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post #1 of 82 Old 07-30-2014, 09:25 PM - Thread Starter
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Dolby Atmos Demo at Pioneer



Pioneer invited several journalists to hear its new Atmos-enabled speakers in a normal-sized room, and the result was quite engaging.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a demonstration of Dolby Atmos for home theaters at Pioneer's headquarters in Long Beach, CA. I had already heard the Pioneer system of Elite-branded, Atmos-enabled speakers—designed by Andrew Jones—and AV receiver at CE Week last month, but that was with a 14-foot ceiling, which is at the top of the range recommended by Dolby for upfiring "overhead" speakers. Besides, it never hurts to hear a new technology multiple times in different environments.

As you probably know, Dolby Atmos is a sound system that adds overhead speakers to the traditional surround array to create a true hemispherical soundfield. It is "object-oriented," which means that individual sounds are treated like objects and placed in the soundfield by the mixer without having to think about channels, and each sound is reproduced by whatever speakers are necessary to create the illusion that it is coming from that location.

In commercial cinemas, speakers are mounted on the ceiling, which can also be done with a home-theater Atmos system. But that is impractical in many homes, so Dolby came up with an alternative—upward-firing speakers sitting on top of the front and surround left and right speakers that reflect their sound from the ceiling, creating the same effect. (Of course, with upfiring speakers, the ceiling can't have any acoustic treatment; it must be reflective.) A typical Atmos home installation includes a conventional 5.1 or 7.1 speaker system with four upfiring speakers, resulting in a designation of 5.1.4 or 7.1.4, though there can be a maximum of 34 channels—24 in the horizontal plane and 10 overhead—depending on the capabilities of the preamp/processor or AVR.

Speaking of which, Atmos for the home requires a new pre/pro or AVR to decode the bitstream, but the good news is that current Blu-ray discs and players can accommodate that bitstream without modification. There have been over 120 movies mixed with an Atmos soundtrack, and Atmos-encoded discs should start appearing this fall. Streaming content can also include an Atmos soundtrack, which requires little additional bandwidth over conventional surround sound—in fact, streaming could be the first delivery medium for Atmos-encoded content.

After hearing Atmos with actual overhead speakers and upfiring "Atmos-enabled" speakers, Andrew Jones decided he preferred the upfiring approach for home applications, so he designed a new set of speakers for Pioneer's Elite brand based on that principle—the floorstanding SP-EFS73 and bookshelf SP-EBS73-LR. (Calling the smaller one a "bookshelf" speaker is a bit of a misnomer, since it definitely shouldn't be placed in a bookshelf; it would be more rightly called stand-mounted.) To complement these Atmos-enabled speakers, he also designed the center-channel SP-EC73 and SW-E10 powered subwoofer, which don't have upfiring drivers. (For more on the new Pioneer speakers, see my interview with Andrew on Home Theater Geeks.)

The placement of Atmos-enabled speakers is a bit different than the conventional layout—the line between the left front and rear upfiring speakers should be parallel with the main axis of the room, as should the line between the right front and rear upfiring speakers. Also, all the Atmos-enabled speakers should be somewhat out in the room, not up against the wall, and toed in toward the listening position so the sound from the upfiring speakers, which are aimed at a slight angle from the vertical, reflect from the ceiling and down toward the listening area. Alternatively, if you mount speakers in the ceiling, they should be about three feet in front of and behind the listening position.


On the left, upfiring Atmos-enabled front and rear speakers reflect sound from the ceiling into the listening area. On the right, four ceiling-mounted speakers (depicted as circles inside rounded squares) are placed with two in front of the listening position and two behind.

One critical factor in making Atmos work in the home is the encoding and decoding of the audio data. The encoding process integrates the object metadata with the 5.1 or 7.1 "bed," but the decoding is where the real complexity lies, requiring very powerful DSP (digital signal processing) chips. The audio spectrum of the overhead channels must be modified for upfiring speakers to optimize the sense of height using an HRTF (head-related transfer function), while the decoding for actual overhead speakers is not as demanding.

The Pioneer demo used a prototype Elite SC-89 AVR that had only Atmos decoding—no other Dolby or DTS decoder. Texas Instruments, which makes the DSP chips for Pioneer, Onkyo, and Yamaha AVRs, had not finished implementing all the other codecs that will be found in the final product. Interestingly, Atmos can use Dolby Digital Plus or TrueHD compression; we heard it in TrueHD. The speakers included two SP-EFS73 floorstanders, one SP-EC73 center speaker, and one SW-E10 subwoofer in the front and two SP-EBS73-LRs in the surround positions.

Dolby has created two demo discs with Atmos trailers, shorts, and clips from movies with Atmos soundtracks—so far, this is the only Atmos content available on Blu-ray. I had seen the "Amaze" and "Leaf" trailers in various Atmos-equipped commercial cinemas, which are designed to take full advantage of the system's capabilities, and both sounded quite good in the Pioneer demo room, which measures about 23 x 16 x 8 feet with acoustic treatments on the walls but not on the ceiling. Both trailers created a convincing hemispherical soundfield with subtle sounds of rain and forest, though it wasn't quite as expansive as the commercial presentation—which isn't surprising, given the huge discrepancy in the sizes of the rooms.

Also on these discs are several shorts, including a Red Bull-sponsored piece about Formula 1 racing and two animated shorts called "Silent" (an homage to the silent-film era with a Harold Lloyd-type character and his child sidekick) and "Conductor" (starring the same child as in "Silent," this time as an orchestra conductor). I didn't hear quite as much going on overhead in these shorts, I think partly because they were louder than the trailers, which tends to obscure the Atmos effect in my experience.

Andrew then played some 2-channel music, saying he designed the speakers first to sound good with music, as he always does. He played WAV files from a MacBook Pro via USB to the SC-89 in Stream Direct mode, which disables all processing; the AVR's internal asynchronous DAC can accommodate data up to 32-bit/192 kHz. We started with the floorstanders (no subwoofer, no upfiring drivers). The first clip was from a 1963 recording (digitized at 16/44.1) of Peter, Paul, and Mary doing "All My Trials" with acoustic guitars and stand-up bass, which sounded gorgeous with every voice and instrument clearly delineated. The next track was "Dimming of the Day" from Tom Jones' new back-to-his-blues-roots album and downloaded from HDTracks, which sounded a bit harsh to my ears, but that might easily be the recording. Finally, we listened to a bit of "Almost Blue" by Diana Krall; the vocal sounded great, but I thought the piano was a bit congested, especially in the upper bass.

Before we left, Andrew swapped out the floorstanders for the SP-EBS73-LRs (again, no sub or upfiring drivers), and we listened to Lyle Lovett sing "Good Intentions," which sounded nice and open with rich vocal texture. We ended with the same Diana Krall track as before, which sounded much the same, though perhaps a bit less bloated in the upper bass.

Overall, I'm very impressed with Pioneer's Atmos-enabled speakers, which sound wonderful—as they should, since they are quite a bit more expensive than the company's more budget-oriented yet highly regarded Andrew Jones-designed speakers. The SP-EFS73 floorstanders are $700 each, the SP-EBS73-LR bookshelves are $750/pair, the SP-EC73 center-channel is $400, and the SW-E10 subwoofer is $600, so a 5.1.4 system with floorstanders in front will set you back $3150, or you could go with four bookshelf models in the front and rear for $2500.

But you're getting a lot more in the new models—a 3-way design with a new concentric driver for the mids and highs that is also used as the upfiring driver, new aluminum-cone bass drivers, new crossovers, and a significantly more powerful subwoofer. Plus, with an Atmos-capable AVR or pre/pro—and a flat, reflective ceiling—you get to experience the latest in truly immersive movie sound at home. As Martha Stewart would say, that's a good thing.

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post #2 of 82 Old 07-30-2014, 09:39 PM
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Certainly interesting and continues to stoke the fire for Dolby Atmos in the Home Theater.
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post #3 of 82 Old 07-30-2014, 09:45 PM
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Thanks Scott.
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post #4 of 82 Old 07-30-2014, 10:56 PM
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Thanks Scott. Great info!

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post #5 of 82 Old 07-30-2014, 11:48 PM
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Thx Scott, as the Holidays approach I'll query my relatives to see which non-AVS person, Joe average, has heard of Dolby Atmos and their thoughts.

btw, whats that blue glow from in front of the speaker stands on the carpet?

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btw, whats that blue glow from in front of the speaker stands on the carpet?
Looks like painter's tape to me.
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post #7 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 02:27 AM
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Originally Posted by mtbdudex View Post
Thx Scott, as the Holidays approach I'll query my relatives to see which non-AVS person, Joe average, has heard of Dolby Atmos and their thoughts.

btw, whats that blue glow from in front of the speaker stands on the carpet?
It is painter's tape used to re-align the speaker stands quickly to the same calibrated position after being moved.

Anyone else notice the *zero* breathing room Pioneer gave that poor receiver?

@Scott Wilkinson - aside from mounting in-ceiling speakers 3 feet in front and behind the MLP, did Pioneer have any other information as to the recommended type of speaker (aside from timbre-matched with the rest of the speaker system) and any angles? Any recommendations for multiple rows of seating?


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post #8 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 03:44 AM
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Thank you for your very useful posting. I'm looking forward to finding some location where I can here this demonstrated, which I feel I will end up liking. The info about the number of releases encoded with Atmos is useful and that there are a couple of demos already available. I'm not so happy about the need for an upgraded AVR and additional and/or upgraded speakers, though I understand the need. I only recently upgraded part of my system and I don't look forward to spending more on additional equipment.

Thanks again for the info and I'm sure you will be providing additional updates in the future.
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post #9 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 05:35 AM
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Thanks, Scott, for the write-up!

By chance, did Chris & Andrew have ceiling mounted's in the room, available for A/B comparisons? If yes, did you notice much difference?

Steve
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post #10 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 05:42 AM
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Thanks for the write up. To bad they did not have any other content. Something like Gravity on BD remastered with Atmos would have been wonderful. In addition, I hope those Atmos trailers are not hard to come by once we need them.
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post #11 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 05:45 AM
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Thanks for keeping us informed on the cutting edge technology as usual. The Atmos enabled speakers seem to be a good alternative to ceiling mounted speakers for those who can not install them. I would imagine it would be best to install ceiling speakers if feasible?

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post #12 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 06:19 AM
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Thanks Scott for another excellent write up. I am going to be paying close attention to this Dolby Atmos thing for sure because they could be my next set of speakers!
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post #13 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 06:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post
...so Dolby came up with an alternative—upward-firing speakers sitting on top of the front and surround left and right speakers that reflect their sound from the ceiling, creating the same effect. (Of course, with upfiring speakers, the ceiling can't have any acoustic treatment; it must be reflective.)
What if you have a 'popcorn' ceiling or 'stucco' style ceilings? It seems that these would cause all sorts of weird reflection points, no?
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post #14 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 07:50 AM
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"The next track was "Dimming of the Day" from Tom Jones' new back-to-his-blues-roots album and downloaded from HDTracks, which sounded a bit harsh to my ears, but that might easily be the recording. Finally, we listened to a bit of "Almost Blue" by Diana Krall; the vocal sounded great, but I thought the piano was a bit congested, especially in the upper bass."


I do hope that these were still Prototypes and that Andrew will be able to tweak these a little in response to these observations.
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post #15 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 07:53 AM
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It looks like the front speakers have single wires going to them. Does the wire have 2 sets of connectors? or do the atmos speakers only need 1 set of wires?
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post #16 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 08:30 AM
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Thanks, Scott! Any chance there is a way to get a copy of that Dolby disc? I imagine it would sound nice even on legacy systems that do a good job of overhead phantom effects. Would be fun to hear, anyway.


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post #17 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 08:45 AM
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How does the sound on the bookshelfs compare to a pair of Paradigm Cinema 100's?
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post #18 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 09:26 AM
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Originally Posted by underminded999 View Post
What if you have a 'popcorn' ceiling or 'stucco' style ceilings? It seems that these would cause all sorts of weird reflection points, no?

I believe Andrew was asked this on his last appearance on Home Theater Geeks. I think he said that it would work with popcorn ceilings, but check that episode to be sure.
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post #19 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 09:26 AM
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It looks like the front speakers have single wires going to them. Does the wire have 2 sets of connectors? or do the atmos speakers only need 1 set of wires?


They each require two sets of connectors.

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post #20 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 09:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by underminded999 View Post
What if you have a 'popcorn' ceiling or 'stucco' style ceilings? It seems that these would cause all sorts of weird reflection points, no?
In the HT Geeks podcast where Scott interviews Andrew Jones about these speakers, the same question is asked. Mr. Jones seemed to indicate that popcorn ceilings wouldn't be a problem.

It seems what works well for Home Atmos is more dispersion and less directivity, so maybe popcorn ceilings would actually help by diffracting specularity.
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post #21 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 09:39 AM
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Thanks for the write-up. I remember LG had a similar system (i.e. with additional, upward-firing drivers) to get what they suggested was '9.1' sound from what otherwise looked like a 5.1 system.

...found the link:

LG BH9230BW




I wonder if we'll be seeing this become more commonplace now that Atmos has (almost) arrived. It didn't seem to be a big draw for the HTIB crowd pre-Atmos, but maybe larger drivers and content created specifically for Atmos will change that.

Fortunately our home theatre setup already incorporates 4 in-ceiling speakers in exactly the locations suggested by Dolby for 7.1.4 (sometimes things just work out!) so we're looking forward to giving Atmos a try in the near future.
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post #22 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 09:48 AM
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How does the sound on the bookshelfs compare to a pair of Paradigm Cinema 100's?
No offense but he would have to have a pair of each to do a valid comparison. If I were you I would just buy a pair of each at a deep discount and sell the pair you don't prefer. Please do a write up for us using several different types of music and several different amps.

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post #23 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:22 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by ss9001 View Post
Thanks, Scott, for the write-up!

By chance, did Chris & Andrew have ceiling mounted's in the room, available for A/B comparisons? If yes, did you notice much difference?
No, not yet, but that is their plan in the near future.

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post #24 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:25 AM
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Perhaps not a valid question for this thread, as it seems this is more a review of these particular speakers, but I am interested to know your (or anyone's) take on Atmos vs. the well treated room.

Basically, if Joe 6 Pack could spend a couple of grand replacing his nice 5.2/7.2 system with all the speakers/AVRs needed for Atmos, or he could spend the same coin on poperly treating his room for music or movies, which would provide better returns?

Personally, I usually find myself sitting in someone's living room thinking to myself how poorly the system is setup and how much the room is limiting the fancy, expensive speakers they are trying to show off. Is Atmos by itself going to significantly improve/overcome this?

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post #25 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:26 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TMcG View Post
It is painter's tape used to re-align the speaker stands quickly to the same calibrated position after being moved.

Anyone else notice the *zero* breathing room Pioneer gave that poor receiver?

@Scott Wilkinson - aside from mounting in-ceiling speakers 3 feet in front and behind the MLP, did Pioneer have any other information as to the recommended type of speaker (aside from timbre-matched with the rest of the speaker system) and any angles? Any recommendations for multiple rows of seating?
Yeah, I was kind of amazed that the AVR had no ventilation, but Chris Walker said it was unnecessary because of the cool-running class D amps. He said nothing about ceiling-mounted speakers other than their placement 3 feet behind and ahead of the listening position (a single row of seating). These are good questions that I will investigate.

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post #26 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:28 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by g_bartman View Post
Thanks for keeping us informed on the cutting edge technology as usual. The Atmos enabled speakers seem to be a good alternative to ceiling mounted speakers for those who can not install them. I would imagine it would be best to install ceiling speakers if feasible?
That's a matter of preference, I think. Andrew Jones actually prefers the upfiring approach over actual ceiling-mounted speakers.

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post #27 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:30 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by underminded999 View Post
What if you have a 'popcorn' ceiling or 'stucco' style ceilings? It seems that these would cause all sorts of weird reflection points, no?
According to Andrew Jones, a popcorn ceiling has little effect on the sound of the upfiring speakers, because the diffusion from such small irregularities is negligible.

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post #28 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:32 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chucka View Post
"The next track was "Dimming of the Day" from Tom Jones' new back-to-his-blues-roots album and downloaded from HDTracks, which sounded a bit harsh to my ears, but that might easily be the recording. Finally, we listened to a bit of "Almost Blue" by Diana Krall; the vocal sounded great, but I thought the piano was a bit congested, especially in the upper bass."


I do hope that these were still Prototypes and that Andrew will be able to tweak these a little in response to these observations.
These observations could well have been due to the recordings rather than the speakers, especially since I didn't hear upper-bass congestion or harshness on everything we listened to.

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post #29 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:34 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KidHorn View Post
It looks like the front speakers have single wires going to them. Does the wire have 2 sets of connectors? or do the atmos speakers only need 1 set of wires?
That photo was taken when we were listening to 2-channel music, so the upfiring speakers were not connected. For Atmos, two sets of speaker cables are required for each speaker.

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post #30 of 82 Old 07-31-2014, 10:36 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hifiaudio2 View Post
Thanks, Scott! Any chance there is a way to get a copy of that Dolby disc? I imagine it would sound nice even on legacy systems that do a good job of overhead phantom effects. Would be fun to hear, anyway.
I doubt it; these discs were made primarily for use at CE Week last month. But I wouldn't be surprised if Dolby makes other demo discs for wider distribution.

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