WithThe headline says it all: StormAudio, maker of high-end 3D immersive audio processors, AV receivers and multi-channel amps, has released a firmware update that adds the most eagerly anticipated audio feature of 2018—Native 9.1.6 Dolby Atmos processing—to its products.
This update is a “demo update” which means it’s more like a beta, with a final release to follow. But I’m not one to wait for the general release firmware update, so making the move to 9.1.6 is already a done deal. Yesterday I downloaded the firmware and installed it. Today I ran the 128 sine wave sweeps it takes to perform the room correction.
Updating the StormAudio I.ISP 3D.16.12 to Dolby Atmos 9.1.6 capability.
This 16-channel Atmos solution allows home theater enthusiasts to add front-wide speakers and also have six overhead speakers, arranged in three rows. The benefit here is a more expansive soundstage on the horizontal plane, and better rendering of height effects including a greater sense of ambience, more accurate overhead panning, and greater coverage for multi-row installations.
I have a StormAudio I.ISP 3D.16.12, which is the company’s AVR-like 16-channel beast. It has twelve amplified channels built in (200 watts per channel), and I have added a Classe Sigma AMP5 (200 watts per channel) to bring the total amplified channel count to 15, which allows the system to run full-blast with 9.1.6 Atmos. Going by specs, there’s 10,000 watts of amplification in my modest 11′ x 18′ x 9′ room.
To celebrate the epic nature of this audio system—which can be EQ’d to play flat from 15 Hz to 20 kHz at “reference levels” thanks to all that power—I’m bringing my Xbox One X upstairs from the TV room and adding it to the mix of sources in the home theater, so that I can experience games with Dolby Atmos sound in a maximalist fashion. Am I excited? Giddy like a kid at an amusement park is more like it.
On a related note, my long-term use experience with the StormAudio I.ISP 3D.16.12 has been exemplary. It is a rock-solid piece of gear that delivers a stunning listening experience time and again. Granted, I can’t wait for an HDMI board upgrade that will bring full HDR 4K support, but so far I’ve been able to work around that limitation by using an Oppo UDP-203 and taking advantage of its HDMI input to extract Atmos from devices that only offer a single HDMI output. Yes, it would be nice to skip all that, and soon the upgraded HDMI board will become available and make that possible, but the focus here is on the machine’s formidable 3D immersive audio audio capabilities.
Playing the Dolby Atmos demo clips I am so familiar with from CEDIA and CES demos of the past, and speaker plus AVR reviews, I was shocked to find myself having reacted emotionally. Eyes tearing up, goose bumps, a brief burst of adrenaline… everything you pay good money for the get in a home theater, distilled into two minutes of rematching some clips I’ve seen dozens of times before.
The most obvious thing to me is how badly needed the front left and right wides are. That was blatantly clear in the very first Atmos demo clip, Amaze—the 360 panning is more cohesive and more of a circle, with a dramatic horizontal expansion of the (perceived) soundstage. This is a big, big deal.
The added overhead channels are also nice, it makes the ambient effects (rain, thunder) sound much more diffuse, with reduced localization to the nearest speaker. And panning is improved as well, the “helicopter” sound effect on the demo disk was also more cohesive and circular than with four speakers.
For the curious, I ran out of Klipsch speakers to run this system. So, for the entire front stage (L/C/R/WL/WR) I’m using GoldenEar Triton speakers (Triton 5 for L/R, Triton 7 for WL/WR, SuperCenter XL for center). The two SuperSub XXLs are up front, too—against the two side walls between the front L/R and the wides. The two JL F112 V2s are stacked, as are the two Klipsch R-115SW subs. A MiniDSP 2X4 takes care of the nasty business of time-aligning all that to the MLP and providing level matching so that Diraac and the I.ISP can treat it as one channel (since I’ve only got 16 total to work with).
9.1.6 Dolby Atmos… Finally! Yes, my home theater relies on black sheets on the walls and has exposed cables… I rent!!!
Anyhow, the end result is just… wow. I cannot wait to watch a movie but I already know this is rarefied territory as far as immersion goes. I was not sure of how much difference 9.1.6 would make but especially in consideration of what the wides do, it’s a lot.