Auro 3D Audio - What You Need To Know

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Introduction To The Auro 3D Audio Surround Sound Format

Auro 3D Audio Speaker Setup Example and Audio Engine Diagram
Auro 3D Audio Speaker Setup Example and Audio Engine Diagram. Images courtesy of Auro Technologies and Marantz (D&M Holdings)

Between Dolby and DTS, there is an abundance of surround sound format variations that you can take advantage of in a home theater setup - However, there is another, very interesting option to consider that provides an immersive surround sound experience that is available on select home theater receivers - Auro 3D audio.

What Auro 3D Audio Is

At its core Auro 3D Audio is a consumer version of the Barco Auro 11.1 channel surround sound playback system used in some commercial cinemas. If you haven't experienced watching films encoded in Barco Audio 11.1, check out a list of cinemas and films that you may be able to check out.

In the home theater space, Auro 3D Audio is a competitor to the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive surround sound formats, but has its own characteristics.

The goal of Auro 3D Audio for home theater to provide an immersive surround sound experience (similar to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X) by encasing the listening environment in a "bubble". However, unlike Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, Auro 3D audio is channel-based, rather and an object-based system, In other words, during the mixing processing process sounds are assigned to specific channels (thus the requirement for more speakers), instead of a specific point in space.

Another difference between Auro 3D and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X is how the encoded signal is transferred from a source device to an AV preamp/processor or home theater receiver. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are constructed using a codec that is embedded within a specific bitstream format, whereas the codec for the Audio 3D Audio can be embedded within a standard uncompressed 5.1 channel PCM soundtrack that can be placed on a Blu-ray Disc. What this means is that Auro 3D Audio is backwards compatible - if your AV preamp processor or home theater receiver is not Auro 3D-enabled, you still have access to a standard 5.1 or 7.1 channel uncompressed audio signal.

You do not need a special player to play Auro 3D Audio-encoded Blu-ray Discs. Since the Auro 3D Audio codec algorithms can be embedded in a 5.1 channel PCM soundtrack, most, if not all Blu-ray Disc players can pass this information from a Blu-ray Disc to an AV Preamp/Processor or Home Theater Receiver that provides Auro 3D Audio decoding. However, is it also important to point out that to access Auro 3D Audio soundtracks that may be included on an Ultra HD format Blu-ray Disc, you do need an Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player.

Auro 3D Audio Speaker Layout options

For listening, Auro 3D Audio starts with a traditional 5.1 channel speaker layer and subwoofer, then surrounding the listening room (above the listening position) is a another set of front and surround speakers (that means a two layer speaker layout) - More specifically the layout goes like this: Level 1 (5.1 channels -front left, center, front right, left surround, right surround, and subwoofer), Level 2 (Height Layer - front left, front right, left surround, right surround) - this results in a 9.1 channel speaker setup.

However, if you decide to go for the full 10.1 channel option, then you would add one ceiling mounted speaker that is placed directly above the listening position. This added speaker setup option is referred to as the VOG (Voice of God) channel.

Although the 9.1 and 10.1 channel options provide a more than suitable Auro 3D listening experience, if you have an AV preamp/processor/amplifier combination or home theater receiver that this properly equipped, Auro 3D can also accommodate 11.1 and 13.1 channel configurations.

In these configurations, a center channel speaker can be added to the height layer of a 10.1 channel setup, resulting in a total of 11.1 channels. To extend this out further, if you start with a 7.1 channel setup on Level 1, then the result is a total setup of 13.1 channels.

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The Auro 3D Audio Listening Experience, Content, and More...

Auro 3D Audio Sound Layer Chart and Logo
Auro 3D Audio Sound Layer Chart and Logo. Images courtesy of Auro Technologies

What Auro 3D Audio Sounds Like

Now, at this point you are probably saying to yourself "that is a lot of speakers!" That is definitely true, and for the vast majority of consumers that is turn-off. However, the proof is in the listening.

I have had several opportunities to listen to Auro 3D Audio, including at the 2014 and 2016 CES

What is impressive about Auro 3D Audio is that although Dolby Atmos and DTS:X provide a similar immersive surround effect with movies, In my experience listening to Auro 3D Audio, it is the most impressive with music.

When the height layer is activated, the sound not only goes vertical, but also becomes wider in the physical gap between the front and rear speakers. This means that there is no need to actually have a set of wide speakers to get an wide open surround sound experience.

For movies, Auro 3D Audio provides a very realistic sonic environment where sound is both immersive and directional - dialog is anchored well, effects sounds have the desired dramatic impact, and background (transient) sounds are detailed and brought out, but balanced if the proper degree against the main sound elements.

For music, the results are definitely impressive when compared to standard 2-channel audio reproduction. As a listener, you are placed within room acoustics where the recording was made (such as a club, auditorium, church, or arena). In addition, the balance between vocals and instruments is accurate. Of course, a lot depends on how the recordings were mixed, but if done well, the results are impressive - even if you are a die-hard 2-channel stereo fan, if you have a chance to check out a musical performance in Auro 3D Audio, definitely sit and take a serious listen.

Auro 3D Audio Content

Of course, in order to get the full benefit of Auro 3D Audio, you need movie or music content that is properly encoded (Check out the Official List of Auro 3D Audio-encoded Blu-ray Discs). This includes select Movies on Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs, as well as select audio-only content on Pure Audio Blu-ray Discs.

In addition, as part of the implementation of this format, Auro Technologies also provides an additional upmixer (referred to as Auro-Matic) that can take advantage of the Auro 3D Audio Speaker layout for non-Auro 3D Audio encoded content.

Auro-Matic expands the surround sound experience of traditional 2/5.1/7.1 channel content, as well as bringing out sonic detail and opening up mono (yes, I said mono) source material, without exaggerating the intent of the original recording.

The Need For More Speakers

Despite delivering an excellent sound experience, the main problem is that unlike DTS:X, which can work with a standard 5.1 or 7.1 setup, or Dolby Atmos which can work with a standard 5.1 channel speaker setup, with the addition of two vertically firing or ceiling mounted speakers, Auro 3D Audio requires a minimum of 9.1 channels (a 5.1 channel speaker layout with 4 additional height speakers, and for full effect, the inclusion of a speaker located in the ceiling, directly above the listening in addition to the 4 height speakers (10.1 channels total).

It is also important to point out is that the speaker layout requirements for Auro 3D Audio and Dolby Atmos are different, and not normally compatible. Auro 3D's multiple speaker layers and single ceiling speaker differs from Dolby Atmos, which requires one horizontal speaker level, and two or four ceiling or vertically firing speakers for height sounds.

In other words, Auro 3D cannot naturally map to a Dolby Atmos speaker configuration, and Dolby Atmos cannot naturally map to an Auro 3D audio configuration - However, Marantz and Denon solve this problem by providing a "unified" speaker setup configuration. Using the "unified" configuration, when confronted by an Auro 3D audio setup by mapping the Dolby Atmos height signals to left and right front speakers in an Auro 3D audio height layer.

On the other hand, DTS:X, which is speaker layout agnostic, can map to an entire Auro 3D audio speaker setup.

Auro 3D Audio For Headphones

In addition to the home theater version of Auro 3D Audio there is also a headphone version.

The results are not only very effective, but Auro 3D headphone experience works with any set of Binaural (stereo) headphones. This makes Auro 3D Audio very practical for use both in home theater receivers and AV processors with headphone outputs, as well as mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

How To Get Auro 3D Audio For Your Home Theater

Auro 3D can be added to a compatible AV processor or receiver via a firmware update. However, unlike most firmware updates, adding Auro 3D may require a fee (typically $199) - Auro 3D Audio Firmware for qualifying Marantz and Denon products.

Examples of Auro 3D Audio Compatible AV Preamp/Processors:

Marantz AV7703 - Buy From Amazon

Marantz AV8802A - Buy From Amazon

Datasat RS20i - Available only through authorized dealers/installers

Trinnov Audio Altitude 32 - Available only through authorized dealers/installers

Examples of Auro 3D Audio Compatible Home Theater Receivers

Marantz SR7011 - Buy From Amazon

Denon AVR-X6300H - Buy From Amazon

Denon AVR-X4300H - Buy From Amazon

Note: More Auro 3D Audio-enabled products will be added as they become available.

More Info

Complete Technical Guidelines For Auro 3D Audio System Setup