The Ten Best Immersive Audio Albums of 2023

It seems like everyone is riding the immersive audio wave these days. Blink, and ten more Atmos-ized albums—maybe even 50 of ’em, if you blink twice!—have been uploaded into the Apple Music Unlimited, Tidal, and Immersive Audio Album portals, and/or other spatially inclined streaming locales of your choice. Though the volume of surroundable releases has gotten to be somewhat overwhelming to keep track of, it ultimately isn’t such a bad thing to see our favorite format reach the ears of as many immersive-interested and Atmos-curious listeners as possible.

This time last year, I listed my Ten Best Immersive Audio Tracks, but this year, I wanted to tackle things from more of a full-album standpoint, seeing how a good number of 360-degree mixes inform a much deeper listening experience than cherry-picking tracks here and there do. Plus, there are a number of us here who are hardcore physical media collectors who, er, have a need to fill more shelf space we don’t have available to us (even if we always do seem to find a way, regardless—a rabbithole tangent discussion for another time).


Just in case you’re wondering, I will indeed be delving into digital-delivery-only Atmos mixes in-depth in the year ahead, starting with the very first SAF column of 2024 that’s set to post on January 26—so stay tuned for that, as the saying goes. In the meantime, and as always, I’ve thoroughly spec’ed and checked all ten of the albums I’ve selected here by way of my personal deep-dive listening sessions on both my Atmos-centric home system, headphones, and AirPod Pros alike. And with that final clarifier, here are my choices for the ten best and most thoroughly immersive audio albums of 2023, which appear as follows in reverse order from 10 to 1.


(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
Steven Wilson is at it again, this time reviving and revitalizing the great, semi-forgotten September 1978 debut solo effort from the late co-founding Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright in Atmos. With frequent Floyd-adjacent collaborators Mel Collins (on saxophone) and Snowy White (on often raucous guitar) in tow, heady tracks like “Cat Cruise” and “Waves” are the all-channel templates for the second-best late-’70s Floyd album that never was. (David Gilmour’s self-titled May 1978 LP takes top honors in that regard—and it too could do with a surround-sound revisitation itself, for that matter.) Dream on!


InsideOut Music.
(Blu-ray 5.1 mix)
Though it’s only “just” a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, guitarist/vocalist Trevor Rabin and his surround-collaborating producer Paul Linford are clearly well in sync when it comes to making sure this spatially inclined version of Rabin’s latest solo album Rio matches the artist’s grand compositional designs. Lead track “Big Mistakes” is nothing short of a full-on beast in 5.1, as its signature riff initially dominates the surroundfield, then steps somewhat aside for layered-in strings and vocal harmonies. Two separate guitar solos—one down, dirty, and gnarly; the other an outlay of sheer aggression—push the limits of 5.1 height availability. Meanwhile, the bass on those truly “Big” choruses will test the integrity of your sub channel as the back-half “nah nah nah”s put you in the middle of a multitracked Rabin singalong—a signature move that recalls some of the finer moments of Rabin’s Yes heyday in the ’80s and early ’90s. In short, Rio is exceedingly grand in all its 5.1 glory.


(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
In which the indelible mixmaster Steven Wilson takes an undisputed rock classic from August 1971 to an entirely new level, 50-plus years onward. “Baba O’Riley” unfolds over five-plus minutes in a very cinematic and spherical fashion—like a space western taking place on the Emerald Isle—while the linchpin moments in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” have all the 360-degree impact you semiconsciously expect after having heard Pete Townshend’s still-scathing cultural treatise in stereo again and again for decades, most prominently with the placement of Roger Daltrey’s final “Yeaaahhhh!” More sparsely arranged tracks like “Behind Blue Eyes” play off the emotion in Daltrey’s voice during its acoustic front half, rather than over-emphasizing the sheer bombast of its back half. Next-level Atmos mixology magic at its best.


(digital stream/download-only Atmos mix)
The stereo mix of October 2010’s Metallic Spheres—a decidedly experimental two-part, 49-minute ambient soundscape collaboration between The Orb’s chief sonic scientist Alex Paterson and Pink Floyd guitar guru David Gilmour—seemed almost too big to be contained in just two channels. Hence, this dynamic duo came together 13 years later to produce the more concise, 40-minute update redubbed Metallic Spheres in Colour—now fully realized in an expansive digital-only Atmos mix as put forth by their original co-producer, Martin “Youth” Glover. “It’s incredible how our eyes and ears can work together as inner projectors to give us an almost illusionary reproduction of sound,” Youth told me back in September. “From that, we get 3D, Atmos, and Spatial Audio recordings that harness those illusionary techniques to create what you’re hearing—or what you think you’re hearing.” Colour is the shapely embodiment of that maxim being brought to 360 degrees of fully panoramic life.


Sire/Universal Music Canada.
(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
Canada’s other favorite sons The Tragically Hip get the full Atmos treatment from their longtime recording engineer Mark Vreeken on Blu-ray (plus 5.1 and 7.1 options), as part of a 25th anniversary 3CD/1BD box set celebrating their groove-defining July 1998 album, Phantom Power. The late, great Gord Downie’s lead vocals are the outfront star here, with the man’s unto-him-only phraseology, enunciation choices, and masterstroke storytelling all given full berth and proper respect. (Listening tip: Adjust your sweet spot to provide a higher ear height and plant yourself a bit closer to your rear channels for maximum GD enjoyment.) But it’s also The Hip’s intuitive instrumental interplay that sets the all-channel in-studio performance stage for Downie to verbally dance upon and within. It’s all best realized outwardly in the forever-touching “Bobcaygeon,” with sly slide acoustics and pedal-steel smokiness from guest performer Bob Egan and a late-breaking Garth Hudsonesque organ solo courtesy of producer Steve Berlin laying the groundwork for eternal immersive greatness.


(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
It certainly couldn’t have been easy following up the masterful Atmos mix producer/engineer Richard Chycki did on the Blu-ray included in last year’s 40th anniversary edition of Rush’s February 1981 career-defining album Moving Pictures—but the man knew just what to do when it came time to expand September 1982’s Signals into its own tres-cool 360 degree identity for the BD included in this year’s 40th anniversary box set model.

In Atmos, Alex Lifeson’s ace guitarwork on “Subdivisions” is more prevalent (as is his foreboding, strategic recitation of the title phrase during key moments in the song’s choruses), the signature synthesizer elements of “New World Man” take better flight overhead, and the pivotal tolling bell in “Losing It” is even more distinct than it ever was in stereo. As Chycki told me back in April, “Any of the interpretations of the original mix I have are based on Ged and Al’s [i.e., bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson’s] instructions. They wanted to stay true to what the vibe was in the original stereo version of Signals—and that’s what this Atmos mix is about. The Atmos mix needed to maintain as true as possible to the original, but make it sound like it’s in a modern format.” It seems to me Chycki’s Atmos mix of Signals is a textbook example of perfect chemistry.


Pink Floyd Records/Sony Music.
(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
No pressure—no pressure at all—to make sure the mondo 50th anniversary box set for Pink Floyd’s truly seminal March 1973 audiophile benchmark The Dark Side of the Moon stuck the landing. Though we can quibble over the amount of extras and live material options included in that quite rightly hefty $300 box, there’s no doubt the included Dolby Atmos mix on its own Blu-ray—newly done by James Guthrie and assisted by Joel Plante—builds upon what we’ve heard in the 5.1 mix Guthrie did for the 2003 Capitol SACD, the Blu-ray in the 2011 Immersion box set, and the remastered 2021 Analogue Sounds SACD. (Note: Wallet watchers can rejoice, for said new Dark Side Atmos mix is also available separately as part of a more affordable standalone BD that was released on its own back in October, with a quite nice SRP of $25. The cover of that edition is shown above.)

In short, the good news is, this all-new Atmos mix lets Dark Side breathe (to borrow a word) even more in terms of its height-channel elements, such as the recurrent pinballing of the cash register effects in “Money,” the better clarity of the various spoken-word soundbites all throughout the album (which more often than not previously appeared as muffled elements), and the stacked vocal blends on the choruses of “Us and Them.”

Musically speaking, the broader scope of the 360-degree synthesizer oscillations, the channel-shuffling footsteps, and the ominous laughter during the instrumental “On the Run” actually got my own heartbeat racing like it might during the denouement of an action thriller. Meanwhile, the volume swell of the multilayered clock alarms going off in the intro, the thunderous power chords, Nick Mason’s tom-tom workout, and Richard Wright’s expansive keyboard noodlings on “Time”—not to mention David Gilmour’s absolutely blistering guitar solo sections on “Money”—all carry much more weight and have undeniably incredible overall impact in Atmos. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this—James Guthrie’s Atmos mix for The Dark Side of the Moon is shaping up to be the benchmark many of us have been raving and drooling about getting our hands on for, well, decades.


Real World.
(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
Peter Gabriel is an artist who likes to take his own sweet time. And when it came to the M.O. he deployed for his latest studio effort, i/o, he initially decided to release it one track at a time digitally starting back in January until its official physical-format releases came our way on December 1—a combo of 2LP, 2CD, and 2CD/1BD choices that proffered a pair of two-channel options dubbed the Bright-Side Mix (done by Mark “Spike” Stent) and the Dark-Side Mix (via Tchad Blake), plus the big kahuna—the Dolby Atmos version titled the In-Side Mix on the BD, courtesy of Hans-Martin Buff. And while I certainly enjoyed hearing each of the month-to-month doled-out i/o tracks in all their stereo splendor, Buff’s Atmos mix on the BD included in that latter multidisc set was well worth the wait—and something that once again reinforces Gabriel’s rep as one of the most innovative, boundary-pushing artists of the rock era.

The opening track “Panopticon” very much lives up to the tenet of the circular prison definition of its title. The turgid blend of Tony Levin’s instantly recognizable bass tone and David Rhodes’ guitar textures that pinwheel outward from the center recalls one of the key riffs from “Digging in the Dirt” (from PG’s September 1992 album, Us), as Gabriel’s layered, measured lead vocal envelops the entire 360-degree field with purpose. The side channels are well-deployed when the title phrase gets repeated and Katie May’s acoustic guitar strums take a clockwise stroll, and certain word stabs (“lies”) and instrumentation are muffled but clear, as if they were nestled underneath a pillow trying to wriggle free from their virtual aural chains. “So how much is real?” Gabriel muses semi-rhetorically at one point, and my immediate internal thought response was, “all of it!”

Choice Atmos moments continue to abound from there, whether it’s the rear-channel percussive churn, height-channel string section accents, and daughter Melanie Gabriel’s wafting female vocals on “Four Kinds of Horses” or the “Big Time”-inspired all-channel fun of “Road to Joy.” Hopefully, it won’t be another decade-plus before we get more new Peter Gabriel music in Atmos (or even any kind of Atmos updates for his rich solo catalog, come to think of it), but until next time, when it comes to appreciating the full breadth of i/o—with apologies to a key line from Genesis’ “Carpet Crawlers”—you gotta get i before you get o.


Zappa Records/UMe.
(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
Frank Zappa’s September 1973 commercial breakthrough album Over-Nite Sensation is among the ten most-played albums I’ve listened to in my lifetime, so I was very much looking forward to devouring all the contents of its just-released 50th anniversary 4CD/1BD super deluxe edition—most especially the Dolby Atmos mix on Blu-ray that was done by Karma Auger and Erich Gobel. Without giving too much away of my review of the entire ONS box set that’s forthcoming in the next print edition of S&V (and will subsequently be posted here on the S&V site), I will say that I heard things in Atmos that I both found a whole new appreciation for and/or had never heard prior in the ONS stereo mix.

In Atmos, I totally dig the insistent gut-punch sub-channel kick drum and keyboard fills in “I’m the Slime,” the side-channel clarity of FZ’s blistering guitar solo on “Dirty Love,” the proggy time-signature-bending blend of horns, keys, and ratchet in the heights and sides on “Zomby Woof,” and Kin Vassy’s haunting peak-and-valley-encompassing “yippy-ty-o-ty-ay” frontier vocals plumbing the depths of the full 360-degree field during the dramatic denouement to “Montana.” And that’s all I’ll say for now, folks. You can glean the rest of my ONS Atmos impressions from the full review when the time comes—but, rest assured, the immersive pleasures of Over-Nite will last you a lifetime.


(Blu-ray Atmos mix)
You’re not really surprised to find the once and future all-channel maestro artiste Steven Wilson at the top of this list, are you? Year in and year out, Wilson finds new ways of challenging listeners with his genre-defying immersive mixes, whether it’s what he concocts for his solo albums, occasional new offerings and archival updates for his sometimes-active band Porcupine Tree (such as last year’s blisteringly powerful Closure/Continuation, the album that holds my No. 1 immersive track of 2022, “Harridan”), and a seemingly endless cache of catalog refreshers for artists from most any era and musical style. (See the recent catalog-culled reissues from Jethro Tull, ABC, and Suede for three quite diverse 2023-released SW surround-mix examples.)

Once Wilson chose to dive head-on into making his solo career a nonconformist one, tracks like “Pariah” (from August 2017’s To the Bone) and “Man of the People” (from January 2021’s The Future Bites) laid the groundwork for where he has emerged here in 2023 with the rich aural tapestry that is his latest solo effort, The Harmony Codex. Earlier this year on Zoom, Wilson told me his main goal for The Harmony Codex was to create “cinema for the ears”—and if Atmos is the auditory equivalent to the best IMAX experience you’ve ever had, then you’ve clearly come to the right place.


Objet D’Wilson: Above, Steven Wilson unlocks the Atmos secrets of The Harmony Codex. Photo by Hajo Mueller.

What’s not to love about Codex in Atmos? You get “Beautiful Scarecrow,” an underwater electro-adventure with a momentous cross-channel drum attack. Follow that up with the deceptively sparse title track, consisting of nine dreamy-drifty minutes awash in a 360-degree synth bath made up of a fine blend of ARP 2600, Cobalt 8, and Prophet-8 machinations. Meanwhile, “Impossible Tightrope” is a furious full-channel epic replete with staggering volume dynamics, precision playing, a CSN-like acoustic break, frenzied sax wailing, fusiony keyboard sneers and snarls, swirling birds and helicopters, and a heavenly chorus for good measure.

And then there’s “Rock Bottom,” another impassioned duet with Israeli vocal marvel Ninet Tayeb (she of the uplifting elegiac response lines in the aforementioned “Pariah”), wherein the pair’s lead vocal turns take literal center stage over any potential accompanying instrumental pyrotechnics—and even the brief, David Gilmour-like guitar solo in the song’s back half stays planted firmly in the middle. When the mix needs to serve the song and not the format, Wilson knows exactly how to do that too.

Taken from any and all angles, the Atmos version of Steven Wilson’s The Harmony Codex is my unquestioned No. 1 immersive audio album of 2023.

And, with that, let me wish even more immersive power and enjoyment to you, one and all, for whate’er lies ahead in each and every channel that will be around us in 2024!


frodo582's picture

Great list! But sadly, there are thousands of Atmos albums only thru streaming services. And only a handful of physical media releases, a lot of them in very low quantities, so you cannot even buy them (at least not for "normal" price). I wait for a day when Atmos streaming will be in Dolby True HD and not in heavily compressed DD+ with stupidliy & unnecessary low dialog normalisation levels (meaning very quiet, compared to physical media). O what a day this would be :) I would be prepared to pay a lot more for that!

rajugsw's picture

Thanks again Mike for mentioning The Hip & Rush in your reviews. I have the PG Dark Side mixes on LP and need the BluRay ASAP (not sure if Amazon Music has everything lsited in yours in Compressed Dolby Atmos yet. I have the Moving Pictures & Fully Completely boxes but can't shell out that kinda coin fir Signals & Phantom Power. No mention of our favourite "The Hockey Song" Fireworks...LOL !

FZ's Overnite Sensation and Apostrophe go hand in hand. I'd like to an Atmos mix of it before I buy Overnite.

Looking forward to you column next your column dedicated to Streaming Atmos music next year. It's great for previous the compressed versions of these amazing mixes before purchasing the "Real Deal" uncompressed on BluRay.

jaymoore's picture

I think Frank Zappa is the best album. I love all songs in this album. I can listen to them while playing geometry dash scratch

supamark's picture

I don't get the Steven Wilson love, his mixes sound flat and lifeless to me. A lot of people seem to like them though, so... shrug?

brendag15663's picture

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larkimpressive's picture

I can't afford to pay that much money for signals and phantom power, but I do have the moving pictures and fully assembled boxes slice master. Apostrophe and FZ's Overnite Sensation go hand in hand. Before I purchase Overnite, I would like to try an Atmos mix of it.