PCM vs Dolby vs DTS- Which Audio Format is Better?

Don’t you feel bewildered watching superhero movies at the theater? Creating this surreal backdrop gets nearly possible for surrounding audio quality. Audio compression tech now comes with several taglines of brands. 

Confused? We are about to spell these out here.

Well, what should you go for among PCM vs Dolby vs DTS?

PCM is uncompressed audio whereas Dolby and DTS are compressed. So, PCM has higher audio quality than the rest. DTS wins in quality with a bit rate of 1.5 Mbits over Dolby which only has a bit rate of 768 Kbits. Dolby, DTS compresses an 8.3GB PCM to only ~800MB with some loss of quality. 

All of the differences these share are our core topics to discuss in this article. 

So, keep following to let us spill all the beans! Shall we?

PCM vs Dolby vs DTS: Quick Comparison

To begin with, we’ve put together a quick comparison of PCM, Dolby, and DTS. Have a look-

AspectsPCMDolbyDTS
CompressionUncompressedCompressedCompressed
Compression Ratio1:110 to 12:14:1
ChannelsStereo5.1 HD and 7.1 HD-Master5.1 and 7.1
Bitrate16,32,64 Kbits448-648 Kbits and 1.8 Mbits1.5 Mbits and 6 Mbits

Additionally, here’s the table of differences between Dolby Atmos and its competitor DTS X. 

AspectsDolby AtmosDTS: X
CompressionCompressedCompressed
MediumDVD and BlurayDVD and Bluray
Bitrate384 Kbits and 768 Kbits642 Kbits and 1.5 Mbits

This data will start making sense once you get into the in-depth comparison.

Let’s start with that. 

The Cinephile Perspective

A picture of home cinema system using dts x
Source: insider.com

Cinephiles place immersion above all else. Sounds play a massive role in bringing immersion to the viewers. How it does that is through Spatial Audio. 

Spatial Audio, requires technology only available to Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. Trying it with PCM is possible but not recommended because of how expensive it is.

But before we get into the details, here’s a chart making everything clear about the dolby and dts comparison –

A Graph of Dolby vs DTS
A Graph of Dolby vs DTS

Let’s dive into the depths. 

Audio Immersion: Which One Is More Immersive?

Dolby and DTS are both in essence bitstreams. So, bitstream DTS vs Dolby, which is better?

In terms of purely audio quality, DTS has a higher audio fidelity thanks to higher bitrate. Dolby tries to make up for the difference using advanced technology and better efficiency. However, it cannot still catch up to the superior audio quality of DTS. However, Dolby has an edge over DTS when it comes to audio immersion thanks to speaker placements. 

DTS: X offers higher 1.5Mbits of bitrate, which usually would translate to better immersion. However, the placements of the speakers matter in that case too. 

Dolby Atmos places great emphasis on the placement of speakers, to the point of even placing some on ceilings. That allows for more immersion at the cost of little audio quality. So, Atmos takes the win in this category. 

Convenience: Which One is More Convenient?

Right from the top, I’ll say setting DTS X up is easier. You can just use a normal 5.1 or 7.1 setup without taking any extra steps for DTS X. That makes it more suitable for Home Cinema. 

As I’ve mentioned before, Dolby atmos is specific about speaker placements. That takes away a lot from convenience. However, it does provide more immersion. That is why it is more suitable for Cinema Halls. 

AspectDTS XDolby Atmos
QualityWinLoss
ImmersionLossWin
ConvenienceWinLoss

As DTS X is more convenient and has more quality compared to the Dolby Atmos, it is suitable for home cinema. However, the higher immersion makes Dolby Atmos more suitable for Cinema Halls. That concludes my verdict for the Cinephiles. 

However, if you still want to go for a Dolby setup, you should consider differentiating between Dolby surround and 5.1.

Here are some of my best recommendations for Home Cinema setup- 

Price RangeProductsLinks
Under $1000Klipsch Cinema 600Check For Price
Under $1500Nakamichi Shokwafe UltraCheck For Price
Under $2000Nakamichi Shokwafe Ultra with eARC and SSE MaxCheck For Price

The Audiophile Perspective

Audiophiles are very particular with sounds. They do not like any sort of compression at all. That eliminates Dolby and DTS in the first place. 

However, things get a little tricky when you involve DSD in the mess too. Here’s a graph that’ll make this thing more understandable-

A graph comparing PCM and DSD audio format
PCM vs DSD Graph

Let’s get into the depths for the audiophiles. 

Audio Quality: Which One Sounds Better?

As I’ve mentioned before, Audiophiles search for maximum audio quality with no compression. That gets rid of Dolby, DTS by default since they use compression. However, there is a very strong competitor of PCM. That is DSD.  

Let’s first talk about the differences between PCM and DSD in terms of quality,

AspectPCMDSD
Sample Rate44.1Khz, 48KHz, 96Khz2.8224MHz
Bit Depth (in bits)16,24,321

According to the table, PCM works over a wider spectrum of bit depth while DSD uses only 1-bit depth. On the other hand, PCM uses a lower sample rate compared to DSD.

Strictly speaking about these numerical values, DSD should theoretically sound better due to its much higher sample rate. However, that translates differently in the real world.

How? Human ears can only perceive 20Khz sounds. However, that is when there is no loss in the sound frequency.

Furthermore, taking that loss into consideration, the 2-2.5x of ear frequency can ensure max details for our ears.

However, even 2.5 is overkill. So even 96Khz is considered to be overkill. That is why audiophiles often opt for PCM instead of DSD despite its promised details. 

That aside, PCM also has higher bit depth which directly translates into audio clarity. So, overall PCM wins in terms of Audio Quality. 

Support: Which One Is More Versatile?

PCM is widely supported on all platforms. Popular PCM formats are WAV, FLAC, and MP3. PCM is supported by almost all DACs and Audio systems. 

When it comes to DSD, it is proprietary to Sony. So it has support from Sony devices. But in terms of total support, it loses out to PCM. 

Furthermore, unlike PCM, DSD cannot be edited once it’s recorded. That takes off a lot for convenience. 

So, PCM takes the win even in support. 

AspectPCMDSD
QualityWin (in real-world situation)Win (in theory)
Support (Compatibility)WinLoss 
ConvenienceWinLoss

So, in terms of real-life performance, Audiophiles would be better off using PCM as the audio recording format instead of Dolby, DTS or DSD. 

However, if you want to dive deeper into the Audio format game, you can look into the differences between PCM and RAW format.

The Gamer Perspective

Gamers primarily look for two factors when they consider audio for gaming. They are-

  1. Directional Audio
  1. Real-time Audio

These two criteria boil down to compressed spatial audio. With the criteria set, PCM or Dolby or DTS, which should you use when gaming? 

DTS and Dolby both basically encode multiple PCM channels into a bitstream before decoding it back into PCM for compression. That greatly reduces the size of the file at some loss of quality. 

The smaller-sized Dolby or DTS will be better for online gaming compared to PCM. Because it requires real-time audio playback. 

So, PCM or Dolby Digital? Or DTS? There is one more question to answer regarding directional audio before going to that. 

Is PCM surround sound? 

No, PCM does not offer surround sound. But there is a variant of PCM that does. The surround sound PCM is better known as Linear PCM or LPCM. It supports all the channels from 2.1 to 7.1. However, that still requires an extensive setup. So, Dolby Digital and DTS take the cake.  

Now the fight is between Dolby atmos and DTS X. Making the choice between these two can be confusing. However, here are some factors that will help you make the choice-

Audio Quality: Which One Sounds More Accurate?

Audio quality depends on a few factors. They are-

  • Bitrate: Bitrate is the basic measure of audio quality. A higher bitrate generally means better audio quality. DTS X can reach 1.5 Mbits bitrate while Dolby Atmos can at most reach 768 Kbits. The DTS X clearly holds an edge over Atmos here. 
  • Encoding Efficiency: The encoding efficiency means you’ll be able to get higher audio quality even in lower bitrates. That’s basically Dolby’s court. Dolby has marketed higher efficiency than DTS in every product.

    However, despite its efficiency, it can hardly reach the audio quality of DTS X. 

So who’s the winner in Dolby Digital vs DTS?

In terms of audio quality, DTS is better than Dolby. That is because DTS is encoded at a higher bit rate. Despite Dolby trying to make up for the lower bit rate with advanced technology, it ultimately fails. 

Support & Convenience: Which One Supports More Platforms?

Any game would have to support the format first for gamers to play it. Here is where Dolby shines. 

DTS X is relatively new, and not yet supported on many games as well as many platforms. Whereas, Dolby atmos is supported by a vast majority of the games and streaming platforms.  Dolby takes the win here. 

So, when it comes to convenience, which is better Dolby or DTS?  

Now, when it comes to the convenience of setting either up, DTS X takes the crown. Because Dolby Atmos requires specific placements that can be a hassle to deal with. You even have to place speakers above your head! 

Whereas DTS X can be set up with any pre-existing 5.1 or 7.1 setups. That greatly decreases the hassle for everyone. DTS wins in convenience as well. 

So here is the chart for the gamers’ perspective-

AspectDTS XDolby Atmos
QualityYesNo
Support (Compatibility)NoYes
ConvenienceYesNo

When it comes to gaming, DTS X checks more boxes compared to the Dolby Atmos. Despite support being a huge factor, DTS is getting more support now too. So, my verdict is DTS X is the best choice for gamers. 

So Which One Should You Go For?

The best audio recording system varies by its use. According to my levels of analysis- Cinephiles should go for Dolby Atmos in Cinema Halls and DTS X in Home Cinema. On the other hand, Audiophiles should opt for high-resolution PCM. Finally, Gamers are better off with DTS X.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Dolby or DTS- Which One Is Suitable For Gaming?

Digital Theater Systems or DTS is highly user-friendly for gaming purposes. It holds a large portion of gamers for serving boosted sound on headphones. Dolby also comes with these facilities but lacks the prominent impact like DTS. But brands are barely an issue if you get a built-in surround sound.

Do Every TV Carry Dolby Atmos?

Yes, almost every television supports Dolby Atmos. It gets enabled to the right hardware and the tech activation by receivers or speaker systems. Many users think that buying a new TV enables Dolby Atmos. But Dolby can imitate virtual surround sound while you are having a pair of earbuds.

What Are The Most Significant Drawbacks of PCM?

Pulse-code Modulation or PCM barely can endure analog signals. Also, you will find the highest error rate. It is unable with the time-division multiplex (TDM) too. However, it asks for a larger bandwidth for transmission compared to other formulas. Noise, crosstalk keeps lower increases attenuation.

Final Words

You have come a long way to understand PCM vs Dolby vs DTS better. Choosing a specific format carrying superior sound is tough. 

As several factors pop up, keeping your head confused is normal. Hopefully, our article has cleared these.

Find our article helpful? Feel free to let us know.

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