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When Apple launched Spatial Audio for Apple Music last year, it came with an unstated caveat: Even though Apple boasted that thousands of tracks were available in the new Dolby Atmos format, that included quite a few existing tracks that hadn’t really been mastered specially for Apple Music listeners.
In fact, many music fans quickly noticed that the Spatial Audio experience was inconsistent, at best.
The problem is that there’s more than one way to master a track for Dolby Atmos with Spatial Audio: for example, tracks designed to be listened to in a large amphitheatre need to be handled in an entirely unique way from those that are intended for headphones like Apple’s AirPods Max.
Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than with The Beatles 50th Anniversary Dolby Atmos Remixes, which had been lovingly remastered in 2017 by Giles Martin, son of the original producer George Martin.
The problem, however, as the younger Martin explained, was that none of his remixes were ever intended to be heard on personal listening devices, or even smaller speakers.
At the time, Martin had remastered classic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to be listened to in large theatres. After all, at the time, Dolby Atmos was all about the big-sound-big-theatre experience, and nobody really gave much thought to the idea that folks would someday be listening to the same tracks on a set of AirPods.
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Last year, Martin candidly acknowledged to Rolling Stone that Sgt. Pepper’s didn’t sound quite right to his ears and promised he would make sure it got fixed.
Sgt. Pepper’s, how it’s being presented right now, I’m actually going to change it. It doesn’t sound quite right to me. It’s out in Apple Music right now. But I’m gonna replace it. It’s good. But it’s not right. Sgt. Pepper’s was, I think, the first album ever mixed in Dolby Atmos. And we did that as a theatrical presentation. I liked the idea of the Beatles being the first to do something. It’s cool that they can still be the first to do something. So Sgt. Pepper’s is a theatrical mix that’s then being converted into a smaller medium.Giles Martin, Beatles producer
Specifically, Martin said he would go back to the original theatrical mix and remaster it for “near-field Dolby Atmos,” rather than the cinema version of Dolby Atmos.
Sgt. Pepper’s wasn’t the only album that had been remastered for cinema Dolby Atmos by Martin, but it did seem to be the most noticeable. Martin described it as “a little floaty,” due to the lack of bass and weight behind it, as well as being a bit too “bright” and “digital.”
By comparison, Abbey Road seemed to fare better when listened to in near-field environments like headphones and smaller listening spaces. Martin told Rolling Stone that’s because the Atmos mix was “much closer to the stereo mix, sonically.”
The Beatles ‘1’ Remastered
Now, nearly a year later, it looks like Martin has accomplished his mission, and he’s gone beyond a simple album-by-album re-remastering.
Instead, what we’ve gotten is a remastering of the 2015 1 compilation album. Originally released in 2000, it brings together nearly all the Fab Four’s greatest hits in one place, sequenced in such a way as to provide a sense of the band’s musical evolution.
The version on Apple Music is listed as the “2015 version” but it notes that it “now features brand-new mixed from Giles Martin, in Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos.”
The original 2015 version of 1 featured only stereo remixes, so this is definitely an upgrade. Plus, throw on a set of AirPods Max and you can certainly hear the improvement over the other Beatles albums on Apple Music.
Of course, if you don’t have AirPods Max, you can also get the Dolby Atmos with Spatial Audio experience with other H1/W1-equipped headphones like AirPods or Beats headphones, and there are also more than a few picks outside the Apple ecosystem that provide a solid listening experience for Apple’s Spatial Audio tracks.