This car with custom Dirac-tuned Dolby Atmos will sound better than a cinema

Close-up of the passenger cabin of Nio ET7 door and window
(Image credit: Nio, Dolby, Dirac)

If you're into three-dimensional, incredibly life-like and immersive Dolby Atmos sound or considering buying an electric car, today is a good day. 

That's because Swedish digital audio pioneer Dirac (aka the immersive audio you've probably never heard of) and Dolby (which you have) just announced a collaboration to provide the ultimate in immersive automotive audio experience.

Why should you care? Both Dirac and Dolby have invested decades in developing technologies that deliver the best possible sound experiences in various spaces (as well as within some of the best headphones ever to grace our ears) but to date, the two companies have addressed the challenges in automotive audio from very different directions.

Dirac uses digital signal processing to upgrade sound systems and overcome acoustic challenges inherent in cars – suboptimal positioning of loudspeakers and reflective surfaces that muddy sounds and so on – so that the system more faithfully reproduces audio without unwanted colorations and without requiring any hardware upgrades.

Dolby Atmos, meanwhile, has basically changed the way artists create music. Rather than limiting musicians to two-channel stereo recording, Dolby Atmos allows for each sonic article – every instrument or vocal – to be positioned in a three-dimensional space within the recording. 

Opinion: Dolby and Dirac will establish a new standard in audio – but here's hoping it rolls out to more vehicles

A close up of a speaker within the Nio ET7 electric car

One of 23 speakers in the Nio ET7 with Dolby Atmos and Dirac (Image credit: Nio, Dolby, Dirac)

The combination of Dirac and Dolby’s complementary technologies for the first time ever in a car will create not just an immersive in-car music listening experience; I truly believe it will establish a new standard in automotive audio.

 “The car is a natural place to listen to music, but vehicle cabins are also the most acoustically challenging listening environments,” said Lars Carlsson, head of business automotive development at Dirac. 

“For 20 years, Dirac has been developing tailored solutions for some of the world’s leading auto manufacturers, optimizing sound systems to achieve entirely new levels of audio performance. 

Now, through this collaboration with Dolby, we’re for the first time combining the world’s most sophisticated audio algorithms with the world’s most immersive content.”

Strong stuff – and Dolby isn't afraid to give us a quote either. 

“Reproducing a faithful Dolby Atmos experience in a car that translates well from the point of creation in the studio into the challenging acoustic environment of a car cabin is a lofty task,” said Andreas Ehret, automotive director at Dolby. 

“The Dirac technology is a great solution for car makers to optimize this experience. We have found that in our demo cars, the results were excellent – excellent detail, accurate staging and a well-balanced sound field in all seating positions. Dolby works hand in hand with the entire automotive supply chain to deliver an authentic entertainment experience inside the car.”

So, how can we experience it? Will it be featured in the next Audi, Bentley, BMW or Aston Martin models? Er, no. 

The first car to feature this Dolby-Dirac integrated solution will be the Nio ET7, unveiled in January 2021, which will enter the European market later in 2022 – with more to follow shortly thereafter.

The car, a high-end electric sedan boasting a 1000km range, will feature a 7.1.4 immersive sound system with Dolby Atmos as standard, comprising 23 speakers, a 20-channel amplifier boasting 1,000W total power output, four overhead speakers and a subwoofer. 

The system has four main sound channels, each with a three-way speaker containing a tweeter, a mid-range driver and a woofer. 

I emphatically want a car featuring immersive audio treatment from both Dolby Atmos and Dirac and, although the Nio ET7 should become available this side of the pond soon, I hope that soon the fruits of this exciting new relationship will roll out to cars more readily available outside of China. 

The Nio ET7 seen from above, pointing out the speaker array

Nio ET7: just look at all the speakers in this Dirac/Dolby Atmos sound system (Image credit: Nio, Dolby Atmos, Dirac)
Becky Scarrott
Audio Editor

Becky became Audio Editor at TechRadar in 2024, but joined the team in 2022 as Senior Staff Writer, focusing on all things hi-fi. Before this, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.