Prepare to be immersed!
Although Dolby Atmos is still relatively new as a domestic format, enough Blu-ray discs have been released for us to give you our current top ten.For those that may be unfamiliar with Dolby Atmos, it is one of three competing audio formats that use additional speakers to create a more immersive surround experience. It was initially launched in the cinema over four years ago and to date there are more than 200 film titles mixed using the format. Dolby Atmos is an object-based system and in the cinema utilises more speakers around the sides and rear, additional subwoofers and two rows of overhead speakers.
The domestic version was launched in 2014 and follows the same basic principles but reduces the number of speakers to something that is more practical for use in the home. There is the choice of either a 5.1 or 7.1 surround configuration with two or four speakers positioned overhead and you can find out more here. Since Dolby realise that installing two or four downward-firing speakers to the ceiling might be difficult, they also offer the choice of upward-firing speakers that bounce sounds off the ceiling.
However in the home cinema we use for reviewing Dolby Atmos encoded Blu-rays and testing Dolby Atmos capable AV receivers and processors we have a full 7.2.4 setup with three speakers at the front, two subwoofers at the front, two speakers at the side, two speakers at the rear and four downward-firing speakers overhead. We have reviewed the majority of Dolby Atmos encoded Blu-rays released to date and here is a list of the best so far.
American Sniper was nominated for Academy Awards in both Sound Mixing and Sound Editing and it quite deservedly won for the latter. The sound designers are getting better at creating mixes that completely immerse the viewer by moving objects around in three-dimensional space, drawing you into the movie. This is especially true of the sniper sequences when the POV moves to Kyle's scope and the audio almost tunnels around you, as if you're inside the scope. It's a subtle but highly effective approach, as is the deliberate use of dynamic range as scenes cut from Iraq to the US and back again. The general sense of the acoustical space of an environment is also wonderfully captured, making each location feel completely real. The bass extension is also impressive, not just with obvious effects like tanks and explosions but also with the gunfire. Even though the guns sometimes have suppressors on them, there's still a low-end kick to remind you how powerful the ordinance is and their affect on the human body. However it's the climatic sandstorm that makes American Sniper such a stand-out Atmos soundtrack, as all the speakers and the subs burst into life, completely enveloping you and making the entire sequence remarkably visceral.
You can buy American Sniper here
Having seen Everest at the cinema, we knew we were in for a treat and the Dolby Atmos-encoded Blu-ray certainly didn't disappoint. The sound designers take full advantage of the object-based capabilities of Atmos to create a completely believable soundstage that really adds to the veracity of the film. Like the narrative itself, the sound design slowly builds creating an utterly believable sense of location that works perfectly with the equally impressive visuals. As the climbers ascend the mountain, so the soundtrack builds, adding more audio cues from the wind constantly moving around the entire soundstage to the footsteps crunching snow to the ice creaking and cracking. However once the storm arrives, the sound design goes into overdrive, utilising all the speakers and totally immersing you in both the environment and the climbers' ordeal. Not only do all the channels get a thorough workout but so will your subwoofer, with plenty of bass extension to rattle your room. However in amongst all this chaos the dialogue remains clear, allowing you to remain engaged with the characters even as the film puts you as close to the summit of Everest as you'll probably ever want to be.
You can buy Everest here
Game of Thrones - Season 2
Game of Thrones has been breaking records since it was first aired but with the steelbook re-release of the first season on Blu-ray it passed a new milestone by becoming the first TV series ever to be re-mixed in Dolby Atmos. As with the first season, the new Dolby Atmos soundtrack for the second is a revelation, elevating what was already a superb sound design to another level. The added overhead channels and the object-based design of the mix simply give every scene a greater sense of environment, it's as if the walls of the room just disappear and you are standing on the frozen wastes of the north or down in the bustling streets of King's Landing. The addition of dragons is a sound designer's dream and they take full advantage of the added dimensionality of Dolby Atmos to breathe life into Deanerys's 'children'. However it's the Battle of Blackwater Bay where the sound design goes for broke, filling the soundstage with massive explosions, raining debris, flying arrows and clashing swords. The lower frequencies get a serious workout but in amongst the chaos of war, the dialogue and music always remain clear. The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a triumph of audio design and simply makes the best show on TV even better.
You can buy Game of Thrones - Season 2 here
If ever a film was custom made for Atmos, it's Gravity with its highly directional sound design.Gravity
If ever there was a film that was tailor-made for Atmos it's Gravity. The highly directional nature of the film's sound design meant that an object-based approach was essential to truly do justice to the filmmaker's intentions. The film was re-issued on Blu-ray with an Atmos soundtrack and despite the annoyance of a double-dip, the experience was worth the additional expense. From the opening single-take sequence, as the characters voices follow them around in three dimensional space, you know you're in for a treat. As Sandra Bullock's character tumbles into space, you can hear Georg Clooney's voice spinning around you, which totally immerses you in the astronaut's terrifying ordeal. When inside the space craft, you hear the sounds of the buckling metal all around you and during the fire on the ISS the flames completely engulf you. The film often takes the character's point-of-view and so sounds are deliberately positioned as they would be if you were floating through a space station yourself. The normal 5.1-channel soundtrack on the original Blu-ray release of Gravity is excellent but the Atmos version is a revelation and if you have a suitably equipped system it's an essential purchase.
You can buy Gravity here
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
The Blu-ray release of penultimate Hunger Games film comes with a great sounding Dolby Atmos soundtrack. There are the more obvious effects with hover craft flying overhead and sounds being accurately steered around the room, creating a genuine sense of immersion. However, there are plenty of scenes where the sound designers take full advantage of the additional channels to really place you in the scene. When entering a hover craft or when they take off and land, the sounds completely surround you in highly realistic sense. A scene where Katniss and Gale are out hunting allows the Atmos mix to make you feel totally immersed in the forest. However the stand-out scene is the bombing of District 13, where the sounds of explosions come from overhead, making you feel that you are down in those tunnels with the protagonists. The LFE is also every well employed during these scenes, rocking the foundations of the room but always feeling perfectly integrated into the rest of the sound mix. Although despite all these effects and this low-end action, the centre channel always remains focused, keeping dialogue clear.
You can buy The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 here
This film proves that sound designers are becoming more creative when using the object-based capabilities of the Dolby Atmos format. For the majority of Insurgent the overhead speakers are deliberately used sparingly to provide atmosphere and, in one particular scene, directional effects where attackers are firing from a position above the protagonists. There's also an effective scene where the action alternates between Kate Winslet talking to Tris and what she hears over loud speakers within the room she's trapped in. However once we enter the test simulations that make up the last thirty minutes of the film, the entire sound field bursts into life. The use of all the speakers completely envelopes you, along with Tris, in the virtual reality and gives the sequences a 'hyper-real' sense of immersion. The bass effects are also incredibly low, really shaking the foundations as entire cityscapes collapse around you. And yet, amongst all these effects the dialogue remains clear and the musical score is deftly interwoven. Insurgent isn't the best use of Atmos we've heard but it certainly helps to enhance an otherwise rather mediocre film.
You can buy Insurgent here
In much the same way as John Wick is a masterclass in action choreography, the Atmos soundtrack is a shining example of what a more immersive sound design can really achieve. Almost as soon as the film starts a helicopter flies directly overhead and then there's a rain soaked funeral with raindrops falling down from above you. Once the action kicks off the entire sound field springs into life with gunshots echoing around the room and zinging past your head. The object-based approach to the sound mix means that effects are steered around in three dimensional space, whether that's in front, to the side, at the rear or above you. In terms of ambience the addition of overhead channels gives environments a far more realistic presence and sounds often come from where they are in the film. So for example, in the shoot-out in the nightclub the music is coming from the speakers above, just as they are in the actual environment. In another scene two characters are talking underneath an elevated railway and you can hear the trains rumbling overhead. However despite the complex nature of the sound design itself, dialogue always remains clear and focused to the action on screen. The bass is equally effective, integrating into the rest of the mix perfectly and underpinning every gunshot, punch or car crash, giving the action the visceral impact that it needs. The Atmos soundtrack on John Wick is a reference performance that compliments and enhances your enjoyment of the film itself - absolutely stunning.
You can buy John Wick here
The film is chock full of dazzling visuals and frenetic action sequences, giving the sound designers the freedom to fully utilise the overhead speakers. As a result Jupiter Ascending is probably the most comprehensive Atmos soundtrack we have reviewed to date, with the overhead speakers constantly being used to create ambience, enhance the action and completely immerse the viewer. During the numerous 'gravity boot' chase sequences, the various spaceships frequently fly overhead, whilst laser blasts zip past you and explosions rip through the room. It isn't just the action sequences that benefit, a pivotal scene with bees allows the sound designers to move the buzzing insects around in a 360-degree space, whilst in another scene a computer voice is heard from directly overhead. Later in the film some characters are held prisoner beneath a see-through floor and their captors footfalls can be heard overhead. Michael Giacchino's score is also well served by the immersive soundtrack; whilst the low frequency effects provide real presence to the larger space ships, thunderstorms, explosions and the finale that takes place inside Jupiter's Great Red Spot. At times the Dolby Atmos soundtrack can be almost overwhelming because there's so much going on but there's no doubt it fully replicates the Wachowskis' artistic intentions.
You can buy Jupiter Ascending here
Mad Max: Fury Road
Just as the film's visuals are a relentless feast for your eyeballs, so Mad Max: Fury Road's Dolby Atmos soundtrack is an equally merciless sonic assault on your aural senses. This is easily one of the best and most immersive Atmos soundtracks released to date and really demonstrates what can be achieved with today's immersive sound designs. In much the same way as the 3D largely avoids gimmicks to create a realistic dimensional experience visually, so the sound designers have done something similar to create a wonderfully layered sonic experience. Although there are instances where the sound design does draw attention to itself, for the most part it concentrates on utterly immersing you in the world of Max, Furiosa and Immorten Joe. As you watch the film you're aware of being surrounded by a hemisphere of sound, from the gentle wind of the deserts during the film's rare moments of respite, to the roaring dust storm that totally envelops you. The sounds of the vehicles completely fill the room, with the low frequency roar of the engines sounding frighteningly realistic. The explosions, gunfire and other sonic mayhem are all rendered with wonderful precision, whilst dialogue always remains clear and distinct. The percussive score drives the film along at a breathless pace and is perfectly reproduced with superb clarity, making Mad Max: Fury Road one of the best overall soundtracks we've ever heard. So put away your copies of Gravity because there's a new Atmos demo disc in town!
You can buy Mad Max: Fury Road here
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
From the opening pre-credit sequence the Dolby Atmos soundtrack delivers a totally immersive experience. The sounds of the wind and the deep bass roar of the engines are all around you as you find yourself hanging on the outside of the plane, along with Tom Cruise. The same is true of the break-in sequence, where you find yourself totally submerged in the underwater computer storage tank and the robotic arms sweep overhead. Both sequences are excellent examples of how a modern object-based soundtrack can completely immerse you in the scene, creating a wonderfully visceral audio experience. The Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation soundtrack is a stand-out example and it doesn't stop there. The car and bike chase is equally as thrilling and the soundtrack places you right in the middle of the action. As a biker rolls over the top of the car, the sounds literally go overhead, taking full advantage of the additional speakers, as does a scene where a car rolls over and over. The explosions also have a fantastic low frequency impact and this extends to the suppressed thud of the silenced guns. However it isn't just the action sequences that benefit from the soundtrack, locations have a real sense of atmosphere, dialogue is crystal clear (even Sean Harris's annoying whispering delivery) and the music is beautifully rendered. In short, the Dolby atoms soundtrack is pure demo quality from beginning to end.
You can buy Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation here
Roger Waters The Wall
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack for this Blu-ray release is simply stunning, easily the best sounding concert movie we've ever heard. Pink Floyd and Roger Waters have a long history of superior sound quality at their concerts and they've been using quadrophonic sound since the seventies, so it's no surprise that Waters embraced Atmos for this film. However he also understands how to use it to its full advantage, creating a highly immersive audio experience. The show itself has been brilliantly recorded, so every instrument is clearly heard within the mix, as are the vocals and crowd noises. The show features loads of effects, which are also expertly reproduced in the Atmos mix, whether that's explosions around you, fireworks going off above you or planes flying overhead. The bass is thunderous and perfectly integrated into the overall sound design, to deliver an experience that is as close as possible to actually being at the show. The road trip sequences are deliberately more subtly and dominated predominately by dialogue but there are plenty of atmospheric effects from the gentle sounds of the now peaceful battlefields and graveyards to some nice thunder when a friend of Waters recounts a story of being hit by a possibly imagined lightning bolt. However it's the dynamic range of the mix that really impresses, especially near the beginning as Waters plays his trumpet at the Somme war memorial and the opening chords of 'In the Flesh' come crashing in. Later in the show a tube train pulls up along the entire length of the wall and then gunshots go off in one of the carriages. It's a reference to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by armed police back in 2005; we see the inside of the darkened carriage light up and, when the gunshots ring out, you'll be jumping out of your seat. Roger Waters knows how to make a point and deliver a spectacular live show at the same time but as this disc also proves, he also knows how to replicate the experience at home - simply awesome.
You can buy Roger Waters The Wall hereRoger Waters The Wall is quite simply the best sounding concert movie that we've ever heard.San Andreas
Whilst we genuinely believe that an Atmos soundtrack could even benefit a romantic comedy, and almost proved the point with The Age of Adaline, it's obvious that a film about helicopters, earthquakes and tsunamis is tailor-made for the format. So it proved with San Andreas, which delivered a fantastic Dolby Atmos sound mix that matches the best we have heard to date. The sound designers very cleverly don't play all their Atmos aces too early, allowing the soundtrack to build as the earthquakes escalate. So whilst there's plenty of surround and overhead action in the opening rescue and the destruction of Hoover Dam gives your subwoofer a workout, the fully immersive nature of the soundtrack becomes apparent as the stakes are raised. In a scene where a character is trapped in a car in an underground garage, the sound comes from all around and completely places you inside that car. As Los Angeles and then San Francisco are levelled, the sound design kicks up a gear, with debris crashing all around and above you. When a giant tsunami hits and the characters are underwater, it's another chance for the sound to completely immerse you. As you'd expect from a film that centres on a helicopter pilot, it gives the sound designers plenty of chances for fly-overs and the low frequencies used during the earthquakes will shake your room as well. However despite all the chaos and destruction, dialogue always remains crystal clear and the music has a chance to add impact during the more dramatic scenes. There's no doubt that San Andreas will be on many an AV enthusiast's demo list and one thing's for sure - by the end you'll be dropping, covering and holding on for dear life!
You can buy San Andreas here
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
This seasonal episode of the popular series was mixed in Dolby Atmos for a countrywide cinema screening, that was held simultaneously with the BBC1 broadcast, and the sound designers have taken full advantage of their new toy box. Sherlock has always had a very active and decidedly amped up sound design and this new mix takes it to the next level. The all-important dialogue remains anchored to the front three channels and is both clear and well balanced. Whilst the musical score is equally as well rendered, filling out the front soundstage and often moving to the sides and above as well. There are plenty of bass moments that punctuate the narrative; whilst the use of surround effects is just as impressive. A scene where the disembodied voice of 'The Bride' moves around the entire 360 degree soundstage is highly effective and the sound designers also take advantage of the overhead speakers to immerse you in the period drama. In fact the sound design plays an important part within the story itself and is frequently used for scene transitions; sometimes in a very obvious way and other times in a more subtle way that might be missed on a first viewing. Although Game of Thrones might have been the first TV series to be re-mixed in Dolby Atmos, Sherlock is the first to be originally mixed in the format and it definitely pays dividends; adding to the overall viewing experience and ushering in a new era of TV production.
You can buy Sherlock: The Abominable Bride here
This Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a near perfect example of how to effectively use the added freedom the format provides to enhance the viewing experience. From the opening shots, as the percussive score slowly builds, there is a sense of growing dread. The mix puts you right inside a SWAT van as it approaches a target's house, adding to the feeling of building tension, and an explosion early on will blast through your lounge. The brief moments of gunfire are suitably realistic, with a physical kick that you would get from genuine ordinance and an audible sense of bullets hitting bodies and walls. This soundtrack is all about dynamic range, going from silence to chaos in a heartbeat and creating a sonic impact that is highly effective. A firefight inside a series of tunnels is especially impressive as the added overhead speakers completely immerse you in the claustrophobic environment; shots echo around you and sand seeps down from above your head. There are also a number of excellent helicopter flyovers, always a great effect for a sound designer to add to a mix and something that Atmos is especially good at representing. However amongst all this the dialogue is clear and centred whilst the score weaves in and out of the mix like a heartbeat, adding to the tension in an incredibly effective manner. The film also manages to add plenty of subtle atmospheric touches and a scene where birds fly from the front left to right speakers via the front overhead speakers is very effective. The ultimate result is that Sicario has a soundtrack that perfectly matches the already stunning picture and is demo quality.
You can buy Sicario here
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the first Blu-ray released with an Atmos soundtrack and whatever you may think about the film itself, the soundtrack is state-of-the-art. In fact at times it is simply breathtaking as the film's sound designers deliver one of the most immersive surround experiences we have ever heard. From the opening shot as spacecraft literally fly overhead to the cacophonous battle in Hong Kong at the end, the positioning of objects within the mix is incredible. The effects are easy to pinpoint, even in all the chaos, whilst pans around the room feel completely seamless. The level of bass energy is simply frightening at times but everything still feels balanced and dialogue is always clear. Whilst we would expect the action scenes to impress, what's really good to hear is that even in the (few) quieter moments of the film, the Atmos encoding can still add value with an early scene in a cinema having a very realistic sense of location and atmosphere (pun intended). Transformers: Age of Extinction was the first Atmos disc to show the full potential of the new format and it remains one of the best.
You can buy Transformers: Age of Extinction here
Whilst the basic Dolby TrueHD core of the Terminator Genisys is excellent, those that are able to enjoy the full immersive experience are in for a treat. The Blu-ray boasts a superb Atmos mix that immediately plunges the viewer into the middle of the action. The opening nuclear salvoes that herald the arrival of Judgement Day will give your entire system a serious workout but especially any subwoofers as San Francisco gets flattened. After that it's into the future war sequences with Hunter-Killers flying overhead and explosions all around you. The cavernous chamber where the time displacement equipment is housed allows for plenty of echoes to create a sense of a physical space, whilst the time travel itself is equally as enveloping. After that the soundtrack keeps pace with the non-stop action and whether it's acid pouring down from above or school buses flipping through the air, the object-based audio really delivers. Despite the mix being so active, the musical score remains distinct and dialogue is always clear and precise, resulting in a hugely enjoyable Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
You can buy Terminator Genisys here
Unbroken was one of the first Atmos encoded Blu-rays to fully demonstrate the potential of an object-based and three-dimensional sound mix. The opening bombing raid is a superb piece of sound design, making you feel that you are in the planes with the crew. There are rattles all round you and the constant low frequency drone of the engines. Then the flack starts, exploding in a three-dimensional space around the room before Japanese Zeros all start flying around you, including overhead. Then the gunners start firing and the sub kicks up a gear and bullets tear through the fuselage and your home cinema. All this took place in the first ten minutes of Unbroken but already it was one of the best and most visceral surround mixes we had ever experienced. Later in the film the protagonist is strafed by a Japanese plane whilst in the water and again the sound mix totally immerses you, whilst the fire-bombing of Tokyo is a terrifying ordeal. There are numerous instances of planes flying overhead, a flare explodes far above you and the sounds of the jungle surround you, making Unbroken a surprisingly immersive audio experience.
You can buy Unbroken here
There you have it, the best Dolby Atmos encoded Blu-rays released to date but we will periodically update the list as and when new titles come out. So what are you waiting for, isn't it time you upgraded to Dolby Atmos and started enjoying a more immersive audio experience?
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