Netflix updates sound quality across 5.1, Atmos

If you feel like the audio quality you’re getting from your Netflix account could be better, you weren’t alone, and that has prompted Netflix to do something about.

You may think that the viewing experience of movies and TV shows makes the biggest impact, but sound is a crucial part of what you watch. Both make the experience, but bad sound can break the experience, and when filmmakers get frustrated about the sound their work delivers, you can bet they’ll have something to say about it.

For Netflix, that’s a conversation it has been having with the Duffer brothers, the directors of Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2, and after letting the directors listen to their shows in a living room experience back in 2017, the duo told Netflix that the audio had to be crisper.

Netflix went to work, and almost two years on, has a solution with improved audio that will be rolling out to subscribers of Netflix with supported devices.

It’s something Netflix calls “high-quality audio” that is adaptive and designed to offer the best experience to match capabilities.

The result is basically an improvement in bitrate, with 5.1 audio jumping from 192kbps to 640kbps, a move Netflix says is from “good” to “great/perceptually transparent”. Meanwhile, folks who have subscribed to the 4K-capable Premium plan will have improvements to Dolby Atmos bitrates, too, moving from 448kbps to 768kbps.

Released on the Netflix blog, the company says it expects the bitrates “to evolve over time” as the company gets more efficient in its encoding techniques.

Depending on the level of audiophile you are, you may not necessarily think a jump in 192 to 640kbps is high. CD quality bitrate for 16-bit audio is 1411kbps (evident in lossless WAV and FLAC), while 192kbps is closer to the audio quality that we used to associate with MP3s back in the day.

As a point, the Pickr Sound Test is provided in streaming services at a lower bitrate, but tested in FLAC, meaning the bitrate is higher and therefore closer to the original quality released by companies.

That said, an improvement is an improvement, so we’ll look forward to seeing how the improvements are handled by TVs, soundbars, and speaker systems, as it would be great to see higher quality audio streamed out on services as well as the better Ultra HD video that higher connection speeds can bring.