. I find the Apple Spatial mix is easy to make bass heavy.


 

Creating Immersive Audio Effects Using

Regular Stereo Plugins



  1. Create Multiple Instances: Duplicate your stereo plugin multiple times.

  2. Send Audio: Route the same audio signal to each plugin instance using a send.

  3. Pan to Speakers: Pan each plugin instance to different speaker sets (e.g., LR, Sides, Rears).

  4. Modify Each Instance: Apply subtle changes to each instance (e.g., EQ, reverb, delay) to enhance spatial effect.

  5. Adjust for Immersion: Fine-tune settings and panning to achieve a cohesive, immersive soundscape.

I have found using early reflections of reverbs very effective for this. Plugins like UAudio Soundcity and Trueverb are amazing for this. 


 

Apple Spatial Monitoring with Immerse Virtual Studio


The Immerse Virtual Studio unfortunately only works with OSX. 

  • Virtual Studio Environment: Simulates studio acoustics on headphones.

  • Integration with Apple Music: Allows monitoring of Apple Spatial Audio mixes.

  • Personalization: Uses personalized HRTF profiles for improved spatial accuracy and immersion.

However, I haven't found the personal HRTF to sound good to my ear, so I don't use it. Additionally, I haven't found the other studio models to be particularly useful. The Apple Spatial model is the only one I am concerned about, as it is what consumers hear on Apple Music.

Setup

  • The plugin requires a 7.1.4 audio rerender for the Dolby Renderer to feed it audio.

  • The setup differs depending on your DAW and configuration. 

  • Pro Tools Built in Renderer

  • Make a 7.1.4 rerender from the Dolby Renderer

  • Make a 7.1.4 Aux that receives it

  • choose the Immerse Virtual Studio Plugin 7.1.4 to Stereo


 

Basic Atmos Mixing Techniques


1. Preparing Your Session

  • Open your Dolby Atmos Mixing Template  

  • Importing and organizing audio tracks.

  • Import and make sure to put the reference stereo master into the stereo master ref channel

  • Gain stage all of the stems so that the Dolby Atmos Mix is hitting around -18LUFS

  • in Pro Tools I assign all of the imported audio tracks to a VCA to easily do this.

  • Compare to the  Reference Stereo Master. At first all of the stems should default to the LR.  

  • The Reference stereo master should be gained down about 7-10dB to volume match the Atmos Mixdown.

  • While monitoring the Atmos 2.0 Stereo Fold down do any initial mix work to match the master. Listen for  impact , balance and tonality.


2. Panning and Object Placement

  • Monitor Apple Spatial 

  • Mute all tracks and begin bringing them in one at a time and address panning. I usually start with the drums and percussion.

  • A majority of the drums I usually mix in the LR. 

  • Sometimes i like to bring parts of the drums forward a bit by panning them into the Wides

  • Sometimes I will add some height to the drums by panning the overheads or hi end percussion up a bit in the heights. Remember when you pann in between speaker locations there is more cause for phase interference which isn’t an noticeable on headphones. So remember to mostly pan right to where speakers would be. I pretend like I have a 9.1.6 system for my main pan points.

  • Remember LR in Atmos Binaural doesn’t sound as wide as LR in Stereo on headphones… so if you want something to be wide it should be panned to the sides. That being said, too much information in the sides doesn’t translate well on speakers as it can take away impact from the front core elements.

  • Drum Room Mics i often pull them into the space and pan them to the Sides, Rears, or Heights. If there are multiple room mics some times i distribute them around the space.

  • Be very sparing but sometimes its very interesting to have some percussion in the rear. This can also be disjointed or disconcerting if not done tastefully and this is harder to hear mixing on headphones than speakers.

  • Surprisingly mixing to the center channel can sound weird as we are not used to hearing sound actually coming from the center.  Often i am subtle with my use of the center.  I am usually working with Stereo stems and sometimes reduce the width of the Atmos Panner which pulls some of the vocal into the center channel. I find myself doing this on lead vocal sometimes, kick, bass. Sometimes I will feature something and use the center channel boldly and creatively.  

  • If I have multiple layers of a sound sometime I will pull  layers into the space for a more immersive sound. Like having multiple kick mics.

    • one in LR 

    • one in rear

  • It can be cool to pan dry sounds in a different place than their effects like reverb, but it can also become disjointed.  Taste must be applied. 

  • Also a word of advice, panning automation can be pretty exciting when you first get into it but it can be easily overdone and overshadow the song.  At the right moments having something circle around you can be very exciting and pleasing. Just don’t make it distracting in a way that takes away from the song.


3. Reference a lot!

  • Do tons of A/Bing of the Reference Stereo Master with the Apple Spatial and 2.0 Stereo fold down and finally the BIN.

    • Remember to gain down the reference stereo master around 7-10dB

    • Challenge yourself to make it sounds as good and hopefully better than the stereo reference.

    • When you are relatively happy with it then focus on the Dolby Binaural (BIN). Set the Binaural Settings of any Objects you may have used.



 

4 Kinds of Atmos Mixes


  1. Like in a venue,the sounds are coming from the front LCR and the rest of the speakers are used for subtle ambiences. Miles Davis So What is an awesome example of this. It makes the band feel like they are in front of you and you’re in the same room as them.

  2. Point Source - Where tracks are panned more around the space giving a more bold sense of 3d interaction and space. A killer reference of this is Elton John’s Rock Man. This is a great first Atmos listen on speakers to show people how amazing this format is.

  3. Immersive - This is more like where you feel like you are inside the instrument. Alexandra Streliski’s Ad Libre is a great example of this where you feel like you are inside a 20ft grand piano.

  4. Combo - somewhere between the above 3 approaches.



 

Common Problems and Solutions



It’s not easy to do a good mix in dolby Atmos. I would suggest being a proficient stereo mix engineer before attempting to mix in Dolby Atmos. Most aspects of stereo mixing applies to mixing in Dolby Atmos. The main difference is that you don’t have bus processing in the same way and the gain structure and loudness targets are different that a normal stereo mix. The are a host of additional new skills and approaches to know to mix well in Dolby Atmos


  • Problem: Atmos doesn’t have a master bus. How do I do a move that effects all tracks.

    • Solution: 

      • Hornet plugin’s Samp - An instance of this can by put across every track and this emulates master bus EQ, Compression, Clipping and Limiting.


  • Problem: Atmos mix isn’t punchy like the stereo mix. Atmos doesn’t have a master bus and so it's harder to get the glue of master bus compression and limiting.

    • Solution: 

      • Selective Use of side chain compression to get some bounce

      • Saturation to give energy

      • Using 7.1.4 or 9.1.6 buses in a DAW that can supports that and investing in multichannel plugins like. Pro-l2, PSP Aural Comp

  • Problem: Not being able to reference other Dolby Atmos mixes.

    • Dolby Atmos is an adaptive format and you have to hit multiple targets with one mix. Quickly switching between all of the these formats is essential.

      • Immersive Speaker mix

      • BIN

      • Apple Spatial

      • 2.0 Folddown (ie stereo version of the Amtos mix)

      • Reference Stereo Master

    • Solution: Making a good system for referencing is very important.

      • So far in my experience Pro Tools has the best workflow for this. However the additional software is required to hear the Apple Spatial.

      • Logic has it all built in but i find it a bit tedious and not very quick to switch what i am monitoring. Especially when monitoring the refernce stereo master. The Atmos Renderer sits right on the master channel and you are not able to bypass it and listen to the stereo reference master on the same output. So you have to run it through the renderer either as an object or bed panned to the LR and monitor it in 2.0

  • Problem: One of the negative comments of Atmos is the binaural and apple spatial mixes on headphones sound distant, lacking punch and sound room reverby.

    • Solution:

      • For the Dolby Binaural turn the binaural settings to Off or Near for percussive and low bass sounds.

      • Since Binauralization adds extra reflections sometimes i tighten up the decays of various percussion sounds with transient designers or expanders.

      • Experiment with pan positions. Some times pulling in LR spread of a sound can seem to focus it.

  • Problem: Phantom centers and phase correlation between speakers causing interference. Putting the same sound between speakers can make an interference pattern as the same sound is coming from 2 or more sources. When they combine they make an interference pattern. That interference pattern shifts depending where you are in relation to the speakers. We are used to this in a stereo setup with 2 speakers.  A mono sound in stereo is called a phantom center because the same sound is coming out of the LR speakers and our brain hears it like it’s coming from the centre.  Phantom centers are mostly fine L to R in immersive audio because we are used to the sound from stereo mixes, but phantom centers in the depth and height wise they can sound phasey or hollow. 

    • Solution:

      • Be careful feeding the same sound into multiple speaker sets. This can add fullness if done right and not to much on the odd sound but also can lead to a phasey mess which isn't as noticlbe on headphones as on speakers.

      • Careful using the size knob in the panner. Same thing applies as above. Just use it sparingly on the odd thing. It does make things sound less "reverby" and distant in the binaural mixes.

  • Problem: Using headphones LR in Stereo is wider that LR Binaural / Apple Spatial

    • Solution: Elements that you want to sound wide should be panned to the side

    • In the Dolby Binaural (BIN) if you turn the binaural setting to Off it will sound the same as in stereo no matter where its panned.

    • To make wide atmos mixes you should consider the LCR more like a wider mono and consider the side speakers are what make things sounds wide



  • Problem: Relying too much on Upmixing plugins l ike Nugen Halo. Some stereo masters were being upmixed to Dolby Atmos which sounded terrible and was giving the format a bad rep. Thankfully apple is now rejecting Atmos mixes that have been upmixed from the stereo master. Halo can be a useful tool on the odd track to spread a stereo file out into multiple speaker sets but it can lack articulation and localization.

    • Solution: Don't upmix a stereo master!



  • Problem: Don’t have a proper immersive speaker system to author an Atmos master for distribution.

    • Solution: It is very doable to be able to mix in Dolby Atmos with a monitor system of just headphones and stereo monitors but it is highly recommend that the mix be at least quality checked and or mastered on a  calibrated 7.1.4 monitor system (or higher like 9.1.6)

 

QC Files - Delivering Your Mix For Review



QC files (Quality Control files) are used to check and verify the quality, consistency, and correctness of the audio mix across different playback systems and environments. They ensure the mix meets technical and artistic standards before final distribution. The key types of QC files include:

1. BIN: Contains the entire Dolby Atmos mix and metadata, used for comprehensive QC and playback verification.


2. 2.0: A stereo downmix of the Atmos mix, ensuring the audio translates well to standard two-channel playback systems.


3. MP4 (Spatial Audio): Provides a binaural rendering of the Atmos mix for immersive playback on headphones.

  • *****This file can only be generated using the External Dolby Renderer.

    • However Immerse Virtual Studio can load a 7.1.4 render and generate a stereo wave file that sounds like the Apple Spatial mix.

    • To preview, the MP4 must be airdropped to an iOS device, then played back using AirPods in the Files app to experience the spatial audio effect.

4. Reference Stereo Master: A gained-down, volume-matched version of the stereo master included for comparison purposes to ensure the Atmos mix aligns well with the original stereo master.

These QC files are for reference only. The ADM file is the only file that goes to mastering or distribution. Pro Tools


 

Mastering Dolby Atmos Mixes



Mastering in Dolby Atmos involves using an ADM (Audio Definition Model) file, which is essentially a multichannel WAV file. While it is feasible to achieve a great mixdown using headphones, it is crucial to listen to the mix on a calibrated 7.1.4 or higher speaker system to ensure proper translation across different playback environments. The Dolby Atmos ADM must be the exact length (within 1 frame) as the stereo master, and it should aim for an integrated loudness of around -18 LUFS without exceeding this target. Additionally, the true peak level should remain below -3 dBTP. A Dolby Atmos mastering engineer ensures the mix meets these precise standards and is optimized to all of the playback formats. Send the mastering engineer the stereo master for reference and the ADM.wav file for mastering.



 

Learning Resources

Warp Accademy Immersive Mixing Webinar led by me!

Fiedler-audio (Tutorials on Dolby Atmos Composer Plugins)

Useful for:

  • Live 11 - Free Dolby Atmos Mixing Template for External Dolby Renderer

  • Live 11 - Free Dolby Atmos Composer Essentials Template 



 

Glossary

  • 2.0 Fold down - 2.0 fold down in Dolby Atmos refers to the process of mixing or downmixing a multi-channel Atmos audio track into a standard stereo (2.0) format. This ensures that the immersive audio experience is preserved as much as possible when played back on stereo speakers, retaining essential spatial and positional elements within the limitations of two-channel playback.


  • ADM - An ADM in Dolby Atmos is a standardized file format used to store and exchange 3D audio content. It is the Atmos Master and is the file to be sent for mastering or to distrubution. It is not playable on consumer devices. It includes metadata that defines the spatial positioning and movement of sound objects, enabling accurate reproduction of the immersive audio experience across different playback systems.


  • Bed - The bed is a fixed group of audio channels (7.1.2 - the first 10 channels in the Dolby Atmos Renderer) best used elements that are panned discretely to speakers and or don't require dynamic positioning. The Bed is the only place to access the LFE in the Dolby Renderer


  • LFE - the LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) channel is dedicated to low-frequency sounds like explosions and rumbles or subtle low end enhancement. Don't use the LFE send in the panner as it send full range. Use a dedicated LFE send with a linear phase LPF


  • Object - An object is an independent audio element with its own metadata that specifies its position and movement in 3D space. This allows for precise placement and dynamic motion of sounds within an immersive audio environment.


  • QC Files - Quality Control files are versions of the audio mix used for checking and verifying the quality, consistency, and correctness of the mix across different playback systems and environments. They ensure the mix meets technical and artistic standards before final distribution.


  • Re-render - Specifically refers to the process of converting the Dolby Atmos mix into different output formats. This process translates the object-based audio mix into formats suitable for different playback systems, such as 7.1, 5.1, or stereo, ensuring that the spatial audio elements are accurately represented across various speaker configurations. Mostly the re-renders are used for QC.


  • Trim and Downmix settings - Downmix settings convert a multi-channel mix (like 7.1.4) into fewer channels (like stereo) while preserving the spatial characteristics as much as possible.




 

I would like to give a huge thank you to Creative BC and their support of this project to make Dolby Atmos more accessible to content creators.

Sincerely,

Sam Ryan


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