Apple, Dolby & the future of sound
14 June 2021-
Last week, Apple revealed its big Music news: the launch of its first Dolby Atmos re-engineered songs — before the entire catalogue gets the same treatment. Why should we care? Because it's huge.
News of revolutionary technologies that will surely, absolutely, definitely change the global musical landscape happen more often than you may think. Why is that? Because you forget many (most?) of those claims as supposed revolutions turn out to be fads, if that. We here are old enough to remember the SACD (for Super Audio CD) craze at the beginning of the 2000’s, which some in the music industry pointed to as the definitive answer to then-decreasing CD sales — and vastly increasing digital downloads, legal or not. We all know how that went: virtually everyone in the world now listens to digital content (except for Japan and vinyl aficionados) and very few even recall the SACD…
In more recent times, the topic of HD, Flac and/or Lossless music has been one such series of buzz words the industry (and press) are keen on discussing as potential new mega-trends for the better. For the better for users, since sound quality mechanically increases; for the better for streamers, whose HD subscriptions are logically more expensive; for the better for labels, as their royalties are hopefully higher (as for artists, who knows?). The thing is, all these technologies, although theoretically interesting, turn out to only concern a fraction of listeners, for the very same reason the SACD never took off: to be able to truly appreciate the difference between “regular” and HD digitally compressed files, you need to have the equipment that goes with it. That effectively entails spending thousands of dollars/euros/yens (depending which currency you favor) on top of the range Hi-Fi systems — and you may still not be able to tell the difference: you also need to have a trained ear to perceive the sonic changes involved…
This is the part where we tell you that this is about to change, because a revolution is set to descend upon the (musical) world — and that would be Dolby Atmos, as currently promoted by Apple Music. The organisation had announced back in May that Spatial Audio based on Dolby’s work was coming soon and we got the first taste last week with the introduction of a series of songs re-engineered using the new technology — including The Beatles’ legendary “Here Comes the Sun“, an obvious winner of a choice if you ask us. The point Apple is making here is that all it takes to enjoy Dolby Atmos are AirPods (or Beats headphones). That’s it: no Hi-Fi needed, you’re set. Also, and we tried it out ourselves, the spatial retooling the team went through here is immediately noticeable, even to our (somewhat) untrained ears. Just like in movie theaters, where Dolby Atmos has already been in use for a while, you are literally able to spatially distinguish various instruments and vocals, making the sonic experience all the more fulfilling.
Listening to St. Vincent’s Dolby Atmos version of “Pay Your Way in Pain“, from brand new album Daddy’s Home, paints a picture of what this innovation means for new projects: an additional layer of technical refinement, paving the way for infinite tinkering by the likes of Kanye and Rick Rubin… We can’t wait!