All About Atmos – a guide for MEs. Part 4

Seemingly out of nowhere, Atmos has become one of the most talked about formats. But if you haven’t worked in film audio, or have been burnt previously by investing in surround for audio, it can seem all a bit bewildering. 

In Part 3 we looked at what you need to setup an Atmos room. In this final part, we’re looking at how to setup an Atmos room to do Atmos and stereo mastering.


This is part 2. Click on the links to go straight to the other parts, or keep on reading 🙂

About Atmos -Part 1 : Atmos basics

  • What is it and how does it work?
  • Beds and objects
  • Atmos, 7.1, 5.1, Stereo and binaural
  • How do you master an Atmos mix?

About Atmos -Part 2 : What is the role of a ME in an Atmos mix?

  • Music or Video?
  • Stem mastering
  • ITB or Analogue chains
  • Back to school

About Atmos -Part 3 : Setting up an Atmos room

  • Rooms & Speakers
  • DAWs and other kit
  • Monitoring

About Atmos -Part 4 : Integrating a stereo room with Atmos

  • What to think about
  • Crookwood solutions

Part 4 : Integrating a stereo room with Atmos

So we’ve seen how Atmos works and how film and video guys use the gear.  So what about ME’s?

The first option for you to to make a new dedicated Atmos Room.

A new, dedicated Atmos Room

Because you’re starting afresh, and aren’t worrying about stereo work, it pretty straightforward:

  • Kit the room out with decent but affordable speakers, perhaps ÂŁ10-15K worth of Genelecs or similar.
  • Buy a ProTools rig with a MTRX or MTRX studio or a networked Merging Pyramix plus Anubus, Hapi and Mac Mini running Dolby Mastering Renderer
  • Buy some plugins and do everything ITB

The audio quality in these inbuilt convert boxes is decent, certainly good enough for you to work with Atmos sessions, and the all in one approach means that you’ll be in good company, with lots of forums and support because all the film & post guys use this type of setup.

Morphing your existing stereo room

This is a more realistic route for most people where you’ll have a solid stereo set of clients, but also some Atmos ones.  You need to be able to flexibly move between both types of work, plus add some extra value to the Atmos jobs to illustrate your specific ME skills.

There are of course some issues that will arrive:

  • Your rooms may not be suitable for 9 more large speakers
  • The room is sonically setup for a flat response, not a Dolby room curve
  • The video screens and nearfields may get in the way of the extra speakers
  • Typically, you have a pair of expensive mains.  It is not feasible to mount or pay for another 9 of these for an Atmos set, but we want to retain them for stereo work
  • You also have some nearfields and possibly mono type check speakers
  • You may have invested in some digital room EQ that we’d like to use for Atmos as well
  • If we have subs, we likely have at least two to get a good even bass response. Each one may have different processing on them
  • You’d like to be able to process a stereo bed through your best analogue gear and record back into the Atmos mix
  • Ideally you’d like to be able to pick and choose some of your individual pieces of gear and insert them into beds or objects to process them too
  • You’ve carefully optimised your system at a component level, and don’t want to use a “one ring to rule them all” solution
  • Most multichannel interfaces have multiple analogue outs, not AES, so you can’t easily use your favourite converters

Solutions

First things first – is your room suitable.  This means big enough to support the extra speakers, and most importantly, the overhead ones.  If not, you’re really back to the drawing board.  You can work in a smaller room, but it’s not ideal from a quality monitoring basis.

Ok, room sorted.  You’ve now got two speaker options.

Speakers

  1. Use your existing main stereo speakers for L&R and buy 9 more of the same or
  2. Accept that this won’t work financially, logistically or physically, and purchase a new specific Atmos set of speakers

In addition, what do you want to do with the LFE channel/ speakers? 

LFE stands for “Low Frequency Effects”, and the clue is in the name.  It’s for dinosaur movements, planes taking off and asteroids crashing into the earth: it’s not intended for music, cos the other speakers are full range (well 40Hz).

However, if you have them, there’s a good chance you’ve setup your subs to fill in the last octave 20 – 40, or 20 – 60Hz to augment your stereo mains to cope with heavy electronic bass or pipe organs.  You may have used a bass manger, a room EQ or the subs filters to do this. In this case, the LFE can be usefully re-purposed for music, with some filtering of LF into it to make full use of the subs.

Crookwood Atmos Add Ons

The missing part is how to easily interface your stereo setup to a multichannel Atmos room.

We’ve added some Atmos add on features to our monitor controllers, and mastering consoles to overcome all of these niggling interface issues and let you work with Atmos and stereo in the same room. You can now toggles between Stereo and Atmos modes, switching and rerouting all your gear, and also provides a solid quality audio interface/ monitor control for Atmos work.

We can provide these add ons to any of our stereo or surround monitor controllers, or mastering consoles:

  • Speaker switches – move speakers between a stereo controller, or an Atmos controller
  • Full 12-16 channel Atmos precision analogue volume control add on
  • Routing to use our inbuilt mastering grade headphone amp for binaural work
  • AES routing with associated analogue switching, so you can use your preferred mastering monitor DACs, rather than the commercial ones included in the DAWs multichannel interface
  • Digital or analogue room EQ control as you switch between speakers and Atmos and stereo, and stereo sub management
  • Insert routing to let you process Atmos stereo objects, using your normal stereo processors

Speaker switching for stereo controllers

We can add additional speaker switching, so you can move your main or alt stereo speakers between your stereo controller and the Atmos controller. This lets you use the same speaker for both jobs, without having to patch them manually.

Atmos Monitor expansion for stereo controllers

We can fit any of our monitor controller, or mastering consoles with a full 12 to 16 channel volume control, so you can run the full Atmos setup through your normal stereo volume controller. The volume control works like normal, with all the calibration, adjustable dim and hard relay mutes, but works across all the speaker channels. Having one volume control to do everything, plus the ability to choose your DACs and routing is a powerful option.

Mastering Grade Headphone amplifier

Our controllers have an inbuilt headphone amp is a precision audio amplifier, which works brilliantly with low or high Z headphones. We can add switching to automatically route a binaural output to our headphone amplifier, so you have one set of headphone sockets for all work, rather than one for Atmos, and one for stereo.

AES Converter Switching

You may want to use higher quality converters for monitoring your Atmos, work, ones that you can use safely with high res stereo work. We can add an AES switcher and analogue switcher that lets you re-route AES signals from the DAW to your chosen DACs for Atmos or stereo work, without having to repatch again and again.

AES Room EQ switching and GPIO

If you have a room EQ, like a Trinnov say, the settings for Atmos will be different for stereo. We can provide GPIO and Midi triggers to make a third party room EQ flip between presets, depending which mode you’re in, and also deal with bass management for stereo, differently than for Atmos

Insert routing

In our mastering consoles, you’ll have a perfect stereo outboard insert machine. We can route this to your DAW to let you work on any Atmos stereo object, using your preferred analogue tools.

For more information about all of this, please contact us, and we’ll be glad to help 🙂