Airsound vs Atmos: Which Is Best?

21/05/2020

We often get asked how Dolby Atmos compares to Airsound technology, so we asked one of our top technology experts to compare their respective pros and cons and make his own recommendation on which you should buy.

I’ve been in the audio industry for almost 30 years and in that time I’ve both seen and used a multitude of home audio systems. The current range of systems available is vast and it’s no wonder that the average customer can feel completely bemused when they start to look into purchasing a soundbar. With so many of them currently available, one of the most common questions I get asked on a daily basis is, of course, which one is the best. In this article, I’m looking at two of the competing systems; Airsound vs Dolby Atmos.

Dolby Atmos

There is no doubt that Atmos can offer the closest copy to what we would hear in a real cinema, at least from a soundbar, but there are some major issues with Atmos that may not make it the best choice for the average living room.

You will notice that in almost every Atmos image that you ever see, the room is either absolutely massive or more commonly square or rectangular. The television will be in the centre of the room with a single sofa facing directly in front of the television, with a couple of meters of space at the rear of the room from the sofa to the back wall. They show these images because this is the correct configuration of these systems and they only work well in these specific environments.

For Atmos soundbars to work as intended, your room will either need to be square or rectangular and have a flat ceiling no higher than 5 metres tall. Your room also needs to have a central listening position and at least 1 meter worth of space from your sofa to the rear wall. You will need a TV that is capable of sending the Atmos signal to the soundbar via HDMI and you will also need to either subscribe to one of the streaming services that offers Dolby Atmos encoding, or purchase a Blu-Ray player along with the very few Atmos encoded discs that are currently available. It should be noted that at the time of writing, less than 1 percent of films have a Dolby Atmos soundtrack encoded into them, making the whole system quite limited. The other 99 percent of films available can be listened to in a pseudo-surround fashion, but in my opinion this defeats the object of such expensive systems.

When it comes to surround sound, we have seen manufacturers add additional speakers every couple of years and what used to be a mere four channels of audio information has recently turned into twelve channels of audio information with Dolby Atmos systems. Atmos is actually capable of much more than that, but this type of system is still reserved for the very best cinema setups and is not generally within the price range of the majority of people.

Prices start at around £400 for an LG system and go up to a wallet-busting £2,200 for a Sennheiser Ambeo Atmos soundbar. You may find some home audio systems or even phones with an Atmos badge, but beware, some systems sporting the badge aren’t true Atmos - look out for the upward firing speakers to identify true Atmos.

Atmos is an amazing system when you have it set up correctly, but the vast majority of rooms just cannot accommodate this type of set up.

Airsound

Airsound by comparison has none of these issues, as it’s designed to overcome all of the problems with audio positioning. In order to understand the benefits of Airsound technology, first you need to understand the drawbacks of other systems that Airsound is designed to overcome.

For most audio systems to work correctly, all of the sound from the speakers, however many there are, need to hit your ears simultaneously. If one speaker’s sound hits your ears before the others, then your brain will collapse the audio image. This means you’ll completely lose any spatial effect and with it some of the detail in the sound and all of the effects that Atmos systems are designed to produce. So unless you’re sitting in just the perfect position, one of these channels is bound to hit your ears before the others. That’s why when you go to the cinema, it’s best to sit as central as possible in the room.

The second and arguably more important issue with conventional audio is that high frequencies travel in a very linear fashion and the majority of speech frequencies are in the mid to high frequency band. This means that the further you are from the ‘sweet spot’, then the more you lose the high frequencies which carry speech. I have found that the majority of people are far more concerned about hearing what is being said than they are about a car sounding like it's coming from behind them.

I won’t go into too much technical detail here, but Airsound by comparison uses the standard stereo signal produced by all modern TV’s and converts it into a special Airsound signal. The soundbar then uses this signal with both front-firing and side-firing speakers to create a ‘stereo soundscape’ that covers the entire room. This means every listener gets a perfectly balanced stereo sound, no matter where they are in the room.

The beauty of Airsound is that it is the only audio technology in the world that gives you a balanced sound wherever you are in the room, whilst retaining those all important speech frequencies. Airsound also offers a huge cinematic experience with far more depth than traditional stereo systems, whilst producing an almost 3D-like sound to film soundtracks and audio playback alike, but without any of the positioning restrictions of surround sound.

To learn more about Airsound and how it works, click here.

Which is best?

If you can set your room up in just the right configuration for Atmos, then it can be an incredibly satisfying proposition. If you live in a more conventional home, where you want to set your room up however you see fit and you like to watch a variety of content both old and new, then Airsound wins every time. Positioning is key.

To browse products featuring Airsound technology, click here.

By Julian Dapin

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