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Video: Heos, Denon and Marantz Updates CEDIA 2015:

The Dolby Atmos System

Dolby Atmos System

The Dolby Atmos system has been creating a 3D aural experience in theatres since June 2012. Now the company that brought us surround sound is bringing its object-based audio experience into the home and on mobile devices.The weird thing about audio is that it's incredibly important to film, but when done well you don't even notice. You've probably already heard Dolby's Atmos technology in movies like Star Trek Into the Darkness or the best film of the Summer, Guardians of Galaxy. But when you do notice what's going on with the audio, it's spectacular.

So Atmos is coming to your TV and phone, but what does it mean exactly? We've broken down how Atmos will change home theatre and mobile audio and what it means for you and your ears.

What is it?

The Dolby Atmos system places speakers above the audience. But it's more than just shoving a few speakers in the ceiling. The actual Atmos system lets film makers place sound elements in a 3D space. With 5.1 and 7.1 systems, when you want to create the illusion that someone is behind the audience you just throw that sound to those speakers. It's a speaker based system. With Atmos, instead of pushing a sound to a particular speaker, it's pushed to a place in a 3D space. For example, to create the illusion of  a helicopter flying overhead the sound engineering doesn't pick which speaker the sound of the helicopter will come out of. Instead, the engineer picks a point in a 3D space and the Atmos system automatically adjusts the sound coming of the appropriate speaker.

Above: The tiny white line at the top of the cube represents a helicopter flying in a 3D space. The dots on the left represent the speakers. The subwoofer and two left overhead speakers are enabled at this point. 

The result is an audio experience that pulls the sound up from the ear-level speakers of 7.1 and 5.1 systems. With Atmos it sounds like water is falling on a canopy above you in a scene with a storm. When something goes whizzing by your ears it "feels" like it's actually happening in the theatre. You can hear the system in action in Atmos-certified theatres with recent movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek Into the Darkness and The Life of Pi.

How does is work in my house?

An A/V receiver with an Atmos renderer first takes a room calibration. During that initial setup, the space is mapped out to best create an audio 3D landscape. Whether you use the Atmos-enabled ceiling mounted speakers or Atmos-enabled speakers that point up and bounce the sound off the ceiling, it's the same result and it recreates the same 3D audio environment found in certified theatres.

How does it work on Mobile?

A hardware encoder in a mobile device takes Atmos-certified content and recreates the object-oriented soundscape with your headphones. Fortunately, you won't need to buy new headphones, but because it's simulating the sound coming from speakers above your head, it's not as impressive as the home theatre system. Still, it sounded pretty cool in the demo.

Do I need to buy stuff?

Yes. For the home you'll need a new Atmos-enabled receiver with a renderer that takes the meta-data found in audio of supporting movies and pushes it to not only to the ceiling speakers, but also the rest of your home theatre speakers. You'll also need to purchase at least two new Atmos-enabled speakers.

If you're the kind of person who enjoys drilling holes in your ceiling,  you can buy overhead stand-alone speakers. For the rest of us, you can purchase either new surround-sound speakers that have speakers on top that point at the ceiling. Or, you can buy module speakers that sit atop the speakers you already own. Dolby says you'll need a minimum of two of these ceiling-facing speakers, but suggests four speakers or modules for optimal sound. If you're already buying the new receiver, you might as well get all four speakers.

As for Blu-ray and streamers, as long as the device supports Dolby Digital Plus and can pass that information to the receiver, you won't need to buy a new device. Most new Blu-ray players support the standard. Just make sure to enable bit-stream out. The current Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV all support Dolby Digital pass through.

What about for mobile?

For mobile, you can either buy a tablet or smartphone with a hardware Atmos renderer inside. There's nothing on the market right now, but Dolby did say that software companies could license the technology to put in their apps. So you might be able to enjoy Atmos on your current smartphone in the future.

What content is available?

There are over 150 Atmos-enabled movies. In addition to the movies mentioned above, The Hobbit trilogy, Brave, Gravity, Ender's Game, Frozen, Pacific Rim, and the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron are all Atmos-mixed movies. Of course, the studios need to release a home-video version of those movies with Atmos audio enabled in order for the home theatre system to create the same soundscape at home. Fortunately, the same mix used for a theatre can be used at home. So it's really just a matter of updating the audio mix.

Will there be streaming options?

That's up to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the rest of the companies that stream video to our homes. According to Dolby, a 5.1 audio stream takes up 384kKbps and an stream with Atmos meta-data takes up the same space. So all studios need to do is give the Netflix's and Hulu's of the world a new audio stream for their movies. Netflix told TNW it has "no plans at present" and Hulu and Amazon haven't replied to our queries yet. But if Atmos gains wide adoption, expect them all to support the audio feature in the future.

NAD Master Series 4 New Models on demo

  • M 12 Direct Digital Pre amp DAC - 2 channel stereo
  • M 22 Hybrid Digital Power Amplifer 2 X 250 -2 channel stereo
  • M 17 Surround Sound AV Preamplifier –Multi Channel
  • M27 Seven Channel Power Amplifier 7 X 180

In an excellent November write-up, that highlighted the new NAD Masters as one of the most advanced Class-D audio systems ever heard, audio expert Chris Eberle at Secrets of Home Theater and High-Fidelity, provides you with in-depth look at the M17 AV Surround Sound Preamp Processor and M27 Seven-Channel Power Amplifier.

Sony 4k TVs

Ultra HD1, Motionflow™ XR 960, media up-scaled to 4K quality1, 2, wireless HD streaming with built-in Wi-Fi®5, X-tended Dynamic Range PRO with 3x brightness range3, TRILUMINOS™ display, HDMI support for next gen 4K players and services

The Absolute Sound – Products of the Year

Product of the year: All in one system Blu Sound (4 models on display)

Best sounding products for streaming and no new wires whole house music. From the folks at NAD and PSB

Music server of the Year- Sony HAP-Z1ES (On Display)

Internal 1 TB hard drive

  • Playback of DSD and the full range of Hi-Res file formats
  • Analog FIR filters
  • 1TB hard drive for local music playback and storage
  • DSD re-mastering engine converts all signals to DSD signals
  • Built-in Wi-Fi for app control and music transfer


Speaker of the Year- mid priced - Golden Ear Triton One (On Display)

The Triton One is an evolutionary speaker that builds upon all the advanced technologies that have made the Tritons famous. The sleek 54" tall Triton One represents the highest technology GoldenEar has to offer, including 56 bit DSP engine for the sub section, a fully balanced crossover design, high-end film capacitors, advanced cabinet design, and much more. The Triton One includes a built-in subwoofer section powered by a 1600 watt GoldenEar ForceField digital amplifier. The amp drives three 5" x 9" front-mounted quadratic subwoofer bass drivers which are coupled to dual (per side) side-mounted 7" x 10" quadratic planar infrasonic bass radiators. Our newly developed Frequency Dependent Bass Loading Technology, utilizing open-cell polyurethane foam damping pads, as well as special hollow-fiberfill, further optimizes low-frequency performance.There are two newly designed 5-1/4" cast-basket midrange/upper bass drivers, which incorporate GoldenEar's proprietary Multi-Vaned Phase Plug (MVPP™) design, housed in dual discreet midrange chambers, arranged in a D'Appolito array surrounding the extraordinary GoldenEar High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR™) tweeter.

The result is a superb reference home audio and home theater loudspeaker, already honored by the prestigious 2014 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award, that has performance equal to, and in many cases surpassing, speakers selling for ten times its cost. Remarkably precise 3D imaging with a huge soundstage of exceptional height, depth and breadth. And, of course, a pair's dual powered subwoofers deliver remarkably deep, tight, bass performance, perfect for music as well as dynamic home theater.

Sub Woofer of the Year JL Audio E 110 (On Display)

E-Sub e110-ASH

Powered Subwoofer with 10-inch Subwoofer Driver, 1200 watts

Integrated Amplifier of the Year NAD 3020

We have the larger version of this on demo D 7050


Custom Home Theater System & Automation Receives
2014 Mark of Excellence Award

Retrofit Project of the Year above $50,000

2014 Mark of Excellence Award

This award recognizes the ingenuity of an integration project where a new system has been installed into an existing residential structure, where the home or section of the home is not under construction.

The entry must demonstrate how an existing home was upgraded with new technology. The entry should include the hardware used, the wiring or wireless approach, the installation methodology, customer requirements, ease of use and how the most difficult install challenges were overcome.

Creativity and expertise should demonstrate your retrofit prowess.

Maine Home + Design Magazine Cover  

Vose project in Boothbay featured in August 2012 Maine Home and Design

Maine Home + Design Magazine Cover  

Vose project in Boothbay featured in August 2012 Maine Home and Design

Maine Home + Design Magazine Cover  

Vose project in Boothbay featured in August 2012 Maine Home and Design

DownEast Magazine cover featuring project in which Custom Home Theater participated

DownEast Magazine Cover Story Includes Our Work

Custom Home Theater installed 170 stealth speakers inside and outside of the Coulombe home. All of the photos in our image gallery contain speakers, but you can't see them because they are all hidden. In some cases they are inside the ceiling or in a faux rock that's indistinguishable from a real rock!

View image gallery


Custom Home Theater featured in DIY TV Network show Blog Cabin

2012 - Custom Home Theater is installing whole house music system and infrastructure for telephone, data, and video.

WINNER TechHome 2011 Home of the Year Award  
1840 Saltbox -Complete audio video update, including 5 invisible mirror TVs and whole house music control system


TechHome 2011
Home of the Year Award

WINNER TechHome 2011 Retrofit of the Year Award
One of five invisible mirror TVs set in the home’s llvingroom

TechHome 2011
Retrofit of the Year Award


2010 TechHome Mark of Excellence Award

  • Winner – best retrofit over 100k.
  • Oceanside Guest house.
  • Typically retrofit is the most difficult and challenging.

Oceanside Guest house.

WINNER - 2010 TechHome Mark of Excellence Award


Dealer of the Month

McIntosh Dealer of the Month
We are featured on the Dealer of the Month showcase McIntosh Labs Web site - along with some of the most prestigious audio video dealers in the world. Go there

2009 Rising Star Award

Transparent Audio Rising Star Award
We recently received the Rising Star award from Transparent Audio.


Control4  New product line for new & retrofit  

New product line for new & retrofit

Excellent system – reasonably priced to control:

  • audio
  • video
  • lights
  • HVAC
  • locks
  • cameras
  • shades
  • drapes
Energy management system
Energy management systems is now incorporated into our designs and product mix.


Efficiency Maine Partner

Efficiency Maine Partner

We now are a Partner in Efficiency Maine to help you and your neighbors save energy and save the planet.


2008 TechHome Mark of Excellence Award

This award recognizes the ingenuity of the best residential retrofit installation. The winning project shows how a home was upgraded with with a new technology foundation including the hardware used the wiring approach and "How the most difficult issues were overcome." Creativity, expertise, and "Mission impossible made possible" demonstrate the company's retrofit prowess.

  Lee Lareau (left) & Ryan Thurson (right) receive award
  Lee Lareau (left) & Ryan Thurston (right) receive award


2008 TechHome Best Home Theater/ Media Room

This award recognizes the best designed and installed dedicated entertainment system, including video display, surround sound, multiple sources and control. The winning project demonstrates ease of use,integration with the rooms environmental systems ( lighting, window covering, and temperature) and /or other house systems(security, cameras, access control and distributed audio/video.

Custom Home Theater has recently been featured or quoted in the following magazines:

  • Home Theater Magazine (April 2009) volume 16 no. 4, pp. 39-44, Home Theater Designs exclusive feature
  • CE Pro (August 2008) pp. 64-72, exclusive feature on our company
  • TechHome Builder (Sept/Oct 2008 issue) Home Theater and the Sea
  • CEDIA Newsletter (industry association) quoted Lee on state of our industry May 09.

Home Theater: What You Need to Know

Home Theater: What You Need to Know 15 page PDF brochure

Click to download PDF




The Latest in Home Theater Systems

The Latest in Home Theater Systems
By Lee Lareau, Custom Home Theater Systems

Click here to view

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Over 30 years of industry experience.

Exceptional audio-video
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Winner -Best Retrofit- 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014
Mark of Excellence -TechHome- Consumer Electronics Association
Winner - Home of the Year 2011
2014– Best Home Theater, Project of the Year
Finalist- 2011 Multi-Room Project, Best Home Theater