Dolby Atmos: Is It Worth It For Headphones?

In recent years, sound technology has advanced to unprecedented heights. We’ve progressed from basic stereo systems to 3D audio experiences with Dolby Atmos. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Dolby Atmos is a surround sound technology that delivers an enhanced listening experience by creating a three-dimensional audio space. It does this by placing speakers around the room to create a more accurate and realistic sound reproduction.

It sounds great in theory, but does it make a difference in headphones? There’s no doubt that Dolby Atmos is an impressive technology. However, the jury is still out on whether or not it makes a difference in headphones. Some people claim that it does, while others say that the difference is negligible.

If you want to dive more into Dolby Atmos, this article will give you a more in-depth overview of the technology.

What Is Dolby Atmos?

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You may have heard the phrase “spatial audio” used by Apple, particularly when discussing their headphones and gear. It’s a standard that can successfully replicate a 3D audio world with a pair of AirPods. However, you may not realize that it has been developed with a technology that’s been around for a long time: Dolby Atmos.

Dolby Atmos takes Dolby’s traditional 5.1 and 7.11 channel surround sound mixes and adds height information to the mix. It is done by adding a speaker or “layer” to the soundtrack. That layer is placed above the listener and used to create a sense of overhead sounds and movement.

Mixes that are created for Atmos use specific metadata that tells the decoder where to place the sounds in the 3D space. It can be done in post-production or built into the content itself. For example, a filmmaker could choose to have an airplane fly over the audience’s head in a scene. It produces a sonic environment that precisely reflects how we hear.

Its unique feature is its arrangement of audio components. There are two critical aspects to Atmos: Dolby surrounds and height. The first is the standard 5.1 or 7.1 channels that you’re used to, but with the addition of overhead audio. It is possible through a home theater system with additional speakers or upward-firing speakers in a Dolby Atmos-enabled headphone. Dolby Height is what brings the 3D audio experience to headphones.

History of Dolby Atmos

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Dolby Laboratories developed this sound format for theater shows and movies. In June 2012, developers set up the first Dolby Atmos system in a Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, and it worked.

After its launch, there were about 25 other installations worldwide in the same year. In 2013, this number quickly grew to 300. There were more than 4,400 installations by 2019.

When Transformers: Age of Extinction came out on Blu-ray in 2014, Dolby Atmos was used as an audio-enhanced. In 2015, Atmos in the home was launched and used in AV receivers. Then, Blue-ray reissued Dolby Atmos in 2016 and used it in Game of Thrones.

In 2017, smartphones started to use Dolby Atmos. Some people were skeptical about the format coming to phones because of how they would use it with such a small device. However, it was able to make the phone sound louder and give a surround sound feeling.

Today, it’s available in several different products. You can find it in theaters, home theaters, cars, and headphones. The first headphones with Dolby Atmos technology were the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, announced at IFA in 2018.

Dolby Atmos Naming System

Home theaters use a standard naming system, and Dolby Atmos uses the same system so that people can figure out or recognize the parts before they listen to the music. Dolby Atmos is shown by three digits, like 5.1.2, which would be a five-channel surround sound with two height channels. The number “1” in the designation stands for the front, left, and right speakers. In contrast, the number “2” refers to the height layer or overhead-channel speakers.

The audio codec and speaker setup can be a little more complicated when it comes to headphones. There are three Dolby headphone setups: 5.1.2, 7.1.2, and 11.1.2. The first number refers to the number of channels in the front left-right stereo field. In contrast, the second and third numbers refer to the number of channels in the back left-right and overhead fields.

Many people get confused by the naming system for headphones because it’s different than its usage for home theaters. For example, a 5.1.2 set up in your home theater would have five channels in the front and two channels in the back, while a 5.1.2 setup in your headphones would have five channels in the front and one channel in the back.

It’s important to note that not all headphones are created equal. Not all of them will give you an authentic Dolby Atmos experience.

Is It Worth It For Headphones?

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One of the main issues people have about gaining access to Dolby Atmos is whether they will need to purchase a new pair of headphones with Atmos. Any standard pair of headphones can deliver the Dolby Atmos experience. However, it is a bit complicated.

To hear three-dimensional audio when using standard headphones, you need to use the Dolby Access application. The app will help direct the audio to the correct speakers in your headphones. If you’re using an iPhone, it will also help control the phone’s orientation so that the audio is directed towards your ears.

When using headphones with Dolby Atmos, you can enjoy many features like cinema-quality sound, virtual surround sound, and 3D audio. The best part is that you can use any type of headphones.

How Do Dolby Atmos Headphones Work?

Because headphones only use two audio channels to project sound, wouldn’t it be infeasible to implement Dolby Atmos in headphones?? For a Atmos system to work, there must be many speakers positioned in a way that sound can take on the appearance of three-dimensional objects.

Dolby Atmos for headphones uses something called “upmixing.” This technology takes the two channels and creates a virtual surround sound field.

This process is done with a decoder built into the headphones. And the decoder will take the stereo input and create a three-dimensional audio space. Also, this space will be based on the information provided by the audio codec.

The decoder will then send the audio to the headphones in such a way that it will appear as if it is coming from all around you. It gives you an immersive experience that can be pretty convincing.

Types of Headphones Ideal for Dolby Atmos

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Atmos-capable headphones aren’t necessary, as the Dolby Access software and your game console or computer processor perform the upmixing decoding. However, to get the most out of the technology and avoid any possible compatibility issues, it’s best to use headphones specifically designed to work with Dolby Atmos.

Regular vs. Dolby Atmos headphones

Dolby Atmos enthusiasts often wonder if they can get by with conventional headphones or if they need to invest in specialized models that support the technology.

Remember that the Dolby Access app, which conducts most of the work, is vital to make you enjoy Dolby Atmos on any headphones. The app mixes the sound and sends it to the headphones in a way that creates an immersive surround experience.

If you have a compatible set of headphones, they will come with a decoder that helps create the 3D space. It is essential because most headphones don’t have enough channels to reproduce Atmos’ overhead sounds without some help.

Wireless vs. wired headphones

You already know that Dolby Atmos works with any set of headphones, including Bluetooth and regular stereo headphones. Even yet, it’s vital to remember that standard Bluetooth headphones may not offer the same surround sound quality.

It is because standard Bluetooth headphones use only two channels to project sound. To get the best surround sound experience, you’ll need a set of headphones that come with a built-in Dolby Atmos decoder. These are often called “Atmos-enabled” or “Atmos-certified” headphones.

Single-driver vs. Multi-driver headphones

Headphones with multiple drivers, often known as multi-drivers, include multiple drivers in each ear cup.

These headphones can produce a broader soundstage thanks to the inclusion of several drivers. As a result, the sound quality is superior because each driver is tuned to a distinct frequency band, making them suitable for lifelike surround sound.

On the other hand, having more drivers does not automatically equate to improved performance. Because of the additional components in the ear cups, it is possible that using several drivers will reduce the sound quality overall. It is common if the manufacturer doesn’t correctly tune the drivers.

As a result, the best course of action is to give them each a shot and see which one you like.

Dolby Atmos for Headphones: Best Features

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Although Atmos-enabled headphones are not a must-have to enjoy the technology, they offer some benefits over regular headphones.

Immersive surround sound experience

Dolby Atmos for headphones create an immersive surround sound experience by delivering discrete sound objects to your ears. It means that you’ll hear sounds coming from all around you, including overhead.

The best part is that you can achieve this effect without the need for additional speakers. You can enjoy it on any set of headphones, whether wired or wireless.

Enhanced sound quality

Atmos-certified headphones often come with a Dolby Atmos decoder that mixes the sound, allowing you to enjoy the full effect of the technology. Without this decoder, you’ll only get a two-channel stereo sound.

Additionally, these headphones usually have multiple drivers in each ear cup to produce a broader soundstage. It results in a superior sound quality closer to what you would hear in a movie theater.

Compatibility with other devices

Atmos-enabled headphones are not limited to just your PC or laptop. They are also compatible with gaming consoles, such as the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and even some TVs. So, you can enjoy your favorite games, movies, and TV shows with enhanced sound quality without additional hardware.

Built-in intelligent equalizer

A built-in equalization in the Dolby Access app significantly enriches your audio. “Detailed,” “Balanced,” and “Warm” are the three options. Games, movies, and music may benefit from customizing their audio settings.

When gaming, for example, a more detailed sound is preferred, whereas listening to music, something more balanced is preferred. For watching movies, a warm, enveloping sound is best.

Drawbacks of Dolby Atmos for Headphones

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Although Atmos-enabled headphones offer many benefits, they are not without their drawbacks.


The first and most obvious drawback is the price. Atmos-enabled headphones can be pretty expensive, often costing more than regular headphones.

Additionally, you can’t find the decoder needed to enjoy the full effect of the technology in most headphones. If you want to get the most out of your Atmos experience, you may need to purchase it separately.

Additionally, Dolby Access offers a 7-days free trial. However, you will need a one-time payment of $14.99 for the license to continue using the app beyond that.

Less accessible Dolby Access app

The Dolby Access app is required to set up and customize your audio experience with Atmos-enabled headphones.

Although the app is free to download, it’s not as widely available as other apps. So, you may have trouble finding it if you don’t know where to look.

In addition, some users have reported that the app is not very user-friendly. It can be challenging to navigate, and the settings are not always easy to understand.

Requires Atmos-enabled hardware

You may use any Dolby Atmos headphones and any pair of headphones with Dolby Access app connectivity. However, depending on the quality of your headphones, you may not be able to experience the full extent of Atmos’ immersive sound. To get the most out of Dolby Atmos, you’ll need to buy headphones with built-in support for the Atmos format.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Does Dolby Atmos for headphones make a difference?

A: Yes, the Atmos experience with headphones offers many benefits over the traditional stereo sound. You’ll get more immersive, surround sound experience closer to what you would hear in a movie theater.

Q: What do I need to use Dolby Atmos for headphones?

A: To enjoy Dolby Atmos for headphones, you’ll need a pair of headphones with built-in support for the Atmos format and the Dolby Access app. The app is free to download but may be difficult to find depending on your location.

Q: Is Dolby Atmos better than DTS?

A: Dolby Atmos and DTS are audio codecs that offer surround sound experiences. They are both widely used, and both have their pros and cons. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference.

Q: Is Dolby Atmos worth headphones gaming?

A: Yes, it is worth considering if you’re looking for an immersive gaming experience with superior sound quality. It offers a more detailed and balanced sound than traditional stereo headphones. Additionally, it’s compatible with most gaming consoles.

Q: I have a pair of headphones without Dolby Atmos support. Can I still use them?

A: Yes, you can use any headphones with the Dolby Access app. However, depending on the quality of your headphones, you may not be able to experience the full extent of Atmos’ immersive sound. To get the most out of Atmos, you’ll need to buy headphones with built-in support for the Atmos format.

Final Thoughts

So, is Dolby Atmos worth it for headphones? Overall, the answer is yes. Atmos-enabled headphones offer many benefits that make them well worth the investment. Dolby Atmos is hard to beat if you’re looking for an immersive, surround sound experience.

However, the technology does have its drawbacks, such as price and the need for additional hardware. If you’re looking for an immersive audio experience, Atmos-enabled headphones are a great option. However, be sure to weigh the pros and cons before getting one.

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