51 theatrical mix better than nearfield Atmos?
I spent a great deal of time and money overseeing the design and construction of my dream theatre. It has been up and running for about 8 months. It took me a while to come to the following conclusion but I feel pretty confident in saying: if given a choice, I think I would take the theatrical 51 mix over the home theatre (nearfield) Atmos mix.
Some older Blu-rays with content from the late 90’s into the mid 2000’s often came with straight 51 transfers of the theatrical printmaster (no nearfield). Those sound better in my room than modern 51 (nearfield) mixes. I watched Taken 3 a couple of nights ago and it had a 51 mix that was “uncompressed” DTS HD MA. But it was obviously thinned out for the home and I’m not sure it sounded much better than streaming. Tonight I watched the Olive BD release of Dark Blue (a mid budget cop drama from 2002) and it sounded better than Taken 3. A couple weeks back, I watched the Atmos track on the 4K Infinity War disc. I also had a straight 51 theatrical trailer for Infinity War that I believe came from an unencrypted DCP. Sure, the Atmos had some sound over my head which was fun. But the trailer with the full 51 from theatres was WAY fuller. It sounded great and the feature felt anemic compared to the trailer.
In case you’re about to tell me that all modern Disney discs sound bad: the other thing that really made this difference clear were the recent Chris Nolan 4K discs. He talked up going back to the 51 theatrical printmaster for the 4Ks instead of the (nearfield) 51 used on the previous Blu-rays. At first, I read some trusted review sites that said they couldn’t hear much of a difference so I was skeptical. But I finally got around to picking up the Batman 4K discs and when I gave them a spin, the difference in the sound (compared to the previous BDs) was night and day.
So I guess I’m wondering if anybody else feels this way? Obviously, I’d rather have theatrical Atmos! But if I had to pick, I’d take theatrical 51 over nearfield Atmos any day of the week.
Can't confirm that as a genral rule.
There are very good 5.1 mixes as well as there are very goog Atmos mixes.
And there are very good theatrical mixes as well as very good near field mixes.
I'd never say I'd prefer one to the other across the board.
Always depends on the qualitiy of the individual mix.
Like SkyCyberguy said, every mix is different. I felt the same way regarding 7.1 vs 5.1. For me, it was like this:
Soundbar --> LCR setup = big, noticeable change in dynamics and imaging coming from the front
LCR setup --> 5.1 surround setup = big, noticeable change with new channels on the sides really helped with immersion
5.1 surround setup --> 6.1 surround setup = small, but still noticeable change for content with true rear audio content
6.1 surround setup --> 7.1 surround setup = small, but less noticeable change because now the sides/rear blend together better
Even with the BEST 7.1 surround content, I still didn't feel a lot of benefit from it, but therein lies the entire issue. The goal of more speakers is to immerse yourself in the content without noticing that the audio is coming from any one specific channel. That's when I had to admit to myself that I was chasing after a different goal - in my head, the less I could distinguish the channels, the less excited it made me. I was watching movies and worrying about whether or not there was any audio coming from speaker #5 , etc. rather than focusing on the balance. I'm building my third home theater setup now (planning stages) and I am targeting a 9.2.4 setup, but this time I will spend a lot more time fine-tuning it for the room rather than worrying about mixes. Mixes are all so varied and variable that I figure the best I can do is build something that gives me flexibility (and a metric-f***-ton of bass LOL).
It's like the first time I played a PC game demo for Aureal3D audio and was blown away by the sound moving around me... but in actual games I was so focused on playing the games that the surround sound effect sort of disappeared from the mind. Trailers are designed to be bombastic and attention-grabbing demos, not representative content (especially where Disney is concerned).
My first question would be is there proper synergy in the room? By that I mean, the best we can do is create a room that will faithfully reproduce what is on the disc/stream and emulates the benchmark experience in the mixing stage or superb commercial theater. That requires more objectivity that subjectivity, but there is often some tweaking necessary to emulate that experience. It means you kind of have to have a target/objective/outcome to "engineer." I'm big on that engineered outcome. "Engineered" meaning designing and executing a reasonably friendly acoustic environment, choosing speakers that will cover your seat or area smoothly (no lobing), LF that is smooth across the area with plenty of headroom, and very good EQ/calibration (xt32 with the Editor App emulating the Harman/Synthesis target curve). Emulating the Harman/Synthesis Curve and Dynamic EQ are the two things that I use/endorse to help adapt the big room experience to our smaller rooms. This way you know that whatever is played in the room will be faithful to the disc media/mix. If you happen to not like what you hear on this or that movie, you can criticize the mix rather than worry about your system. If you frequently tinker with your system to satisfy your subjective opinion of the mix, make sure you have stored your work so you can restore the calibration.
It helps if you have a strong memory of a benchmark like a superb commercial theater (or lots of them). I find this necessary in the final verification listening. Some tweaking of trim levels may be in order for surrounds in this verification of the calibration results using the test tones and program content that you know very well. Sometimes -75dBc in all the surrounds sounds a little off due to various influences in the room. Go with what sounds equal to you at the MLP with surrounds. This will only be small adjustments from what renders -75dBc.
This can all add up to a lot of work. If you have a Denon/Marantz, save your work/configuration to a thumb drive and back it up. This way you can restore all your work if something goes amiss. Also save your work in the Editor App.
This approach is the ticket to relaxing and allowing yourself to become immersed in the movie, not JUST the technology. Fun stuff!
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