PMC's 21-speaker Dolby Atmos system is the ultimate argument for spatial audio

PMC Dolby Atmos system speakers
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Go big or go home is the name of the game for PMC at High End Munich 2024. The show is, predictably and rightly, full to the rafters with rooms playing two-channel stereo speakers. There are plenty of new speakers, some old ones, lots of big ones and the occasional small one, but nothing quite like what PMC has built in a cavernous room tucked into one corner of the Event Center Messe Munich. 

Hosting a Dolby Atmos Music explainer and album playback by renowned spatial audio musician Steven Wilson, PMC has hauled together 21 speakers in an epic 11.4.6 configuration, plus the necessary lumps of metal to hold it all together. 

The system will deliver 48,000 watts of power – if that sounds excessive for a demo room that's because it is (in a good way) – and promises frequencies down to 15hz, which is probably why they've been told to do their thing a long way away from everybody else.

Steven Wilson and PMC Dolby Atmos music system

Steven Wilson in front of the PMC Dolby Atmos system (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

At the front of the room are the monstrous, flagship PMC BB6-XBD-A floorstanders as left, centre and right channels, alongside BST subwoofers (just the four) and Ci Series surrounds. The complete system, should you have a spare barn awaiting conversion into a mini concert hall, can be yours for €300,000. And it's all being fed the original source material, for the highest quality audio in Dolby Atmos.

But if the system is otherworldly, the real point is to remind hi-fi fans (and loyalists) that spatial audio is very much here and available, and well worth giving more than a passing glance. As Steven Wilson points out, all of this year's Grammy-winning records and the vast majority of the top-selling albums at any given time, are also available in spatial audio. While this isn't news to anyone with their ear to the ground, it's a necessary reminder for purists who resist attempts to be guided away from two-channel music. Maybe you should give it a try (again)?

Interestingly, Wilson is adamant that Blu-ray is the best way to experience spatial audio, though we'd imagine most people are more likely to be tempted by seeing the offerings on streaming services such as Tidal or Apple Music. As he remarks, while it isn't the real deal, you can get increasingly impressive renditions from the best Dolby Atmos soundbars and even headphones, so it can be within reach of all of us.

PMC Dolby Atmos system

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

pmc dolby atmos music system

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

But back in fantasy land, we're treated to a couple of all-too-brief renditions of what this system can do (PMC is also running feature-length demonstrations throughout the show). And first, comes the conflict. While I wouldn't classify myself as a purist, it is fair to say I've settled in my preference for two-channel music to be delivered in, well, two channels. Wilson plays us Sinead O'Conner's Nothing Compares 2 U, first in its original form, before it seamlessly merges into multichannel and appears all around us, using all of those 21 speakers.

It's easy to resist change and my instinct, while being impressed by the technical aspect of what I was hearing from the system, was to think, "Actually I was quite enjoying it in stereo, thank you very much". And this is the time-honoured response from many music lovers. But the extent to which voices and instruments surround you, immersing you in the middle of the action, is unarguable, not to mention the level of detail, power and emotion conveyed by the system. If I'd had a warm, overpriced beer in my hand, I really could have been at a live music venue. 

pmc dolby atmos music system ceiling speakers

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Next up was Wilson's piece, Staircase, and... wow. Sounding utterly at home on this system, the track easily moved around the room, finding every frequency on offer and entertaining our ears from all angles. As I let Peak Prog wash all over me, it dawned on me it would be extremely easy to convince someone that this is the future of music. And maybe, it is? But of course, the €300,000 system was helping; clarity, agility and power in spades.

Wilson was an eloquent and honest advocate for spatial audio. And, a testament to his demonstration and this staggering system, the main thought in my mind as I left the demo was: I must listen to some more Dolby Atmos Music (even if I stick to the new releases rather than the remasters). Take this as your reminder to do the same.


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Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is the Content Director for What Hi-Fi? and Future’s Product Testing, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for almost 20 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).

  • ilant207
    Atmos is good but actually any well produced surround mix can be much better than stereo. I got my hands on any surround mix currently available out of my entire music collection. Most of it just puts stereo into shame. The detail is so much better, you can hear things that get lost in the background in stereo. The various instruments are reproduced much better as well, I think it's because a single speaker fails to reproduce many instruments all at once, while separating the instruments between different speakers is just easier and sounds better. I have two sounds systems at home, one is high quality stereo, the second is mid level surround 5.1. When I play stereo sources on both systems the high quality stereo system is by far much more detailed and enjoyable than the mid level surround system, no surprise there. When playing good surround mixes this reverses, the mid level surround system just surpasses the high quality stereo by far. More detail, more engaging, better sound reproduction, hugh surprise there. I encourage you do the same. Some examples to try in surround mix vs stereo mix:

    Time - Dark side of the moon, Alan Parsons quad mix
    Find the river - Automatic for the people
    Living on a prayer - Slippery when wet
    Money for nothing - Brothers in arms
    Summer of 69 - Reckless

    These are just a few examples out of the top of my head, there are many others.

    Examples of not so impressive surround mixes:
    GNR's Appetite for destruction entire album
    Metallica - Metallica entire album