I scored a great deal on a NAD receiver/amplifier (with a phono preamp!) recently and finally had a chance to run it through its paces into my KEF Q150s. I primarily listen to vinyl through this setup but also have an older AirPort Express going into an outboard DAC via optical out so that I can stream music from Apple Music and Spotify via AirPlay from my iPad/iPhone.
Which is how I stumbled across the opportunity to check out some of Apple’s new Dolby Atmos versions of albums. First up was a quick run through Rush’s Moving Pictures. The Dolby Atmos logo showed up under the album art and I sent Tom Sawyer over to the NAD via AirPlay ready to have my socks blown off.
And it sounded like garbage. I did some A/B between the Apple version and the Spotify version and the plain old Spotify version sounded way better. So I did some digging and it turns out I was doing it all wrong.
The thing with Atmos-enabled albums is they should only be played on Atmos-capable speakers/headphones (like AirPod Pros or HomePods via Apple TV) not on a pair of regular KEF’s. It took me a while to figure out that it’s important to sanity check the Music settings on your iOS device to make sure everything is all cool before sending music over AirPlay.
When you go to Settings->Music->Dolby Atmos on your iPhone or iPad make sure it’s not set to Always On! If you put it on Automatic what happens is if you are playing through AirPod Pros (or other Atmos-enabled speaker) is that it plays that Atmos-version of the album but if you AirPlay to a regular stereo, it plays the Lossless instead.
I confirmed this and now when I choose to AirPlay to my HiFi system the logo under Moving Pictures changes from “Dolby Atmos” to “Lossless.” Pretty cool.
So, the regular stereo Lossless stuff sounds, as expected, pretty excellent through the NAD->KEF setup. Also, the Atmos stuff sounds pretty cool through the AirPod Pros I have, not sure if it’s anything more than a novelty at this point. Some mixes just sound a little wider but others (I stumbled on I Want You Back by Jackson 5) you can really hear the soundstage way more distinctly in the Atmos version as opposed to the plain stereo version.
I don’t do a lot of serious listening through my AirPods but if you have a pair and want to hear something really cool, click this link and wait about 10 seconds and then start to turn your head from side to side. Pretty cool, right?
So the next step here is to check out some Atmos stuff on my pair of stereo HomePods. I have a pair of the original HomePods and they sound killer as a stereo pair. Unfortunately you can’t airplay right from your phone to the HomePods and get Atmos-enabled sound. Instead you need to send audio from an Apple TV to the HomePods to get the Atmos features. Which isn’t too big of deal since we’ve got an Apple TV in the room with the stereo pair. I’m looking forward to checking that out.