What’s it Take to Upgrade to Auro-3D Surround?

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Q I currently have a Dolby Atmos/DTS-X 7.1.4 speaker setup that uses a Marantz SR7011 A/V receiver, which I'm interested in upgrading to Auro-3D. Apparently you can use the receiver’s subwoofer 2 output to connect the Auro-3D “Voice of God” overhead speaker, which I plan to do. But before I take the $199 plunge to upgrade my Marantz, I have a few questions. Can Auro-3D decode/convert Atmos and DTS-X? I own around 200 Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and none of them have an Auro-3D soundtrack. As for the ceiling speakers, should I set them up the way Auro-3D suggests or leave them in their Dolby Atmos recommended positions? (My home theater has a drop ceiling so it's no problem to reposition the speakers.) Thanks for whatever advice you can give. After reading several articles praising the immersive sound quality of Auro-3D, I’m anxious to check it out. —Dave Davey, Mount Arlington, NJ

A I’ll admit upfront to having no hands-on experience with Auro-3D, so any answers provided here will be practical and theoretical rather than based on real-world listening. Auro-3D typically uses a “three-layer” speaker configuration, with a standard 5.1 or 7.1-channel surround-sound setup augmented by four height speakers (L/R front and L/R back) plus an overhead top speaker (the “Voice of God” unit you mentioned). Auro-3D’s setup recommendations on its website place the wall-mounted height speakers at a 30-degree angle targeting the area above the seated listener’s head, and the top speaker placed directly above the main seating area at a 90-degree angle.

A typical Dolby Atmos speaker setup, on the other hand, is quite different, with two or more overhead effects speakers located in (or on) the ceiling in front of and behind the main listening position and no wall-mounted height speakers. Can Auro-3D decode/convert Dolby Atmos and DTS-X? The answer to that is no — all three are separate and unique codecs. However, according to Marantz’s documentation, the overhead effects in Atmos soundtracks decoded by your Marantz receiver can be played back on an Auro-3D setup, but with the overhead effects info routed only to the front height speakers. Standard mono/stereo/5.1/7.1 content, meanwhile, can be processed by the Auro-3D Auro-Matic Upmixer in a receiver or surround pre/pro for playback on all speakers in an Auro-3D setup.

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COMMENTS
jeff-henning's picture

Unless your listening room is in a sphere with a perforated floor, 3D audio can't exist.

As to 180° 3D audio, which most people can possibly do, honestly, the last thing you need is height/over-head speakers. A 5 or 7 speaker surround system will, for the most part, do the job.

While humans' ear design can hear sound sources vertically, our ability to hear sounds horizontally is more adept.

Also, very few music titles are done in Atmos/etc. so why bother?

Is hearing some ambience above your head really going to make the music better? Most likely not.

Is an aircraft fly-over that is done via Atmos or what ever going to keep the movie from having a lousy script or direction? No.

I have nothing against a half sphere of surround. I think it's great, but I doubt that upsampling to it is not always ideal.

It's not a well supported format. Perhaps, one day, it will be.

pw's picture

This is now a dead format moving forward..

Billm's picture

Actually Auro 3D was purchased, with pretty much all regulars being hired back on to work with the new owners.

Fantastic format, works really really well.
Will post more shortly, if that matters to anyone. [-;

Regards, Bill M.

Billm's picture

Love Auro-3D. My system utilizes 6 in ceiling speakers, sides, rear surrounds, 3 front heights, and FR-FL/center, 3 stand alone super tweeters, and 4 subs. [Using a Stewart Filmscreen acoustically transparent 145" screen.[dedicated media room]

I mention the above just to establish that I have the speakers, which are positioned correctly, to comment on Auro-3D/Atmos sound characteristics, at least according to my imperfect ears!

Old Audiophile here, used to have the VAC tube amps, Krell, Magnepan and Wilson speakers, etc.
And yes I still have some $5k cables and $3k power cords in this video system. Yep, one of those kooks. [-;

As a comment to the original question posted with the article, yes you can use a current speaker system that is set up for Dobly Atmos and utilize for Auro-3D. Works pretty well. Especially with the Marantz that was mentioned, that unit will automatically utilize your speaker system configuration inputted during initial set up, and automatically change the available speakers utilized for the chosen format[s] You probably are aware of that already, but worth a mention.

My experience over the years is that, to me anyhow, regarding heights, is that the front heights are probably the most critical [other than center and FL&FR]for immersive height. Those speakers help enlarge that front wall, giving the stage a higher more expansive sound field.

Auro-3D works excellent as a post-production decoding format, you dont really need it to be encoded with the original soundtrack. Obviously, it works better if it was encoded originally, but few titles are available at this point, as someone mentioned already. But the new owners have some pretty big plans, so, time will tell!

Occasionally I use Auro-3D over the Atmos decoding[and others], because many soundtracks are not that great, but they are getting better for sure. [newer blockbuster releases for instance]

I’m not the only one that is saying this in the press, and obviously I agree with them regarding the state of some soundtracks these days.

If you stream U-Tube and some other concerts, music videos, Auro-3D is really the way to go, if set up properly with the format settings, etc., and of course you have the speaker set up for it.

Regarding the VOG [Voice of God] speaker for Auro-3D, my system utilizes 2 of them, one for front row, one for the second row.

This channel works well, but, I would concentrate on the other speakers first, if you are considering installing the VOG. If you have the time/resources, then by all means go for it-

Hope this helps. Plenty more to say on this matter, but, time is awaistin, and I should probably get back to work! BM

Homer Teatro's picture

Auro-3D sounds better than Atmos or DTS:X. And it's so much better that ANYBODY can hear it. Dolby hates auro3d so much they have tried EVERYTHING to make life difficult for Auro-3D including trying to hire-away Auro-3D employees, and they even introduced some code into their soundtracks that made it impossible for Auro-3D to process Atmos soundtracks and make those soundtracks sound BETTER than playing them back in Atmos. Auro-3D took Dolby to court and won, forcing Dolby to have to stop "blocking" Auro-3D processing of TrueHD soundtracks (Atmos is "inside" a TrueHD container). You ABSOLUTELY do not need Auro-3D encoded movies (streamed or disc) to enjoy the benefits of Auro-3D. I leave Auro-3D as the processing mode for EVERYTHING. I've played with every method of processing Stereo music from the 1970s until today. NOTHING has ever made stereo music sound better. In every case, Stereo music was made to sound WORSE and in many cases MUCH WORSE with other processing. For example, play stereo music through the processor for non-Atmos sources that comes with Atmos... Dolby Surround. Listen to a familiar stereo recording, then play it again with Dolby Surround processing... and you'll find that the Dolby Surround version sounds dead, flat, and non-musical compared to the unprocessed stereo. Play the same track processed with Auro-3D (originally called AuroMatic, but newer versions of Auro-3D roll the old AuroMatic upconversion into Auro-3D). So you play a movie with an Atmos soundtrack, but you do not select Atmos for the processing. You select Auro-3D (or AuroMatic if you have an earlier version of Auro-3D) and just play the disc. What happens in the background is that the TrueHD soundtrack is decoded into 5.1 or 7.1 channels without Atmos processing. Instead, Auro-3D (or AuroMatic) processes the 5.1 or 7.1 sound into 11.1 or 12.1 (12.1 with the overhead Voice of God speaker). The best type of speaker to use for the overhead Voice of God speaker is a coaxial mid-woofer with a tweeter in the center where the dust cap would be on a normal speaker. The reason is that the overhead speaker can be as little as 4 1/2 feet from your head when the ceiling is 8-feet and you are sitting on a chair that has a cushion height of 34 inches. With the voice of god speaker being so close, you need an overhead speaker that is coherrent (tweeter, midrange, and woofer sounds are all well integrated. Coaxial speakers do that the best (I'm not talking about cheezy car speakers with whizzer cones, I am referring to serious coaxial speakers like those from KEF or Vandersteen or some others that have seen the value in the coaxial design for home theater speakers. Anyway, when you process the TrueHD soundtrack with Auro-3D or AuroMatic, you end up with 11.1 or 12.1 channels of sound from that original stereo, 4.0, 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 soundtrack or music. With Auro-3D processing, you get ambient sound in the height channels for the entire movie while the Atmos soundtrack can have as little as 1 minute of sound in the height channels (not including music from the soundtrack, which is sometimes the ONLY sound that ever appears in Atmos height channels during the entire movie). The main problem is that to do Atmos or DTS:X or Auro-3D properly, you have to pay a sound engineer to sit at a console for a couple of weeks at least, to create an Atmos, DTS:X, or Auro-3D soundtrack. Studios are mostly, NOT paying for the live person, so they process TrueHD through Dolby Surround, then encode those 11.1 channels as Atmos when it's nothing more than Dolby Surround--that I already explained, sounds TERRIBLE when processing ANYTHING. DTS Neural:X does what Dolby Surround does, but Neural:X sounds a little better than Atmos... I would give Dolby Surround a Zero for sound quality. DTS Neural:X gets a "4" and Auro-3D or AuroMatic processing of the same soundtrack gets a 10 (for being the best sound currently available). And yes, there is that much difference in sound quality between those 3. There have been a FEW Atmos and a FEW DTS:X soundtracks that are properly good sounding because there was a person at the console who knew what they were doing. But I would say more than 95% of the content released so far is hopelessly terrible, Atmos or DTS:X. You can confirm this easily. Disconnect all the "ear level" speakers, then put on a movie with Atmos or DTS:X soundtrack so you can only hear the height channels... it is MOST illuminating, and terribly disappointing. In the Chris Pine Star Trek movie where 1000s of small ships penetrate Enterprise's hull in order to take over the ship, the only thing that appears in the height channel during that entire battle is a female voice saying "Red Alert" several times. None of the weapons and other sound ever appears in the height channels even though there would CERTAINLY be overhead sounds all over the ship if you had be there while it was happening. That's what happens in the soundtracks when there is no person at the mixing console when the Atmos track is created. Anyway... my processor is now NEVER set to anything but Auro-3D even though I own only 1 movie with an Auro-3D soundtrack purchased from UK Amazon just so I would have ONE here for testing and comparisons. If you have an earlier version of Auro-3D you would use AuroMatic for processing DTS HD-MA or TrueHD soundtracks that under-lie DTS:X or Atmos.

3ddavey13's picture

First, I would like to thank Al Griffin for answering my questions concerning Auro-3D and wish him all the best in his new venture.
I did purchase the Auro-3D upgrade and placed the 5 ceiling speakers as recommended by Auro-3D. I played several Atmos/DTS-X discs (music and film) I was familiar with, and they all sounded fine (maybe better).
Now for the Auro-3D. I wish I had more to share, but so far, the only thing I've been able to use it for is to upmix music. I have a large collection of hi-res (24bit/44.1-192kHz) audio files (.aiff format) which I have been listening to using the AuroMatic upmixer. Both the immersive and sound qualities are superb. Reader Homer Teatro (see above) hits the nail on the head. Auro-3D is far superior to both Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X (although I feel a 4 for DTS may be somewhat generous). I now listen to all my stereo music in Auro-3D.
What I'm missing is true Auro-3D software. With the exception of some jazz Blu-ray audio discs, everything seems to be European, and it's often difficult to tell if the Auro-3D soundtrack is in English (supposedly there's no region code on UHD discs).
I hope someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding of Auro-3D is that aside from its native format, the only files it can transcode are PCM. If I send my Marantz either a Dolby TrueHD or DTS-MA soundtrack, it will not let me convert them to Auro-3D. Whether this is due to my version of Auro-3D (10.1) or the Marantz I can't say. I've even tried converting multichannel PCM to Auro-3D, but it winds up going to the multichannel input. Any help would be appreciated.
To conclude, the Auro-3D upgrade was well worth the price, and the height speaker placement works just fine for both Atmos and DTS-X. It's just a shame that these latter formats have monopolized the US market. Mr. Teatro is also correct with his assessment of the immersive quality of the majority of Atmos and DTS-X soundtracks (try his suggestion of turning off your ear-level speakers with Dr. Strange - Multiverse of Madness). If anyone out there can suggest a UHD disc(s) with a good Auro-3D soundtrack, please let me know. I'd love to hear what this format is truly capable of.

3ddavey13's picture

Thank you, Bill M and Mr. Teatro, for your responses. I went back to the pdf manual for the Marantz SR7011 (heavens forbid they include a printed one) and affirmed that this receiver does indeed convert both Dolby and DTS soundtracks into Auro-3D. In fact, I just used it on the new surround sound mix of Pink Floyd's Animals. I first listened to the DTS-MA 5.1 in Neural:X and then played it again in Auro-3D. Without going into detail, the Auro-3D sounded significantly better. The reason I never realized this conversion was possible is due to my setup. I play all music files and discs on an Oppo UDP-205 which is connected to the Marantz via the 7.1 analog outputs and by HDMI from the audio only port. The Oppo's HDMI 2.0 is connected directly to the TV. What I now realize is that prevented me from seeing the Marantz's onscreen menus which come up when you press either the music or movie buttons on the remote, which allow you to choose Auro-3D. I have to switch the input on the TV to the Marantz to see these menus, which I finally did. Hey, I've only had this receiver for 5 years so I can't be expected to know everything, can I? Don't answer that.
Once again, thanks to everyone for your posts. I now have about 300 discs to convert to Auro-3D. Let me say to anyone planning on buying a new receiver or processor: Make sure it offers Auro-3D decoding. You'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't.

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