Spatial audio is the most exciting thing to happen to pop music since stereo

Enlarge / To get the Dolby Atmos version of Automatic For The People, you’ll have to buy this complete 3-CD, 1-Blu-ray edition.

R.E.M./Craft Recordings

As much as I love overpriced gizmos in my living room, I still tend to be reluctant about new standards. TVs are a great example. I’ve appreciated the bonuses offered by 3D, 4K, and HDR, but I concede they all lack content and are less amazing than salespeople would lead you to believe. They’re also generally not worth replacing TVs that are only a few years old.

The same goes for audio, which fortunately hasn’t strayed far from a “5.1” surround-sound profile since the dawn of DVD adoption. Really, I’ve been fine with two good speakers and a subwoofer for my entire adult life. I laugh at overblown, pre-film Dolby intros in a theater. I shrug at the surround effects in hectic action movies. I have failed A/B tests in picking out major differences between 5.1 and 7.1 systems.

Surround audio can be cool, sure. But if I were to ever change up my entire living room, I’d need something to blow my aural expectations away. This week, that might have finally happened.

I am not lying when I say that a “spatial audio” experience this week left me gasping, laughing, and crying in sonic bewilderment. The impact came in a way that I never expected: not from a monstrous demo of sci-fi blasts in a film or video game, but from the acoustic majesty of an R.E.M. album brought to life anew. What’s more, the engineers behind this “first-ever” Atmos release were happy to share how they pulled it off—and how the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper set everything into motion.

Sweetness follows

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