Dolby Atmos is the latest evolution in surround sound technology that puts audio from movies and games not just around you but above you too, allowing you to hear sound from every direction. It also assigns individual on-screen elements their own audio track that the system can position in the listening space beyond the limitations of traditional 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound channels.
Of course you’re going to need in-ceiling or vertically firing speakers for overhead sound, and also Dolby Atmos decoding in the form of a compatible home theatre receiver or soundbar.
While Netflix offers a limited but growing catalogue of Dolby Atmos content, Blu-rays of the HD and 4K Ultra-HD variety are where you will find the bulk of Atmos content, with hundreds of titles to choose from.
But not all mixes are created equal; some barely put the height channel to use — making almost no discernible difference to the soundscape than regular surround sound — whereas some other mixes offer a significant step up that adds a whole lot to the sense of immersion.
With this in mind, here are the five best-sounding Dolby Atmos Blu-ray movies that are guaranteed to rock your home theatre.
Blade Runner 2049
The long-awaited sequel to the 1982 science fiction classic delivers an arresting Dolby Atmos mix that is guaranteed to impress. Whether it’s the rain, voices or the sound of vehicles flying overhead, there is constant activity in the height speakers.
The opening sequence offers insights into what lays in store, as the music and several audio cues wash over the listening position. There are a number of aural highlights throughout the film such as the crash landing in chapter 7, the attack in chapter 12, and the altercation that plays out along the crashing waves of the Sepulveda Wall in the film’s climax. These scenes contain a host of swirling effects that come together in pure sonic joy. Meanwhile, the spine-tingling score is delivered with low thundering bass notes throughout. Even in the quietest of moments, there’s always something to hear with an abundance of surround activity from every angle.
There’s a reason why Dolby uses 2015’s Everest to demonstrate what Atmos can do. The film, which tracks the true-life fortunes of a battered group of climbers on their treacherous attempt to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, seems tailor made for the format.
The Atmos track here brings to life the blistering weather conditions that the group encounters throughout their journey. The wide soundstage is bombarded with background activity from the gusting icy winds to the loud and thunderous storms on display that convincingly move from one side to the other. Height channels are well utilised with the cracking echoes of glaciers and avalanches and there’s the obligatory helicopter moment too as blades whip by overhead. Dialogue clarity is also fantastic so you won’t miss a beat as the action unfolds.
Mad Max: Fury Road
From start to finish, Fury Road will mercilessly assault your aural senses with bass and effects that will give your home theatre setup a real working over. The astounding action sequences utilise every speaker in the room to stunning effect. From the gentle breeze that sweeps across the desert terrain during the film’s rare quieter moments to the roaring dust storm that completely envelops you, every aspect of the sonic experience has been finely tuned to pull you into its desolate world.
The roaring engine from Max’s infamous Interceptor car during the first few seconds of the film packs serious oomph and power and immediately sets the tone for the auditory spectacle to come. Before long, the twisted metal and high octane vehicles that litter the landscape will fill up your living room as they move smoothly through the overhead speakers and flawlessly pan from behind to the front during one of the film’s many intense chase scenes. The crashes, explosions and gunfire are frighteningly precise and delivered with a satisfyingly deep bass. Despite the rubber-burning pandemonium, dialogue is clear and distinct.
Saving Private Ryan
The infamous Normandy beach landing sequence in the opening 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan has long been the go-to demo to show off surround sound systems. With the Atmos mix present in the recently-released 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray transfer, it’s never sounded better.
Outside of the occasional roar of the airplane flying overhead, the height speakers don’t get utilised as much as you would expect. However, the mix does benefit greatly from its jump to the object-based format, delivering a convincing 360 degree soundfield that places you inside the action as the mayhem of war unfolds around you. Bullets whiz by with greater clarity and direction while explosions in the distance are more defined. Despite the ear-piercing action sequences, dialogue remains clear throughout and other subtle audio details such as the sounds of tiny pebbles from clumps of dirt rolling across the ground only add to the atmosphere.
The Matrix’s original 5.1 soundtrack set a benchmark on DVD, and now it’s one of the best available Atmos mixes.
Almost 20 years after the Wachowskis’ landmark kung-fu noir shook up home theatres the world over, The Matrix leaps and dodges its way onto 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray this month for the very first time. Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops for this one, going as far as recruiting much of the original sound team to bring the film’s sonic universe to life using the expanded capabilities of Dolby Atmos. The result is easily one of the finest Atmos mixes there is.
Everything that made the original sound great has been reworked just enough so that individual effects are rendered more distinctly and in more directions, making it easier for your ears to latch onto. The aggressive use of the height channels is also welcome and gives every action scene a new dimension. Despite the symphony of bullets firing, dialogue never gets lost in the action and remains intelligible throughout.