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Jazz in Spatial Audio (Dolby Atmos)

A visual representation of Dolby Atmos
A visual representation of Dolby Atmos. (Source: Dolby website)

Jazz really sounds great in these new, Dolby Atmos mixes that have been appearing on Apple Music. It’s like enhanced 5.1 surround sound, where the producer or mix engineer can place instruments in a 3D space. And, unlike 5.1, you don’t need a complex, multi-speaker setup to enjoy the immersive experience: you can listen on AirPods when you’re out for a walk.

I listen mainly on my Mac on a standard pair of Sony MDR-7506s (and therefore I’m listening to what’s known as binaural audio). If you’re using wired headphones in this way, any pair will work. You’ll just need to make sure the Always On option is selected in the Apple Music app (under Preferences → Playback). Full details on how to listen on iPhones, iPads and various brands of wireless headphones are available on the Apple website.

Recordings I’ve listened to hundreds of times (John Coltrane’s Blue Trane and Esbjörn Svensson Trio’s 301, for instance), have never sounded so good. Some panning on older records can be a bit extreme, where the saxophone might be placed fully left, and the drums fully right, with only some bleed between the two. The Atmos mixes tend to sound much more pleasing, with more space for the mix to breathe. And on newer recordings, the results are similarly great: check out Ethan Iverson’s Every Note Is True and Bill Charlap Trio’s Street of Dreams.

I’ve compiled a playlist of some of my favourite tracks with Atmos mixes. Apple also has a playlist which is regularly updated as new recordings become available.