In my last post, I talked about Auro 3D, an immersive audio format you might not be aware of. After updating my Marantz AV8802a to Auro 3D capability, Auro sent me its latest demonstration disc filled with a variety of clips to show off the strengths of the format.
The best place to start a demo is the “Auro-3D Demo.” This near 7-minute clip does a fantastic job of selling the Auro-3D story, starting with a history of how audio has evolved over time from mono, to stereo, to surround, to immersive 3D audio. About 30 seconds into the demo, a voice comes on saying, “Ladies and gentleman, May I have your attention please,” but repeated multiple times from different locations all around the room. It is a simple but incredibly effective demo to let people know they are listening to something new and different from traditional surround as they know it.
This demo track also features two wonderful show-and-tell audio scenes of outdoor areas where the height speakers and floor speakers are alternatively cut on-and-off and played together, showing the information that is present in each layer and how they work together to create a more seamless experience. Auro 3D does an incredibly job of recreating natural ambience and the reflections of sounds that occur naturally and the Auro technology does a wonderful job transforming your listening room into another environment. One of the clips is a tractor passing by from a European countryside, and you can close your eyes and definitely feel like you are outside with a large tractor rumbling by just off your left shoulder and passing away into the front left corner of the room.
The disc features seven short movie clips designed to show how Auro-3D in an 11.1 configuration handles surround sound. There are three animated clips (Penguins of Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda 3, Trolls), two films (Ghostbusters, Inferno), and two (I’m assuming) Chinese films (Journey to the West, Long Long Time Ago). Disappointingly, the Ghostbusters clip is just 30 seconds longs, and the Inferno clip is more like a trailer. It’s unfortunate that the disc doesn’t include any scenes from Red Tails, a WWII-era movie by George Lucas, that features a ton of terrific action that really showcases Auro’s strengths, but I’m sure it was a licensing issue.
One of the most sonically impressive demos is a two-and-a-half minute clip from Penguins of Madagascar. There is some nice localization of coins shooting and ricocheting around the room, sounds of a jet launching up and overhead into the ceiling and flying around the room, and a self-destruct warning announcement through the overheads. There is a lot of audio constantly swirling around the room, but dialog remains clear and easy to understand.
The two Asian films feature a lot of great audio moments, but all the dialog is in Mandarin (?) so you really have no idea what is going on. Still, there is water crashing and splashing all around the room (Journey) and some cool fireworks effects that shoot up into the ceiling and around the room (Long Long), making both fun to watch.
There is a demo clip from “Get Even” a recent videogame title that takes advantage of Auro-3D. The clip isn’t nearly as dynamic and engaging as the awesome Star Wars: Battlefront clip on the Dolby Atmos demo disc — in fact more daughter said, “This is scary!” — but sonically it definitely immerses you in sound, with creepy audio that travels around the room.
One area where Auro really excels at is surround music reproduction. To really drive the point home, the demo disc includes an incredible 28 full length audio demo tracks for you to sample, with a good mix of classical, choral, jazz, pop, mood, and techno music.
Fortunately, whichever genre you prefer, they all make powerful use of all the speakers in the system, with all tracks recorded in either Auro 8.0 or 9.1 format. I dare say, you will find yourself listening to music that you might not typically have an interest in just because it sounds so wonderful and immersive. Without a doubt, music encoded in Auro-3D is far more dynamic and immersive than simple stereo or even engaging some surround mode or all-channel stereo option.
Most of the music tracks are strictly audio; showing a graphic on screen during playback that displays the song name, performers, the album it’s from, and the audio format. But six of the tracks (11, 14, 18, 22, 23, 24) include music videos.
After listening to all of the audio tracks, I can without any hesitation say that music encoded in Auro-3D is far more dynamic and immersive to listen to compared to 2-channel, or even upmixed Dolby Surround. It wraps around you in that “you are there” way, reminding me of being at a live event. In short, I would definitely pay a premium to purchase an audio recording that had been mixed in Auro.
Here are some music highlights I enjoyed, but to be honest, all of the music demos convincingly demonstrate Auro’s capabilities.
The second track “Et Misericordia” has the choirs’ voices solidly anchored to the front wall, but also heavily “reflecting” out of the ceiling/height speakers, creating a wonderfully rich and immersive sound. You’ll feel like you’re sitting in a large cathedral as the voices bounce off the walls and wash over you.
The ninth track “Bones Akimbo” is a jazzy, big band swing number that again keeps instrumentation locked at listener level in the front of the room, but expands the audio upwards into the ceiling to make for a far larger and more dynamic presentation. It also made my front wall disappear into just a massive wall of sound, making as if the players were arranged far wider than my speakers could accommodate, wrapping me in a sweet wall of sound. As “busy” as the orchestration is, individual instruments are still clearly present and dynamic, just kicked up to the proverbial 11.
For some reason, I have a soft spot in my heart for Irish and Celtic music, and the twelfth track, “Sitting in a Stern of a Boat” features simple orchestration of an Irish tune, but shows the power of well-placed reflected sounds to truly enhance the recording. The song prominently features a violin (or Irish fiddle) and it is just a beautiful piece of music to listen to, not sounding in any way gimmicky, but rather letting the instruments “breathe” into your room.
I absolutely love David Bowie’s “Heroes” and track 22 features a wonderful version of this song by Ozark Henry. The song starts a bit restrained, with Ozark’s voice bouncing off the side walls and ceiling, but it quickly evolves and blossoms, the instrumentation swelling to a loud, massive crescendo in the middle of the song, filling the room and just engulfing you in sound. The black and white music video doesn’t really offer anything to the experience, but the song sounds so powerfully terrific, you can just close your eyes, be a hero, and enjoy.
While Blu-ray movie discs with Auro-3D are scarce in the US, you can purchase several audio discs on Amazon. For music lovers, Auro-3D is definitely something worth looking into.
As mentioned in my previous post, the disc also features a ton of test signals that are great for checking to make sure your system is operating correctly. The disc also features a handy “Shop Loop” which automatically cycles through a variety of content perfect for a showroom.