In short: Songs on Apple Music may sound different (weird and echoey) to you because you are probably listening to the Dolby Atmos version without proper equipment.
Do some songs on Apple Music have an artificial wideness to them, unfamiliar placement of vocals and instrumentation, and just sounds weird and “echoey”? Let’s fix it.
1. The Dolby Atmos version is worse than the original
The song you are listening to on Apple Music can sound different (weird and echoey) because you’re probably listening to the Dolby Atmos spatial audio version.
According to the Verge, most of the Dolby Atmos content on Apple Music is hit-or-miss. The spatial audio version of many different songs is an obvious downgrade from the original.
Why? Because Dolby Atmos Music is a relatively new technology.
Dolby Atmos has been around since 2012, but mainly as a film sound format. Dolby Atmos Music, however, was only introduced in 2019.
Apple entered the arena in June 2021 with their “Support for Dolby Atmos” by adding thousands of songs mixed in Dolby Atmos to their Apple Music streaming service.
What is Dolby Atmos spatial audio and how is it made?
Dolby Atmos creates an immersive, three-dimensional audio experience on stereo headphones and speakers or receivers compatible with Dolby Atmos, according to Apple.
In a nutshell, it makes you feel like you’re onstage, standing right next to the singer. It makes you feel like you might be to the left of the guitarist and to the right of the drummer.
To create the Dolby Atmos version, audio engineers need to take the original tracks and create new renditions based on notes from the original mixing sessions of songs.
The problem: Creating a Dolby Atmos version of a song requires precision. The engineer and the artist need to collaborate, with great attention to detail, to create a breathtaking audio track.
When the artist or the engineer has a profound understanding of the format involved, the results can be transformative in the best way possible. If not, then it’s a disaster.
It really shows when audio engineers don’t put much care into a Dolby Atmos mix. The spatial audio version of many different songs is an obvious downgrade from the original.
Because right now, for every Dolby Atmos spatial audio track that sounds amazing on Apple Music, there are dozens that are an obvious downgrade from the original (stereo version).
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.
Solution: turn off Dolby Atmos
When you download the Dolby Atmos version of a song, the stereo version is downloaded too. I recommend turning off Dolby Atmos and listening to the stereo version of the song instead.
You can turn off Dolby Atmos on Apple Music by going to Settings, then tapping Music. Under Audio, tap Dolby Atmos, then choose Off. Now, you will only listen to the stereo version.
2. Not using the proper equipment for Dolby Atmos
Even if you are listening to an excellent Dolby Atmos track, but you are not using the proper equipment, then the song will still sound different in a bad way.
Without proper equipment, the Dolby Atmos version you listen to on Apple Music will probably come out differently from the version the audio engineer listens to.
Without Atmos-enabled headphones, Dolby Atmos tracks have an artificial wideness to them, unfamiliar placement of vocals and instrumentation, and just sounds weird and “echoey”.
Typically, you’ll need either a 5.1 speaker setup, a 7.1 speaker setup, or a soundbar.
A 5.1 system tends to have three speakers at the front with two at the back of the room or on its sides, while a 7.1 system adds a couple of extra speakers to the mix.
Most people do not actually have such a listening environment. If you have been listening to Dolby Atmos tracks using mediocre equipment, then it’s probably why the music sounds weird.
Solution: buy proper equipment
Ideally, you’ll need to buy specific equipment to listen to Dolby Atmos tracks. If you want to dive deeper into what speakers you need to use for Dolby Atmos at home, you can learn it here.
If you’ve bought a TV after 2020, many of them support Dolby Atmos.
While using TV speakers is never as effective as having a room full of speakers or a dedicated setup, it can be a good alternative for listening to Dolby Atmos if your budget is tight.
Want a more personal touch? Some headphones can provide a similar experience to a home speaker setup as long as they have the technology to reproduce the content in 360 degrees.
3. You’ve changed your Music settings
Did you make changes to your Music settings recently? You may have changed it once before and forgot to change it. It’s probably why some songs sound different on Apple Music.
For example, you’ve probably played around with the EQ settings on Apple Music. This can change how a track sounds. Or maybe, you’ve enabled the “Sound Check” feature.
Solution: check your Music settings
I recommend checking your Music settings. If you want to reset everything to default, turn off EQ. You also need to deselect the Sound Check feature. Here’s how:
- Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.
- Scroll down and tap Apple Music.
- Scroll down again and tap EQ.
On the EQ page, browse the different options for various music genres. If you’ve never set up EQ for Apple Music on your device in the past, EQ will be turned off.
You can play around with the EQ settings while listening to a song so you can listen to how each EQ selection affects how it sounds. Or, you can turn it off to reset everything to default.
Next, go back to the Music page and deselect Sound Check.
Sound Check is a feature that adjusts the loudness between different songs to play at the same volume. This is because some songs are created louder than others.
For example, some stereo songs sound louder than Dolby Atmos songs.
You want to disable the Sound Check feature so every song on Apple Music plays in its original “loudness” and sounds the way it should, without Apple tampering with the track.