Dolby Atmos Music: everything you need to know about the immersive sound format

dolby atmos music
(Image credit: Dolby)

Now that soundbars and state-of-the-art wireless speakers are becoming commonplace in the home, the immersive cinematic sound format Dolby Atmos is easier to access than ever.

But did you know that Dolby Atmos’ object-based surround sound can be applied to your music, as well as your films?

Designed to make you “feel like you’re inside the song”, Dolby Atmos Music is one of the most exciting things to happen to music streaming in a long time – here’s everything you need to know about it, plus the best devices to experience the 3D audio format.

[Update: Looking for something to listen to in Dolby Atmos? Legendary composer John Williams has released a performance with the Wiener Philharmoniker.  John Williams Live in Vienna is mixed in immersive object-based sound, and it's available on Amazon Music HD, and Blu-ray.]

What is Dolby Atmos Music?

Dolby Atmos Music is music that uses Dolby’s object-based surround sound to make it seem as though different instruments and effects are coming at you from all angles. 

The effect is designed to be far more immersive than regular stereo sound or even 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound setups, thanks to adding a sense of height as well as width to the soundstage. 

This is usually achieved via overhead speakers, and speakers and soundbars with upward-firing tweeters that allow sound to bounce off the ceiling and back down to your ears.

In cinema, Dolby Atmos mixing happens in sound studios, where audio engineers take sound effects in movies and digitally move them around three-dimensional space. 

When you play the movie back using Dolby Atmos-enabled audio devices, you'll be able to hear the effects move around you, just like the audio engineers intended – and it works the same way with Dolby Atmos Music.

A sound engineer takes elements of a track, like instruments and effects, and places them within a 3D sphere – and this can be done with new music or as part of a remaster, provided the original audio stems are available to edit. When you play the music back, it should feel as though you’re enveloped in a dome of sound.

Dolby atmos music

(Image credit: Dolby)

Does Spotify support Dolby Atmos Music?

Right now, no – you can only stream Dolby Atmos Music via Tidal and Amazon Prime Music, and neither offer the codec as part of their cheaper subscriptions. 

If you go for Tidal, you’ll need, you’ll need to shell out  $19.99 / £19.99 / AU$23.99 per month for Tidal HiFi, which also gives you access to Hi-Res Audio files. If it’s Amazon you prefer, you’ll need to subscribe to Amazon Music HD which costs $12.99 / £12.99 for Prime members, and $14.99 / £14.99 for everyone else.

How do I listen to Dolby Atmos Music?

To listen to your music in Dolby Atmos, you need access to a streaming service that supports the object-based format, plus a Dolby Atmos-enabled playback device, whether that’s a wireless speaker, a soundbar, a pair of headphones, or even a compatible smartphone or tablet

Technically, to achieve the full Dolby Atmos effect, you’d need overhead speakers or a device that can beam sound to your ceiling and back down to your ears. Of course, this can’t be done with a pair of headphones or a non-upfiring speaker.

Instead, these devices use clever signal processing to create the illusion of height in your music, and they can be pretty convincing. 

sonos arc

The Sonos Arc (Image credit: Sonos)

The best devices for Dolby Atmos Music

While a huge overhead speaker setup will give you the most authentic Dolby Atmos Music experience, there are lots of cheaper (and less time-intensive) ways to listen to your music in 3D surround sound. 

If you’re using Amazon Music HD, the Amazon Echo Studio smart speaker is a great option, combining Atmos immersive sound with all the smarts of Alexa – that means it can double up as a control hub for all your smart home devices

If you also plan to watch films with Dolby Atmos, a soundbar like the Sonos Arc or the Samsung HW-Q90R is your best bet – these hardworking devices are far more impactful than the tiny speakers inside your TV, and can often double up as a Bluetooth speaker for your music. You could also opt for an AV receiver like the Onkyo TX-NR676.

Already have a sweet speaker set up? You can draft in a pair of upfiring Dolby Atmos speakers like the KEF R50 Dolby-Enabled Atmos speakers or the PSB Imagine XA. 

If you’re wanting to take Dolby Atmos Music on the go, you’ll need a phone or tablet that can handle the format. Compatible models include the OnePlus 7 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S10, Sony Xperia 1, and Amazon Fire HDX 8.9

You can also use true wireless earbuds and Bluetooth earphones with Dolby Atmos support, with models like the Apple AirPods Pro.

Olivia Tambini

Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.