Nearly two years into the launch of Apple Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, the catalog is unrivaled and continues to grow at a breakneck pace. As a follow-up to last year’s article of the same name, we break down ten demo-worthy tunes to test out your system.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - “Don’t Come Around Here No More”
Following his acclaimed work on the Wildflowers and Angel Dream reissues in 2021, it’s no surprise that the Petty estate has once again tapped expert mixer Ryan Ulyate to create a Dolby Atmos mix of The Heartbreakers’ classic 1993 Greatest Hits compilation.
An argument could be made for nearly every track on the album, but I’d give highest honors to “Don’t Come Around Here No More” from 1985’s Southern Accents. Arguably one of the band’s most ambitious tunes ever, it sounds massive in Atmos with the programmed drums and vocal chorus raining down from above.
Peter Gabriel - “The Court (In-Side Mix)”
Among the best surprises of 2023 thus far has been the gradual rollout of Peter Gabriel’s long-awaited tenth studio album, I/O. Four singles have been released so far, each on a full moon, with Dolby Atmos ‘In-Side’ mixes by Hans-Martin Buff following two weeks later.
Though “Panopticom,” “Playing For Time,” and “I/O” all have their moments, “The Court” is ultimately the most impressive of the four in immersive audio. Synth percussion and menacing string lines bounce all around the listening space, while Gabriel’s front-facing lead alternates with the “...and the court” answer vocal from behind.
Van Morrison - “Into The Mystic”
Despite having already received an excellent 5.1 mix by original recording/mix engineer Elliot Scheiner way back in 2013, Van Morrison’s Moondance has once again received the immersive treatment–this time in Dolby Atmos by renowned producer/engineer Steven Wilson. Wilson’s Atmos mix makes full use of the entire 7.1.4 soundstage, with individual guitar, vocal, and horn parts dotted all around and above the main listening position.
“Into The Mystic” is a highlight of the immersive presentation, with acoustic guitars filling up the side surrounds and the ‘foghorn whistle’ brass in the rear height speakers. Morrison’s vocals drift a bit further out into the room, while drums & bass hold down the fort upfront.
Haken - “The Alphabet Of Me”
The Pineapple Thief’s frontman, guitarist, and songwriter Bruce Soord handles the English prog-metal band’s first foray into immersive audio, released through InsideOut Music in March 2023. An eclectic medley of ‘70s era progressive rock, metal, and even some jazzy elements (a trumpet solo!), “The Alphabet Of Me” is a perfect vehicle for Dolby Atmos and Soord’s interpretation doesn’t disappoint. Backing vocals and heavy guitars rain down from above, while Ross Jennings’ lead vocal stays locked to the front soundstage and synthesizers appear from behind.
Chic - “Strike Up The Band”
Fantastic new Dolby Atmos remixes of Chic’s first three albums appeared out of nowhere in March 2023, courtesy of Steven Wilson. Tempting as it would be to pick the mega-hits “Le Freak” from 1978’s C’est Chic or “Good Times” form 1979’s Risque, I found “Strike Up The Band” from the 1977 debut album to be be among the most effective uses of Dolby Atmos across the set. The track opens with the horn section entirely panned to the height speakers, while the “rhythm, rhythm, rhythm” vocal echoes dance float all around and above.
Katatonia - “Opaline”
Swedish rockers Katatonia are no strangers to immersive audio, having first embraced 5.1 surround sound way back in 2006 for the release of their now-classic album The Great Cold Distance. Released through Napalm Records in January 2023, Sky Void Of Stars is the band’s 12th studio album and the first to be mixed in Dolby Atmos.
Pineapple Thief frontman Bruce Soord has done an incredible job with the Atmos mix, effectively parsing out the individual vocal, percussion, guitar, and synthesizer layers all around and above the listener. Soord makes interesting use of the ‘phantom’ space between the speakers, placing Jonas Renkse’s lead vocal in both the front and front height channels. Similarly, backing vocals often appear suspended between the rear surrounds and rear heights.
Joni Mitchell - “Harry’s House/Centerpiece”
Though The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) disappointingly failed to include any immersive audio content on disc, brand new Dolby Atmos remixes of all four featured albums–1972’s For The Roses, 1974’s Court and Spark, 1974’s Miles of Aisles, and 1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns–quietly became available on the streaming services soon after its release.
1975’s jazz-tinged The Hissing of Summer Lawns, my personal favorite of the four albums, is arguably the most impressive in Atmos. The new immersive mix really peels back all the layers– throughout “In France They Kiss On Main Street,” you can hear backing vocals from James Taylor, Graham Nash, and David Crosby in the rear speakers and Skunk Baxter’s guitar licks primarily in the front height channels–but “Harry’s House/Centerpiece” is the most effective Atmos demo, particularly the psychedelic passage midway through where Mitchell’s voice travels from speaker-to-speaker around the room.
Grateful Dead - “Jack Straw”
Ever since Steven Wilson’s amazing Dolby Atmos remix of American Beauty (1970) was released in August 2022, fans have been speculating which of other entries of The Dead’s vast discography would receive the immersive treatment next. I certainly would've expected another studio album, but - to my surprise - it turned out to be Europe ‘72, a live document of the band’s tour through Western Europe from April through May of that year. Europe ‘72 captured the band at the height of their powers, performing classic songs such as “Jack Straw” and “Brown-Eyed Women” for the first time on stage.
Given his preference to render live performances as a “listener-in-the-center-of-the-band” experience, it’s no surprise that purists may balk at Wilson’s Atmos take on Europe ‘72. “Jack Straw'' opens with Bob Weir’s lead vocal just right-of-center, while Jerry Garcia’s “I just jumped the watchman…” line comes almost entirely from the left front height speakers. Their rhythm guitars are mostly panned to the side channels, while guitar leads pop out of the front heights.
Rush - “Losing It”
Following last year’s acclaimed Moving Pictures 40th anniversary reissue, 1982’s Signals is next for the deluxe treatment with a new Dolby Atmos remix by longtime collaborator Richard Chycki.
“Losing It”–Neil Peart’s lyrical homage to writer Ernest Hemingway–is among the most impressive displays of immersive mixing on the album. The track opens with a lone synthesizer in the rear surround speakers, as Ben Mink’s violin then appears in the center channel with its delays hitting off the sides.
Feist - “Hiding Out In The Open”
Feist’s Multitudes is among the most unusual Atmos mixes I’ve heard to date, placing the lead vocals primarily in the side speakers (giving a headphone-like “inside-your-head” effect) while additional harmonies and guitar work are spread all throughout the listing space. The overdubbed a capella vocals throughout “Hiding Out In The Open” are simply a religious experience in immersive audio.