Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Remixing Old Tracks in Spatial Audio Is “Sacrilegious”

Bob Lefsetz:

I got the following e-mail from a producer/engineer:

I just want to try and alert you to the potential seismic scam happening with this Atmos roll out. Atmos catalog remixing is being done by the truckload in a handful of Nashville, LA, and NYC rooms right now and has been for a couple of years, and almost none of it is being overseen or approved by the artist or original producer or mixer. And these versions- according to Apple- will be the new standard versions, superseding the original versions, now designated by Apple to the dustbin of history.


In the rush to make content for Apple, labels are jamming this crap out with little QC and -again- almost no input from artists.


And what I’ve learned is…the Spatial Audio and stereo versions are not only different, the process affects the punch, the essence of the originals!

I compared Spatial Audio tracks to their HD equivalents on Amazon Music and I found exactly what one writer said: the vocal gets lost. Instead of being up front and in your face, it’s buried more in the mix.

Via Nick Heer:

No matter how good I thought Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” sounded in Atmos, it is a bit like doing a 3D movie conversion on “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The person creating the remix, no matter how well-intentioned, has no idea what the original mixer or the artist would have wanted in this situation.


Update (2021-07-03): Nilay Patel:

Turned Apple Music spatial audio off for good. I appreciate the effort but it’s a lot of complication for everything to sound slightly more hollow. The 3DTV of music.

Update (2021-07-09): David Sparks:

Thankfully, spatial audio is nothing like that. It comes through as different, and it is most definitely noticeable. However, it is also subtle, and in the case of some of my favorite older jazz tunes, it feels like a really good remaster. Luckily, everything came through sounding like it did before but in 3D instead of 2D. In short, I’m sold, and I want more.

A few playlists I would recommend if you want to give this a try are Apple’s Jazz in Spatial Audio playlist. Art Blakey’s “Hipsippy Blues” feels like one of the most improved tracks. I expect that’s because so many of Art Blakey’s albums were recorded live in clubs that this treatment feels natural. Another album worth checking out is the L.A. Philharmonic’s Celebrating John Williams album, which also got the Dolby Atmos treatment.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

Now I feel extra good that I (mostly) don't bother downloading/streaming music. I buy CDs and rip them into my computers for syncing to my iPods.

I don't have to worry about the music I know and love getting ruined because someone decides to "upgrade" the file stored on a server somewhere.

Most artists won't care because they're not earning any substantial amounts with their recordings anyway.

Giorgio Valoti

In addition to buying CDs and audio files, if you don’t want Atmos, you can disable it in the Settings.

I moved my library and listening entirely to Plex after I discovered the Plex Amp mobile app (which is Plex but dedicated to music), and I highly recommend it to everyone. The lifetime pass is very economical compared to these streaming services, and it gives you full control over your collection. It can be spotty sometimes over cell networks, it is trying to load from your home network after all. But the freedom and privacy of the system is great the way it should be.

Plex's model of media management is what iTunes should have become after the mobile explosion.

I've listened to over 30 Atmos tracks and haven't found a single one that sounds better than the original stereo mix. For the most part, they all sound washed out -- the sound field isn't well defined anymore, vocals and instruments sound far away, nothing is at the correct relative volume anymore... almost like a pristine recording of a stadium concert from the nosebleed section. Very weird. Eddy Cue must be high as a kite if he thinks that this is the future of music. People have been trying to screw around with multichannel mixing since the days of Quadraphonic. There's a reason it's never caught on. Because it sucks.

+1 to what Ben G said. I listened to a bunch of spatial audio tracks and compared them to originals (pro tip: the audio switches between stereo & spatial in realtime if you toggle the switch in as you're playing). The difference was often fairly subtle, which surprised me given how hard Apple is promoting it in the music app. It doesn't seem like enough of a difference for most people to notice or care about. But when I did pay attention, I mostly found that the spatial mixes were worse.

As others have said, vocals get lost in the mix, instruments don't seem as well defined, there's often less punch to the sound. It's a little stadium like, and not in a good way. Also the overall volume level is quieter (not necessarily a bad thing, but unexpected after a couple decades of the loudness wars).

It was interesting to hear, but I've left it switched off. I give it 3-4 years before it hopefully fades away like 3DTV.

Beatrix Willius

Why concentrate on gimmicks when there still is the insane Music app?

The app makes me mad after just 10 seconds. I start the app the first time in Monterey. There is a button "Update Genius". It disappears when I mouse over it. Scrollbars must be super hard for Apple. The top of "Listen now" isn't visible because I can't scroll to the top.

@David C.: I used to do the same as you until I discovered the Qobuz download store. It has an excellent selection, and all tracks are available in ‘CD Quality’ lossless formats (your choice of ALAC or FLAC). It is far, far more convenient than having to buy a physical CD and then rip it (and then have bits of plastic lying around that I don’t need). The end result is the same: a master file of the music as originally intended, which I own and can sync etc, and can’t be changed or retracted.

I spoke to a friend who's fairly high up in the spatial audio/Atoms remix project at a major label. He says that Lefsetz is completely wrong on most major accounts – the artists ARE involved in the remixes, rejecting countless versions until the engineers get one that "works" ... and also that in many notable cases, it took upwards of a year to get an album remixed to everyone's satisfaction.

"Just sending the file to Dolby to be processed" is ABSOLUTELY not how it works.

YMMV on the philosophy behind the project, of course.

Leave a Comment