In any home entertainment setup, the two most important elements are obviously picture and sound. And while there's different technology on both days, the sound has always been the hardest part, and that's because so many components have to work together to get the sound the way the filmmakers intended. And to make matters worse, every room, home theater and media space is unique, making its acoustics different, adding complexity to an already complex situation. In our guide to Dolby Atmos speaker placement, we're going to shed some light and make things a little clearer.
A very common question we heard was "How should I position my speakers for the best sound?" This question has been difficult just because of the variety of speaker configurations that exist, the most common being 5.1 and 7.1 channel configurations (we'll explain what these numbers mean in a moment). And with the different rooms each user had, things weren't as clear as we'd like.
But now that the new 4K UHD format is popular, we also have new audio formats to make things even more complex. And the question we're hearing now has shifted to "How to do proper placement of Dolby Atmos speakers". For Blu-ray, the best audio formats were Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. These 2 formats offered 5.1 and 7.1 mixdowns for movies and you could often find multiple audio tracks to choose from.
Let's explain a little what these numbers mean. As you can see in the chart below, a 5.1-channel setup consists of 1 center dialog speaker, 2 front speakers and 2 surround back speakers, plus a subwoofer for low frequency sounds. A 7.1 setup is similar, except it adds two more speakers, one to the left and one to the right of the viewer. Now it's very important to understand that in these 2 configurations, all the speakers are positioned at the viewer's ear level. This means that even though we have a 360-degree immersive soundstage, there was a lack of information about us.
And that was because these audio formats had absolutely no support for channels that could be positioned anywhere above ear level. This has been corrected with the new Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio formats. Now we can get sounds not only around us but also above us. And while DTS:X claims this can be achieved with existing home theater setups, Dolby requires a new setup to take advantage of the additional sound sources.
You've probably heard of these new formats called "object-oriented". This means that every soundtrack that accompanies a movie is not downmixed to a specific number of channels. If you've ever paid attention to a Blu-ray disc, you've probably seen it written DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, for example. This meant that the film's soundtrack was mixed specifically for a 7.1-channel setup. If your system was different, it was up to the AV receiver or amplifier to distribute the mix according to the available speakers.
Now, with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, you won't see that. The description only mentions "Dolby Atmos" or "DTS:X". That's because these soundtracks are mixed with specific channels in mind. Mixers place audio sources in 3D space and the AV amplifier/receiver that supports these formats is in charge of reproducing the sound according to the available speaker configuration.
Adding new channels now meant we needed a new numerical encoding to describe them. So we got new names like 5.1.2 and 5.1.4 for these configurations. Adding new speakers to your home theater area isn't always an easy task, as many of us don't have rooms dedicated to our home entertainment system. With DTS:X we don't have this problem, as the developers claim that current surround settings like 5.1 or 7.1 channels are sufficient, but with Dolby Atmos, there's only one way. The need for overhead sound required an audio source from above. Therefore, companies nowadays offer two different solutions to this problem.
Of course, the simplest option is to add speakers to the ceiling in two- or four-channel configurations. This offers the best solution as the sound source is really where it should be and you get better resolution and clarity from the Atmos effects.
A normal 5.1.2 setup consists of 2 additional ceiling speakers bringing in sounds from above, as you can see in the photo below. With 5.1.4 we have 4 additional speakers, 2 at the front and 2 above the rear speakers. The amount of speakers you'll use depends on your space, room setup, and of course your budget. If you can opt for 4 pendant speakers this will give you the best possible results, but if your space doesn't allow it or your budget is limited then even two of these will do a very good job in this regard.
Well, when it comes to 2 pendant speakers, all AV receivers/amplifiers offer multiple placement options in their setup. They can be placed at the front, center of the listening area, at the edges or even on the wall above the front speakers. The best placement for just two in-ceiling speakers is certainly in the middle of your listening area, as they can cover the most space in your home theater. But, as always, it also depends on your room.
But there's also an alternative if adding speakers to the ceiling isn't an option. Manufacturers understand that your home is not an ideal environment like a movie theater, and they need to be creative about it. That's why they created additional driver front-facing speakers that are aimed at your living room ceiling. The sound emanating from these upward-firing drivers bounces off the ceiling and down to you as if originally coming from above. Well, this technology might not offer the same results as dedicated built-in speakers, but it does offer an alternative for most people when they can't fit in those additional sound sources.
Well, this technology is interesting, especially when you consider how much trouble it can save you from adding more speakers and more cables in your home, but like anything, there's a catch. Because the sound is off the ceiling and relies on the bounce effect, the overall result sounds less accurate, less pronounced, and Atmos effects have less treble at best.
But not only is the resulting sound anything but ideal. For this technique to work as efficiently as possible, your space must meet certain design requirements. First of all, you need a straight ceiling, because when the sound hits you, it comes down at an angle towards you, and that angle needs to be specific so that the sound comes down exactly in your sitting position.
The farther sound travels, the more it loses its energy. So if you have a very high ceiling, the Atmos effects won't have the same power or sophistication. The lower the ceiling, the more pronounced these effects are. While there isn't a straight answer to this, the general rule of thumb is that for best results, your ceiling should be no higher than 10 feet.
There are speaker setups for 5.1.2 and 5.1.4 that use this alternative technology, with some using up-firing drivers for the front channels only, while there are now many systems using up-firing drivers for the surround speakers. I won't compare it to a real 5.1.2 system with dedicated ceiling speakers, as it goes without saying that the quality won't be the same, but we're sure that for many people this will be a very practical solution that avoids let them add speakers in awkward positions. Because, let's face it, most of us use our living rooms for our home theaters and we certainly envy the lucky few who have dedicated rooms for their home entertainment systems.
And over time, we're seeing this becoming more common in soundbars as well. Soundbars are generally for those who want a user-friendly setup or don't have the space needed for a fully dedicated audio system. And now we can see that manufacturers are using up-firing drivers in their new models, which also goes to show that this technology is not fog and mirrors, but can actually deliver a true Dolby Atmos experience, albeit not with the same quality.
And while we initially saw that up-firing drivers were only used for the front, lately we're seeing some flagship soundbars employing up-firing speakers in their surround channels, which also goes to show how attached they are to this design. OLG SN11RGit's one of those examples we've been testing recently, and you can read our full review at the link in the name.
So if you're building a new home entertainment system and want to know how to position your Dolby Atmos speakers, the first thing to consider is what kind of technology you prefer. Do you prefer dedicated ceiling speakers or trigger speakers from the 5.1 flagship setup? If you go for the second solution, things are pretty easy as the speakers are fixed so you don't have to do anything. But if you decide to do the first root, then you have a lot of options.Almost all new AV receivers that support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X offer a variety of built-in speaker configurations. You can add a single speaker in the middle of the range. If you want to add 2 of these, you have the option of placing them above the front speakers, in the center or above the rear speakers. Now it's up to you what to choose and it also depends on what your room allows. But if we had to choose, we'd place them above the front speakers or in the center for the best results.
Now, if you decide to opt for dedicated speaker setups, you won't need any specific speaker type, as any down-firing speaker can do the job. It all depends on the quality and appearance of the speakers you choose. However, if you opt for a setup with up-firing speakers built into the main speakers, your options will be more limited, but you'll still have plenty of options to choose from based on size and quality.
At first they were few and far between, but now you can find many designs such as floor standing or bookshelf speakers. Many manufacturers likedalí,monitor audioorKEFeven special Atmos speakers designed so you can mount them to the ceiling or place them directly on top of your floor or bookshelf speakers if you want to opt for an up-firing Dolby Atmos system and feel like an extension from your main speakers.
Pioneer and Onkyo are two companies that have developed some low-cost entry-level 5.1.4 and 5.1.2 setups with boosters built into the main speakers.
The Onkyo SKSHT588 5.1. 2 Dolby Atmos system is one, for example, and this is a great setup if you're looking for a quality entry-level speaker setup that supports the new formats. Although it only has 2 front speakers, it really fills the area above ear level and creates a much better listening experience than the standard 5.1 setup. You can read my review on this speaker setup.HERE.
But you don't need to go with such a complete system. There are a wide range of floor standing speakers that come with up-firing drivers if you prefer a more expensive solution. It's all a matter of budget and space constraints that will determine your final choice. The Onkyo system mentioned above is an excellent solution for small spaces and those on a budget, as it can provide a very good Atmos experience on a budget.
To conclude this article, we would like to summarize a few things. Before deciding what to buy, you need to see what your area can handle, and secondly, how much money you are willing to spend. These 2 factors determine which final options you can choose. In this article, we've looked at most of the basic setups and what alternatives there are to up-firing speakers that can save you a lot of money.
If money is no object, you should definitely opt for a 5.1.4 or even 7.1.4 channel setup with dedicated ceiling speakers. But if your budget is tight and extra in-ceiling speakers aren't an option, then the Onkyo setup or Atmos speakers, which can be placed on top of your main speakers or with built-in up-firing drivers, is the way to go. When Dolby Atmos and DTS:X were released there was a limited range of options on the market, but as time goes on we see more and more options, which is only good for the consumer as more options come with better prices. .
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What is the proper Dolby Atmos speaker placement? ›
For optimal effect and to minimize direct radiating audio at listener level, place Dolby Atmos enabled speakers at or slightly above the height of your ears when seated. Avoid placing the Dolby Atmos enabled speakers higher than one-half the height of your wall.How to place Dolby Atmos 7.1 4 speakers rear speaker height? ›
With Dolby Atmos, you want your main side surrounds to be about 1 foot above ear level and about 6” in front of your ears. If you do not have a second row of seats on a riser behind the main level, the rear surround speakers should be at the same level.
While two Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers, modules, or overhead speakers will deliver a compelling experience, we recommend using four if possible. This will deliver more precisely located and realistic overhead sounds.Should Atmos speakers be front or rear? ›
If you only have two Dolby Atmos modules, then it is recommended to place these on, or near, your front left and right speakers. If you want four modules, you should place the rear pair on, or near, the rear back surrounds in a 7.1 system – and on/near the rear surrounds in a 5.1 system.Should Dolby Atmos speakers be angled? ›
As quoted above, Dolby recommends a 45-degree angle of elevation from the listening position to the overhead speakers (with 90 degrees being straight up). According to Dolby, there's some wiggle room there, and anything from 30 to 55 degrees is acceptable.How far should I sit from Dolby Atmos soundbar? ›
For an ideal playback experience, a Dolby Atmos enabled sound bar should be located at least 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) from the listener's seated position.What height should 7.1 speaker be placed? ›
7.1 Channel Speaker Setup
For the best 7.1 acoustic experience, these back speakers should be positioned just above the audience's head level, between 135 to 150 degrees behind the viewer. If you must compromise on placement, it's typically better to move these rear speakers closer together and further back.
Move your speakers at least 2-3 feet away from the nearest wall. This will minimize sound reflections, which can negatively impact playback clarity. Adjust speaker angle (toe-in). Angle your speakers inward so they're pointed towards the listener - more specifically, at a point directly behind the listener's head.How do you calculate speaker placement? ›
Determining the Placement of Your Speakers
Place your speaker 1/3rd of the distance from your front wall, and your seat 1/3rd the distance from the rear wall. For example, if your room measures 15ft from wall to wall, place your seat 5 ft from the rear wall and your speaker 5 ft from the front wall.
4 speaker layout is the preferred minimum setup: 7 speakers on the listener plane (left, center, right, one side-surround pair, one rear-surround pair) 1 subwoofer. 4 overhead speakers (left top front, right top front, left top rear, right top rear)
How many monitors for Dolby Atmos? ›
Monitoring Outputs For Dolby Atmos
The control room for a studio working in Dolby Atmos should be laid out with monitors set up in at least a 7.1. 4 speaker layout.
For Atmos, the minimum number of physical output channels for monitoring is 12, making a 7.1. 4 system. This meets the “Home Entertainment” requirement which means you can mix for Netflix and Amazon and general small-screen TV content.Are in ceiling speakers better for Atmos? ›
Why are ceiling speakers a great option for an Atmos set up? Ceiling speakers in an Atmos home theater systems are mainly used as height channels to add a vertical plane of sound. As they're ceiling-mounted, they are well-placed to give immersive effects when the audio is encoded to fire above you.Does Dolby Atmos sound better than stereo? ›
A standard stereo system will pan the sound from left to right as it passes the character, but can't emulate aerial sounds. Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, can do so. In fact, you don't even need multiple speaker outputs, many capable soundbars can recreate this overhead sound so long as its properly setup.How do I take full advantage to Dolby Atmos? ›
Just add a Dolby Atmos receiver. So, yes, if you want to take advantage of true Atmos surround you'll need new hardware. But Dolby Digital is still the default for everything, so this isn't a required upgrade. If you're not interested in Atmos, your gear will still work.How do you equalize Dolby Atmos? ›
Open Settings > Sound > Audio Settings.
Tap Dolby Atmos. Make sure “Use Dolby Atmos” is turned on. Tap Advanced Settings to open the Graphic Equalizer. And you can swipe on the bar of each band to set the level of them.
To get the best Atmos experience with your TV, you should send the audio output to a soundbar or AV receiver. For this, you will need an HDMI ARC connection and Dolby Digital Plus audio support. Most newer TVs will be fine, but anything before 2018 may have problems.What is the best position for surround sound speakers? ›
Surround Speakers: Surround speakers work best on the left and right of your listening position, either directly in line with that spot or a little behind it. You can also place them behind that spot facing to the front if it isn't possible to place them at the side.