Top Ten Spatial Audio Music Albums

From Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to Ozzy Osbourne’s Patient Number 9, we take a look at the ten best spatial audio music albums and why you need to listen to them.

Tears for Fears – The Tipping Point 

The seventh studio album from the prog pop rock duo, since 2004’s Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, proves to be a stunning showcase for Dolby Atmos, and a great jumping on point for anyone interested in the art of spatial audio. Mixed by Steve Wilson, founder of Porcupine Tree, it’s at times disorientating and intense, then stripped back and expansive. Standout Atmos tracks include My Demons, with its soaring synths, and the final surround swirl that is Rivers of Mercy. At times The Tipping Point recalls the giddy heights of Trevor Horn and Yes, and then it opens the door to somewhere new entirely.  

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos 

While some spatial mixes assume the listener wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with the musicians, others opt for a more conventional front-of-stage approach – and that’s what we have here: this is unapologetic rock and roll, and the resulting soundstage is huge and enveloping.  

Here Dolby Atmos is used to emphasise space, giving more air to Joe Elliott’s vocals and a sharper edge to the riffing axes of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell. The opener, Take What You Want may be vintage pop rock Leppard, but the spatial audio mix has the band sounding fresher than ever. 

The Porcupine Tree – Closure / Continuation 

A mulch of clanging riffs, soaring choirs and propulsive rhythms, Closure / Continuation is an exciting, exhaustive, exhilarating listen.  It’s prog for the spatial generation. Tracks that demand to be demo’d in Dolby Atmos include the dynamic Harridan, and the epic Chimera’s Wreck,  a spatial tour de force that delights with guitar arpeggios and bludgeoning rhythms. Fans have waited more than a decade for this, the band’s eleventh studio album, but they’re sure to feel it was worth the wait. 

The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  

This radical 3D redux was masterminded by producer Giles Martin at Abbey Road (where the original was recorded), utilising the original four track master tapes from the studio sessions. First released in mono, with the stereo iteration a bit of a throwaway, this latest iteration of the legendary album shouldn’t work – yet somehow it does. 

The original recording didn’t have a lot of bass, but Martin has used elements of the kick drum to add weight. His spatial mix places you at the heart of the concept. The result is endlessly fascinating. 

Tom Petty – Live at the Fillmore 1997 

Oozing atmosphere, this Dolby Atmos mix of Tom Petty’s legendary Fillmore residency sounds as live as they come. Crowd noise is omnipresent in the mix, but held apart and aloft from Petty and the band. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue sits you between Petty’s dancing licks, with drums just behind your head, while I won’t back Down, is gloriously immersive; the crowd whooping and singing along to the rear and up high. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. © 2022 MARVEL.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Original Score 

Original soundtracks are natural candidates for Dolby Atmos music release, but few are as sonically inventive as Ludwig Goransson’s score for this Marvel sequel. The album opener, Nyana Wam, presents tribal chants and rhythms, courtesy of vocalist Baaba Maal and drummer Massamba Diop, in a three dimensional wrapper which then blooms into poignant orchestration, while the Namor theme drops such a heavy subterranean bass beat from on high you’ll stagger under its weight. 

The latter track adds reverb to create a sense of space and grandeur, while pipes and other Mayan musical instruments add authenticity.   

There’s even some propulsive dance tracks in the mix: listen to They want it, but No (by Tobe and Fat Nwigwa), here given a cinematic sheen, and Rihanna’s end credit offering Lift me Up, which appears to be a direct instruction to the mix room. 

REM – Automatic for the People 

One of the first 3D remixes of a recognised rock classic remains one of the genre’s most entertaining. Reimagined by engineer Mike Mills, along with original producer Scott Litt and producer Clif Norrell, this spatial mix from 2017 has been hailed by some as the definitive way to enjoy this album – and we’re not going to argue. From the pirouetting piano of Nightswimming, with Stipes slightly croaky vocal swamped by a tide of strings, through to an almost ethereal presentation of Man on the Moon, the album invites clinical analysis, with every aspect of its recording identifiable for discussion.  

Kraftwerk – 3-D the catalogue 

This Grammy award-winning electro-dance concert album was tailor made for Dolby Atmos. Mixed by Tom Ammermann, it features live (but not so much that you would notice) versions of many the band’s crowd-pleasers, so there’s plenty to enjoy. If you went to a disco in The Matrix it would probably sound like this.  

Radio Stars makes full use of the Dolby Atmos platform, with bleeps and pulses orbiting your head space, while Trans Europe Express directs its synth train right to left, arcing high.  

Moanin’ – Art Blackey and the Jazz Messengers 

Time travel is possible – at least it is if you shut your eyes and let this remarkable remix of this 1958 Blue Note recording wash over you. Dolby Atmos isn’t just about engulfing audio. Here it’s stripped back and used primarily to create dimensionality when there was precious little to begin with.  

As the titular jazz drummer provides a perfect backbeat to saxophonist Benny Golson, you can sense the physicality of the recording venue in the mix. There’s room to bop between trumpet and piano, but the separation never sounds gimmicky. The 3D presentation is always restrained and artful.  

Ozzy Osbourne – Patient Number 9 

Spatial audio isn’t just about Dolby Atmos, there’s also Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, and it can be every bit as immersive. While we wait for the Black Sabbath back catalogue to get a 3D long overdue remix, this new album ticks all our metal boxes. The title track, with its ear candy hook, is a dimensional treat, from the opening madhouse cacophony, to the crunching Jeff Beck riff, it occupies every available inch of 3D space. For a real whiff of Sabbath gone spatial, try Degradation Rules, in which Ozzy reunites with Tony Iommi. Binaural audio benefits headbanging, who knew?