UPDATE: Ironic to note that after I wrote this entry, I was watching a movie when all of a sudden my Sonos Arc soundbar made a loud POP then the sound cut out. It was seriously loud. I thought that the dresser fell over in the guest room or something. I thought it had blew out, which seemed impossible given that I didn't even have the sound up that loud, but after unplugging and plugging back in, it was find. Until it happened again! After some Googling, I found that this is a KNOWN ISSUE and Sonos hasn't done shit about it. Apparently it has to do with several audio sources, including Xbox and newer-generation AppleTV 4K. Like the one I just bought. So, yeah, not sure where I go from here. I guess I call Sonos and complain (as everybody else has done) and hope they get off their fucking asses and fix the problem. Though this has been an issue for over a year and nothing's been done, so who knows. In the meanwhile, I've gone back to my original AppleTV 4K in the hopes that the Sonos problem will abate until it's resolved. If it gets resolved.
UPDATE-UPDATE: Two days running off the old AppleTV 4K, and no pops. I switch back to the Rev. 3 AppleTV 4K and they start up again. WTF?!? I am assuming that Apple is using HDMI and Atmos standards to make their little box... so what's the deal with Sonos? Frustrating. Am I never going to be able to update my media sources now?
When it comes to the Dolby Atmos spatial audio on my Sonos Arc soundbar, I was less than impressed. Despite buying a Sonos mount, positioning the soundbar 4-inches below my television as instructed, and cranking the height channel to maximum, I just wasn't feeling it. I'd watch scene after scene of the best Atmos mixes available, confirm that Sonos was receiving Atmos sound, and never heard anything of any substance. It was a heck of a punch to the gut after paying the money it cost me.
Then Sonos released the Era 300 (which I reviewed here) and all of that was supposed to change.
And so I bought into their game, fully expecting to return the speakers when they let me down as the Sonos Arc had done.
But then they actually ended up worth being the price of admission. Once I adjusted the rear speakers to point slightly inward... increased the height volume to maximum... increased the treble by a lot... increased the bass by a bit to compensate... and increased the surround audio a touch... it all kinda came together. The only thing I could do to improve it further would be to add a wall in my open living space so that the left channel could reflect instead of drift towards my kitchen. Something that's not in the cards, alas.
But still... darn good. Mostly for spatial audio music, because the Atmos mixes we get for home video is lacking. Though the situation is improving, some movies are more impressive than others. Below is a list of my favorites. My top two are films by Denis Villeneuve, who seems to take spatial audio very seriously.
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017 - Denis Villeneuve)
How this movie didn't make a billion dollars is beyond me. It is an absolute masterpiece. Not only is it an impossibly good sequel to one of the most incredible films ever made... it manages to capture the atmosphere that made the original so mind-blowing. All while having a great story and flawless casting. It's a miracle on-screen. It's glorious to behold. And when it comes to the Atmos sound design? You're in the film. The many voluminous spaces fill your room with echos and reverb. Music is lush and all-encompassing. Small moments... like striking a piano key... are made to feel huge. You feel the rain falling on you in the dreary, brutalist environment of 2049's Los Angeles. Explosions rock your soul. The Atmos is meticulously crafted to be exactly what it needed to be, and makes me appreciate the movie all the more.
- Dune (2021 - Denis Villeneuve)
It is one of my favorite novels of all time. I've read it a dozen times. It is impossible to adapt into film. But it's been adapted twice. The 2000 TV series was a mess. I actually did enjoy the 1984 David Lynch film (which holds up very well, actually), but it was more style over substance. The Denis Villeneuve Dune, however, is genius. The writing team behind it acted like a skilled surgeon... knowing exactly what to cut while keeping the soul of the novel. And the Atmos soundscape that was crafted for the film is everything you dream about when your sound system can take advantage of it.
- John Wick 3: Parabellum (2017 - Chad Stahelski)
There are few franchises more deeply satisfying than everybody's favorite emo-assassin, John Wick. Each installment ups the ante in cool ways, and the brilliant Atmos soundtrack is no exception. Parabellum does an amazing job of creating immersive sound that gets better with each new movie. From rain pouring down from the sky to bullets bouncing around a room, you're there in the middle of the unrelenting action. And oh what action it is.
- Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness (2022 - Sam Raimi)
Disney/Marvel spends a great deal of money to make their movies a fantastic experience. But when it comes to their Atmos mixes for home video, they've been hit-or-miss... but mostly miss. You hear the film in the theater and it's great... then listen to it at home and it's kinda not. I guess the spatial audio is not a straight 1-to-1 conversion and requires work that Disney doesn't want to pay for. But it's been getting better since Avengers Infinity War & Endgame, and Multiverse of Madness is one of the best so far. The inter-dimensional jumping sounds very cool, but there's other more quiet moments with birds chirping and air moving that are just as nicely done... as it should be.
- Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame (2018/2019 - Anthony & Joe Russo)
The movies themselves were among the best super-hero flicks to ever be released. Smart story-telling combined with amazing special effects. And sound. You can tell that some serious money was put into the Dolby Atmos positioning, because so many scenes were beautifully mixed. And that battle at the end is where it all comes to a head.
- Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018 - Christopher McQuarrie)
It hadn't occurred to me to check out this movie until somebody in a Sonos forum recommended it. Very nice. There are scenes where the auditory positioning is meticulously crafted, but not in a way that sounds artificial. No easy feat.
- John Wick 2 (2017 - Chad Stahelski)
Unlike the consistent spatial audio in John Wick: Chapter 3, the Atmos effects are a bit more hit-or-miss with the second chapter. The ones you get are brilliant... then they just... disappear. You'll get a few scenes where obvious height queues could have been used, but weren't. It's a shame, and I'm not sure why this is. Maybe budget? In any event, the sound design is still top-notch. It just could have been more.
What surprised me most was the Atmos mixes I liked the least. I read over and over and over that my favorite movie of 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road had some of the best Atmos work to date. And yet... I was seriously underwhelmed by the overhead effects, which were so random as to be distracting (unlike John Wick 2 where you can forget about it). The height channel would pop up when it wasn't needed... then be missing when you'd expect them to be there. It's bizarre. But still an incredible movie. I just think it sounds better with a 5.1 mix.
Which is rare.
Most times, the Dolby Atmos mix is incredible... even when it's not consistent. And finally... finally... I can hear it in my home theater thanks to the Sonos Era 300's.