Anyone who enjoys wine knows that it is extremely difficult to describe with words the complex taste of a fine cabernet. In order to even attempt it, one must first develop an acute sense of taste, then set out to define a widely understood vocabulary that can effectively communicate the “taste” to many different people.
The wine industry has tried for decades to develop such a language for the assessment and rating of wines, but anyone who has ever read the descriptions of the same wine by two different reviewers knows that they will invariably end up describing the flavor profile using completely different terms, leaving the reader with little real understanding of the wines complex flavor.
The consumer audio industry, too, often finds itself in the position of having to convey an experience that is difficult to summarize in words.
Sure, it’s possible to convey a generalized description, but there is no adequate way to communicate the total aural experience; like the taste of a complex wine, the situation is just far too nuanced to describe effectively.
The Demo is a Dealer's Best Friend
One advantage that professional integrators have in trying to communicate the fun of audio and home theater is a system demonstration. Well designed system demos can engage and entertain consumers in ways that product brochures and standard sales presentations simply can't.
Before beginning a demonstration at the PRO Experience Center, I like to start by describing the way that the new object-based immersive audio formats work and how they differ from the legacy channel-based formats.
This is valuable in giving listeners an understanding of what is happening in the immersive audio mix, as well as how it’s happening, so that they can draw from that knowledge during live demonstrations.
For context, the legacy formats sounds were mixed to audio “channels,” so as listeners we are conditioned to think of the soundtrack mixes this way. However, the object-oriented formats represent a new paradigm – during mixing, the sound engineer can place sound “objects” anywhere within the listening hemisphere, independent of the audio system channel (or loudspeaker) locations.
During decoding and playback, these sound “objects” are then “rendered” into the correct location using all the loudspeakers available to the decoder.
Since this notion of “rendering sound” is entirely new, I find it helpful to give listeners an analogy with which they can relate. The analogy I suggest is to think of the speakers within an immersive audio system as a photo or video.
The more pixels you have available, the higher the resolution the final image will be. In object-based immersive audio, the more speakers you have available to render the sound objects, the more highly resolved and more precisely located the sound objects will be.
Inside the Demo
After the listeners have a basic understanding of immersive audio, I use a collection of format trailers to demonstrate and discuss object-based surround sound.
These Dolby Atmos trailers include “Audiosphere” (visualization of the listening hemisphere), “Amaze” (atmosphere), “Leaf” (localization) and “Horizon” (dynamics).
Finally, I play a couple of movie clips. Carefully choosing movie content that is involving, I find the opening bombing sequence from the film “Unbroken” to provide a nice, real-world application of object-based surround sound. In addition to being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing and Editing, I think the sound designers deserve praise for what they have achieved with this soundtrack.
Enveloped by mechanical and explosive sounds, viewers feel like they are in the movie — inside the plane with their comrades, carrying out their respective jobs in an impossible World War II fight scenario.
Other good soundtracks include clips from “Mad Max,” “Everest” and “San Andreas,” but just about every month there are new Dolby Atmos movie releases that seem to be getting better.
For music, tracks from “Roger Waters: The Wall” demonstrate how object-based formats enhance the concert video experience.
The Bottom Line
As audio professionals, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the audio is there to serve the movie or the music, and not the other way around. Immersive audio is not just about mimicking the sound of a mosquito flying around your head or water dripping from above, it’s about awakening all of your senses and making you feel as if you are in the movie or at the concert.
Today's generation of object-based surround sound stimulates human emotion like no home audio technology has ever done before and it's this sensation that dealers should be communicating to clients through the power of the demo.