I think we can all agree that Spatial Audio is the final frontier when it comes to enjoying acoustic music, such as classical or contemporary classical music. Creating a holographic “image” with the musicians almost palpably in front of you, with the immersive acoustics of the recording venue all around it, all blended together to form a delicious music-enjoying soup. But we’ve also been getting lots of comments on social media platforms, saying things like “Spatial Audio is only for the 1% who can afford giant home theaters, not for the average Joe.” And sure, we get it. If you want to listen to immersive content in the way we hear it at the studio, you’d have to have a pretty nice setup, which isn’t always feasible (be it financially or just room-wise). But here’s the thing: you don’t necessarily have to have these nine giant speakers all around you to enjoy Spatial Audio Downloads, or any kind of immersive audio, for that matter. In this blogpost, we’ll guide you through a couple of different ways you can, at any budget level, play back Spatial Audio Downloads, such as you get from our website, from NativeDSD, or 2L’s web store. Let’s start with the easiest way. The easy way: Atmos-enabled soundbar One of the easiest ways to add Spatial Audio capabilities to your listening room is by adding a so-called soundbar. These are long, rectangular shaped loudspeaker cabinets that often have a whole bunch of active speakers built in to them. Some will be only stereo, some will have a center channel and even up-firing speakers built-in. One of the most popular models is the Sonos Arc, which has up-firing speakers and can connect over both wi-fi and HDMI. We’ll get to why that’s important later on. The Sonos Arc soundbar, with left, right, center, and up-firing top-left and top-right speakers. As you see, this is a very sleek package, with a high Partner Acceptance Factor of course. Soundbars with up-firing speakers are a great way to get started simply because, in one unit, you already have the capabilities of hearing height information in Spatial Audio Downloads. By adding the optional subwoofer and/or (wireless) rear surround speakers you can easily upgrade this soundbar to become a full-fledged Spatial Audio machine! The only downside is that, while the Arc supports Atmos, it doesn’t support Auro-3D and DTS:X, which in this author’s opinion, are a bit better-sounding formats. Okay, so you’ve purchased a soundbar such as the Sonos Arc, what now? Now it’s time to play back some Dolby Atmos content! Here at TRPTK, our Dolby Atmos-encoded music is available through MKV video files. So why’s that? Well, we found it’s the best way to transport Spatial Audio with the greatest of ease and compatibility. You can play back these MKV files through either a Blu-ray player with USB or network connection, your good-old PC or laptop. We like using a MacBook Pro with M1 for this application, since it already has an HDMI output. You simply plug the laptop into the soundbar and voilà! You’ve got Spatial Audio. Lots of programs support these codecs, but we prefer VLC Player since it’s free and plays back anything you throw at it. Just be sure that any sound is going to your soundbar completely unchanged! Check the settings of your specific application to ensure this. Do note that there are also soundbars capable of decoding DTS:X content, so whilst it is possible to play back DTS:X content on a soundbar, it’s not possible with the Sonos Arc specifically. The audiophile’s way: Auro-3D through Roon Pretty much our web store’s most popular Spatial Audio format is Auro-3D-encoded files. Essentially, these are 5.1-channel FLAC files, just like any other surround sound download would be, which you can play back in almost any playback software. And since a lot of our listeners (almost 40%) use Roon for their playback software, we’ll focus on this platform. Just note that everything we say here is also applicable to any other surround-sound capable system, just as long as you have an Auro-3D decoder somewhere along the line. So let’s start there, at the Auro-3D decoding bit. What we hear most from you is that you typically set Roon up in a way that it outputs over the HDMI connection of the device it’s streaming on, and turn off all DSP or other forms of processing. This may break the metadata-bits in the files to the point where the decoder doesn’t understand it’s getting Auro-3D-encoded content anymore. Once you have this set up, it’s time to connect the streamer to the decoder. You can do this in various ways, but most commonly, a home theater receiver is used, which acts as the decoder, DAC, and even amplifier of the system. We hear a lot of you use the Marantz SR8015. The Marantz SR8015, according to you the most popular Spatial Audio-capable receiver. You can simply connect your loudspeakers to this receiver, set it up in a nice 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 system, and you’re off to the races! You’ll soon notice the sound quality of Auro-3D is much higher than that of Dolby Atmos or even DTS:X. The resolution is a lot higher, and we think it’s also just made more with acoustic recordings in mind. The fun thing is, though, that this device also plays back both Atmos and DTS:X, so why not compare for yourself? The awesome way: Discrete DXD through a dedicated setup So what if Atmos, DTS:X or even Auro-3D is simply not good enough for your taste? What if you want the best of the best, cost-is-no-object, sound? Well, TRPTK also provides Discrete DXD versions of all albums, meaning that you get to listen to almost exactly what we hear in the studio when mastering. Mind you, these albums are HUGE. Like, 60-90 GB is not an exception but more like a rule-huge. And you do have to have a very specific and dedicated setup to play it back, but once you do… By golly, that sound. So here’s how it goes. Ideally, you would need an audio interface or DAC with lots of outputs (for our 5.1.4-channel DXD downloads, at least 10 of them). And though you could resample them to lower rates, if you’re going this way you’d probably want something that handles DXD. The best way to do this would be through either a Merging Technologies (Hapi or Horus) or DAD (AX32, AX64 or the new AX Center). You then connect all these channels to dedicated amplifiers and speakers, and are pretty much ready for playback. Unfortunately, most streaming programs stop at eight channels, so they won’t be of help. The easiest would be to play them either through Audacity (free), or, way better, Steinberg Nuendo (which we use for mixing) or WaveLab Pro (which we use for mastering). The latter two can handle up to 64 channels of surround sound, so there’s ample space to upgrade. You just load in the WAV files and zippity zoppity you’re up and ready! Our dedicated 5.1.4-channel immersive setup using Steinberg DAW software. But I hear ya. This is all a little bit over the top. What can you do to listen to Spatial Audio but like really on a budget? The hip way: Apple Music + AirPods After all these big chunky (and expensive) setups, it must be a breeze to discover it’s also possible to enjoy Spatial Audio on a bit of a tighter budget. At least we think so! We’re currently in the process of uploading Dolby Atmos masters for all of our albums to Apple Music and some more streaming services that allow for it. We already have quite a few up! And the fun thing about it is: if you have a pair of AirPods, you’re already able to enjoy Dolby Atmos! Just head over to the Apple Music app, pick one of our titles in Dolby Atmos (and not just our music, 2L also has fantastic albums in the format, go check them out!), make sure Dolby Atmos is on in your settings, and voilà. It’s as simple as that. Although not as beautiful, holographic, amazing as a dedicated speaker setup, Dolby Atmos through HRTF effects like the ones Apple uses are already a great entryway into immersive listening. Just try it out, enjoy, and let us know what you think! In conclusion We get it. It’s a big and expensive ordeal to put together an entire system for immersive audio listening. But we believe there are options for everyone out there, at almost any budget! So what does your immersive setup look like? Let us know! Write a message to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, suggestions or comments at all. Have a happy weekend! Cheers, Brendon.