Even if you’re not particularly interested in new audio tech you’ve probably heard of Dolby Atmos, and you’ve probably been wondering what it is and why you should even care. It’s the hottest buzzword in home theater and mobile devices, and there’s a good reason why: It sounds absolutely awesome. Let’s break down why it’s one of the most talked-about terms in tech!

What is Dolby Atmos?

Put simply, Dolby Atmos is a new kind of surround sound technology that actually improves upon the concepts of a multi-speaker sound system and can be adapted to something as small as a pair of headphones. If an old-fashioned surround sound system makes you feel like you’re right in front of the action, Dolby Atmos will make you feel like the action is going on right next to you.

How does it work? 

Traditional surround sound formats use audio “channels” to decide what speakers play which particular sounds. So, one speaker to your right might be playing a movie character’s voice while another to your left or in front might be playing sounds that are supposed to be coming from a different direction.

Atmos totally changes that by using virtual sound “objects.” The speakers in a Dolby Atmos theater use up to 64 speakers to simulate up to 128 audio channels, giving an even more accurate representation of the sounds in a movie scene, and the virtual sound objects enhance that experience by telling the system where the sounds are coming from in 3D space.

If that’s a bit too hard to grasp, think of it this way: An old fashioned surround sound speaker will make it seem like a specific sound is coming from a wall or corner of your living room or movie theater. With Atmos that sound will have an actual position in the room itself, sometimes seeming to come from up high or down low, from very close to you or very far away. Instead of beaming from the walls, the sound is exactly where the movie maker wants it to be. If you want to check out Atmos on the big screen you

So I have to go to a theater to enjoy Atmos? 

Nope! The really great thing about how the Atmos technology works is that it can be adapted to fit just about any kind of audio setup. A home theater system with as few as five speakers can replicate the Atmos experience right in your living room, but you’ll need an Atmos-capable audio receiver to make it all work. That’s because the sound location information in an Atmos-supported movie or TV show needs to be decoded and sent to the right places.

There’s a handful of reasonably-priced home theater packages that have full Atmos support, like the Onkyo HT-S5800 ($599.99). Or, if you want to reuse some of your existing speakers you can opt for just a new receiver, like Sony’s STRDN1080 ($598.99). As for streaming boxes, Apple TV has already announced its support for Dolby

Atmos, though the amount of content available in that format is still rather modest.

What about on the go? 

Funny you should ask! Atmos is so versatile that you can even use a pair of headphones to experience it. Some smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9+ already have Dolby Atmos support built right in, letting you plug in a pair of headphones and experience it without a pricey speaker setup.