Netflix has started rolling out upgrades to audio streams in a “high-quality audio” initiative.
The new audio formats won’t require a higher-tier Netflix subscription or faster internet service, as audio streams take up only a fraction of the bandwidth that video demands.
But, sound quality will vary. The new audio initiative is adaptive, meaning, it will adjust 5.1 channel audio quality between 192 Kbps and 640 Kbps depending on device and bandwidth. In effect, the audio adapts to different bandwidths in the same way video does.
However, Dolby Atmos on Netflix demands between 448 kbps and 768 kbps, and to get Atmos subscribers need to be on the Premium Plan which is required for 4k/HDR video, (although from what I understand Atmos doesn’t require 4k video on Netflix).
At best Netflix calls their audio delivery “perceptually transparent,” which means it is compressed (all digital audio is compressed at one level or another) but virtually impossible for the average listener to know that it’s using compression.
Dolby 5.1 has been the standard on Netflix for a while now (as well as on competitive services such as Apple, Amazon, and Google), but if you have a good internet connection the audio should hypothetically sound better than before.
We should also see more Dolby Atmos titles. Netflix premiered Atmos with Okja a few years ago and expanded to several titles like Death Note and Bright, but the format never became universal. Vudu, on the other hand, has been providing Dolby Atmos sound since 2015 and has grown an extensive list of titles with the immersive format.
The new audio upgrades should pass through supporting streaming media players, TVs, and consoles, and play through Dolby 5.1/Dolby Atmos devices such as speakers and sound bars.
Some of the ways you might experience the new audio streams are to crank up programs like Beyoncé’s Homecoming, listen closely to audio effects in Stranger Things, and relax to the wonderful soundtrack of The Crown.