When the Lucid Air arrives next year, it will be the first vehicle to offer Dolby Atmos audio inside. The EV automaker announced today that its Surreal Sound system will offer passengers the immersive sound experience as a standard feature inside the Air Grand Touring and Air Dream Edition models. It will be an optional add-on on the Air Touring and Air Pure trims. In addition to the luxury EV, you'll also need a high-res music subscription that offers access to Dolby Atmos Music — like Tidal, for example.
The Lucid Air is equipped with a 21-speaker setup that's capable of handling the directional immersive sound of Dolby Atmos. Front, rear, side and height speakers are positioned around the inside of the car so passengers can "feel" the movement of whatever they're listening to. The Surreal Sound system also employs directional acoustic signaling for notifications, warnings and other alerts. For example, things like blind-spot detection and unbuckled seatbelt warnings come from the direction of the potential issue. To tailor the speaker setup for Atmos, Lucid tuned it using the famed Capitol Records Studio C as the reference design.
“The big difference is the overhead speaker placement,” Lucid Motors Senior Vice President of Design Derek Jenkins said. “Along the inner pillars of the vehicle, we very carefully place the overhead speakers to optimize the full upper surround area. The alignment with those upper speakers and the lower speakers is critical for creating that dimensional experience.”
While Dolby Atmos has been around for years, it primarily existed as an A/V platform inside the living room. In 2019, Dolby introduced its immersive, high-resolution audio platform Dolby Atmos Music on services like Amazon Music and Tidal. Of course, you need a pricier hi-fi streaming plan to access the content and a capable speaker system in order to make the most of the investment. With Atmos Music though, Dolby was ready to offer listeners access to audio with more clarity and depth outside of their homes.
"The main entertainment in an automobile is mostly music," Dolby Laboratories Director of Music Tim Pryde explained. "Until Atmos Music, having Atmos in a car was something we had experimented with, but it never really took hold because there wasn't content like there is today."
Pryde said that while Dolby had been working in automotive audio since the '70s and '80s, the company's efforts mostly focused on improving overall sound quality of both content and stereo head units. Dolby Atmos can give you the feeling of being inside of whatever you're watching or listening to by virtualizing dimensional audio through a surround sound setup or even with a single soundbar or speaker. That becomes an entirely different scenario when you're in a small enclosed space like a car.
"With an automobile, you have a cabin that allows for you to have these discreet speakers placed around around you," Pryde said. "They really can give you an immersive experience because you're literally in the middle of them."
And of course, now that vehicles are equipped with more screens, Atmos is a viable option for for movies, shows and games during a ride as well. Lucid Motors plans to explore this as the automotive industry progresses towards autonomous driving.
"As we move farther and farther towards assisted driving and then full vehicle autonomy, the opportunity for streaming video, gaming and any other kind of visual content is only going to increase like it is inside your home," Jenkins explained. "We're looking at that kind of future through the opportunity that Atmos provides for immersion."
Initial deliveries of the Lucid Air are expected to begin in the second half of this year. The base model Air Pure starts at $69,900 while the Air Grand Touring, the cheapest trim to offer Dolby Atmos standard, begins at $131,500. The company is currently accepting reservations online and at "studios" in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, San Jose, Newark (California), Miami and West Palm Beach.
Update 3/19/21 2:36PM ET: Lucid Motors has clarified the details surrounding Dolby Atmos Music streaming across Air models. This post has been updated accordingly. The company will have more information available in the future.