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Time to say goodbye to stereo?

Is stereo dead…? ☠️ Let’s see!

Stereo vs. immersive audio

Immersive audio… that was THE hottest buzzword in audio this year. Does that mean that stereo is dead? 😱

Earlier this year, we went to the 2023 NAMM Show in Los Angeles, where we found the perfect person to answer this question for us: Andrew Scheps, an amazing Grammy-winning mix engineer and a Dolby Atmos wizard. He has mixed records for artists such as Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Linkin Park, Metallica, and many more, and he has won a Grammy for his work on Adele’s 21 album (Album of the Year) and Stadium Arcadium by Red Hot Chili Peppers (Best Rock Album).

Let’s see what Scheps has to say about stereo vs. immersive audio!

TL;DR? Watch the video!

Full Neumann Dolby Atmos system

At The 2023 NAMM Show, we walked into Neumann’s immersive audio space. It was a dark room with all the attention going to the impressive speaker setup, being a full Neumann Dolby Atmos system. It was a 7.1.4 overhead speaker setup, with 4 speakers up above (Neumann KH 150) and 7 speakers around the outside (Neumann KH 310 and KH 420 with 870 subs). Everything was running through their DSP, so they actually had everything tuned for the room.

Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 speaker system

Image: Overhead speaker setup Dolby Atmos

Here’s how our interview with Andrew Scheps went:

How has Atmos changed the music industry?
It has changed the ‘making records’ part of the music industry quite a bit. It’s still evolving, though; it’s still such early days. It’s hard to know how it’s going to land, but it’s super fun.

Has it influenced your work a lot?
While it doesn't directly influence my work, I do consider it when working on a record if I plan to do the Atmos mix. I sorta get excited when I get to the point where I can pan things and go nuts with it. But it’s something different and new, which doesn't happen very often. There have been new things, but it’s not like we were getting totally new paradigms for mixing, so yeah, it’s exciting in that way.

You’ve worked with amazing artists. Would you say that Atmos influences them? Do they think about it in a different way when they're recording new music now?
I think it’s only just starting. How it generally works is they’ll finish a record, or the mixer goes back into their catalog, and they do Atmos mixes of it, and if we’re lucky, the artist has time to get into a studio and actually listen to it on speakers. But a lot of them are checking in on headphones, just binaural audio.

However, if they physically get into the room, that’s when they get really excited about it. It’s because they can hear the possibilities of actually recording for Atmos. Building the arrangement and having the raw material to build a mix that’s supposed to fill up a room instead of filling a room with whatever it is they had for stereos.

I believe the next generation of records will focus a lot more on making records with Atmos in mind. But this trend hasn't gained much traction yet. While in EDM it has been going on forever, it's not yet common in rock, pop, and other formats I typically work with.

Are you ready to say goodbye to stereo?
No, not at all. I think stereo is amazing, too. They are two completely different formats. Currently, stereo has a lot more compatibility than Atmos. However, as consumer audio companies improve home playback systems, this could change.
But will it replace stereo? That would take a very long time, as people are really used to stereo. And also, what would you do if you want to hear something old that hasn't been done in Atmos? All of a sudden, you don't even have a setup for it or whatever, so I think stereo is going to be with us for a very long time.

Andrew Scheps at NAMM Show 2023

Image: Andrew Scheps at NAMM Show 2023

This or that with Andrew Schepps

Headphones or speakers?
I prefer speakers, but I still work a lot in headphones because it’s relevant.

Delay or reverb?

Delay… Because I suck at reverb. 😂

Is stereo dead?

No, it’s very much alive, actually.

Immersive audio is still in its early stages, and even though it’s incredibly exciting and fun, stereo is still the standard in the audio realm
. There’s definitely a future for Atmos, however, it may take a while for it to become accepted by the individual music lover. It’s a very cool system, for sure, but there’s also a high price tag attached to it. Placing two qualitative speakers in your living room can be quite a stretch for most of us, let alone 7 (!) of them. We’re very curious to see how immersive audio further evolves in the future, so we’re definitely keeping a close eye on it. 👀

Click here for more highlights of The 2023 NAMM Show. Or, if you want to learn more about Sony’s 360 Virtual Mixing Environment and MDR-MV1 Headphones, check out this video. We also had a chat with the brilliant Chris Lorde-Alge at The AES Show about the SSL Origin 16; watch the video here!

Are you feeling the itch to buy something after reading this blog post? 😏 Ask yourself these 3 questions first!

Elke 4
Written by Elke Swinnen Nov 23, 2023

Elke Swinnen is Cheqroom’s video reporter and event queen. Most of the time, you’ll find her out in the world visiting Cheqroom customers and shows like NAB and IBC. She is passionate about sharing the latest gear updates, film industry insights, and top gear management tips and tricks. Her favorite pieces of gear are the ARRI ALEXA 35 and Aputure MC Pro. She’s also a Content and Social Media Marketer at Cheqroom.