In the words of Apple, Dolby Atmos creates an immersive, three-dimensional audio experience on stereo headphones and speakers or receivers compatible with Dolby Atmos.
However, many people have noticed that Apple Music Dolby Atmos content sounds bad. In some cases, it’s worse than the stereo version, and other times, it has a lower volume.
If you’re also dealing with this issue, here are some of the things to consider. In this article, let’s shed some light on Apple Music Dolby Atmos and how to maximize its potential.
Enable the Sound Check setting
Whenever the volume level of the Dolby Atmos content on Apple Music sounds lower and seems worse, enable Sound Check to normalize the volume across everything.
Sound Check works perfectly to bring the volume of stereo content down, which is often louder than the Dolby Atmos version, to the Dolby Atmos level, which often sounds weaker.
So when you’re listening to a playlist with mixed content, you’re not being deafened when a stereo track comes on or dealing with overly quiet Atmos tracks after listening to a stereo one.
To turn on Sound Check on your iPhone or iPad, open the Settings app. Then, tap on Music and you should be able to see the Sound Check toggle. Make sure it’s ON.
To turn on Sound Check on your Mac, open Apple Music. In the menu bar, choose Music > Preferences or Music > Settings. Click the Playback tab and turn on Sound Check.
Some think that Sound Check degrades sound quality, but it doesn’t. All it does is set the volume of the entire track up/down as needed so the overall loudness is about average.
Don’t get it mixed up with dynamic range compression (increasing the volume of quiet parts of a song, and decreasing the volume of loud parts of a song) which does change how it sounds.
It’s definitely not perfect (some tracks are still a bit too quiet or loud). But overall it’s quite nice, especially with so much Dolby Atmos content on Apple Music lately.
Use the proper equipment to enjoy Dolby Atmos
Apple Music Dolby Atmos sounds bad and worse than the stereo version because you’re not using the proper equipment. It’s the reason why some songs sound weird and echoey.
Yes, you’ve heard that correctly. Dolby Atmos content on Apple Music won’t sound right even on AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, let alone AirPods or other headphones.
Dolby Atmos content, however, will sound exactly as intended on a proper Dolby Atmos playback system. You need a home theater, or at least an Atmos capable good quality soundbar.
Let me illustrate my point. When you listen to Apple Music Dolby Atmos tracks using a proper home theater system, you will notice the front soundstage open up.
Yes, you will hear sounds and vocals coming from different positions in front – not just left or right or center, but height-wise too (directly above you and around you).
Headphones lack a front soundstage, and they cannot convincingly replicate sounds coming from above, since this whole spatial audio tech relies on “fooling” your brain.
If you’re expecting a stellar Dolby Atmos experience on AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, you will always get a subpar performance, a hit or miss at best. That’s how it is.
It’s actually very simple. If you don’t have a home theater set up, switch the Dolby Atmos toggle off. Dolby Atmos on AirPods Pro just makes the music sound like it’s coming from 50 feet away.
Mono Audio is turned on
If you’re using the proper equipment but Apple Music Dolby Atmos sounds bad and worse than the stereo version, chances are “Mono Audio” is currently enabled on your device.
The Mono Audio is a setting that makes the left and right speakers play the same content. It’s useful when you’re using only one earbud, but it can prevent Dolby Atmos from working.
To make sure that Mono Audio is disabled on your iPhone or iPad, open the Settings app then navigate to Accessibility > Audio/Visual. Make sure Mono Audio is turned OFF.
Now, the audio experience will become much better and you can hear 360° audio. Remember, with Mono Audio turned on, you won’t be able to enjoy the Dolby Atmos experience.
Different artists mix their songs differently
The reason why Dolby Atmos content sounds bad is due to the fact that different artists mix their songs differently. Only a few songs actually sound good, while most of them sound bad.
The majority of Dolby Atmos tracks are produced by throwing the stereo version through spatial filters in order to get some kind of faux separation into the instruments and vocals.
The end result of this process varies drastically. Occasionally, it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. It really shows when audio engineers don’t put much care into a Dolby Atmos mix.
I listened to the “Made for Spatial Audio” playlist and was blown away by the songs on there. They sounded so full of life. Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, and Taylor Swift sounded amazing.
My favorite Dolby Atmos albums are all from The Weeknd so far. “Save Your Tears” was phenomenal and it literally scared me when I heard The Weeknd whispering behind me.
It literally felt like I was in the studio with them. Then, I went to listen to Lady Gaga’s and Ariana Grande’s albums hoping to be blown away by their albums as well, but I was not.
They sounded so unfinished and ugly, kind of like an unmixed demo. The songs on their albums sounded so lifeless in Dolby Atmos and some songs are either too loud, too quiet, or just bad.
We’re still in the early days. And now that Atmos is officially part of Apple Music, I hope the consistency will improve and multidimensional music will not become just another gimmick.