Dolby, Dirac looks to expand immersive audio solution beyond Nio


U.S. sound technology pioneer Dolby and Swedish digital audio specialist Dirac are looking to expand their immersive in-car audio solution to European and North American automakers after winning business with Chinese startup Nio.

Dirac vice president Lars Carlsson, who is head of business development automotive, said the company is poised to make business announcements linked to additional brands concerning the use of the technology, which aims to provide a more balanced sound field for all seating positions.

The first vehicle equipped with Dirac/Dolby technology will be the ET7. The electric flagship sedan, which made its world debut in China in January 2021, is a rival to the Tesla Model S.

The ET7 will make its European debut this year, complete with the Dolby/Dirac 7.1.4 immersive sound system with Dolby Atmos as standard. Nio’s solution includes 23 speakers and a 20-channel amplifier with 1,000 watts of total power output.

The four primary channels use a three-way speaker array featuring dedicated tweeter, mid-tone and bass driver, a subwoofer, and four overhead speakers.

Dirac’s audio optimization algorithms are used in combination with Dolby’s Atmos immersive audio platform to create a surround sound experience carefully calibrated to the interior layout of the vehicle.

The company measures 16 positions per seat for each speaker to find the optimal balance of sound — the so-called sweet spot  — for interior passengers, a task made more difficult by the number of speakers automakers pack into their vehicles.

“A car cabin is especially complex with all the reflecting surfaces and different materials,” Dirac’s Carlsson said. “The acoustic footprint of every car is different.”

Digital signal processing helps overcome acoustic challenges inherent in cars, including the suboptimal positioning of subwoofers in the rear, as well as reflective surfaces that can muddle the sound.

Despite the acoustical challenges vehicles have, Ruediger Fleischer, Dirac’s product manager for automotive, said the car is an ideal environment to strive toward an immersive sound experience based on the encapsulating nature of a cockpit.

“What it now needs is that the material is recorded and coded in the right way so that you can play it back most faithfully in this environment,” he said. “This is what makes immersive so interesting for playback in vehicles.”

He added the company expects additional challenges to arise as autonomous vehicle technology advances and interior configurations become more flexible, including front row seats that can swivel backward.

“This will make the whole acoustic representation in the car different,” Fleischer said, “because all of a sudden you don’t have that strict front stage existing anymore, which nowadays is the physical dashboard.”

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