To have the same atmosphere at home as in the cinema. This is a wish shared by many when setting up their home cinema. But especially when it comes to sound, you had to do without a rousing soundscape from all directions for a long time. Surround sound was available, but real 3D sound from all directions, especially from above, was missing in home settings.
Meanwhile, there are various sound formats that are supposed to offer such a possibility. Here, we want to take a closer look at the most widespread format, Dolby Atmos is a 3D sound format that adds sounds from above to surround sound systems and can also assign additional information to sounds so that they can be reproduced even more realistically., which is also used in some cinemas by Dolby Cinema, among others.
But how does a Dolby Atmos setup look like?
The conventional surround sound with center speaker, satellite speakers and subwoofer is supplemented by the Atmos height speakers, so that sounds can now also come from above and not exclusively at the height of the listener. A 5.1 surround setup becomes a 5.1.2 system by adding, for example, 2 Atmos height speakers.
Different types of Atmos speakers
The Atmos height channels can be created by different speaker setups, which are also shown in the picture above. Either down-firing Atmos height speakers are used, or up-firing speakers. There are also up-firing speakers that are either integrated into satellite speakers or directly into a soundbar itself.
Down-firing speakers provide the listener with sound directly from above – just as the name suggests. It is probably the most precise approach to simulate 3D sounds properly, but the ceiling speakers also have to be mounted somehow, which can be quite time-consuming. In addition, the speakers also need to be powered somehow, so without running cables under the plaster, you’ll probably have a less-than-pretty living room.
Up-firing speakers, like conventional satellite speakers, are located at the height of the listener. They project the sound to the ceiling, from which it is reflected towards the listener, simulating the sound from above. This is the most common way to create 3D sound, especially with soundbars.
The usual surround channels are retained in both approaches, but are supplemented by object-related sounds, which create a realistic soundscape through three-dimensional coordination. Hearing airplanes sweeping overhead, standing in the center of a thunderstorm, or an arrow whirring past you becomes a great experience that enables a completely different level of immersion in the home theater – you are right in the middle of the action.
By using additional information for the sounds of moving objects, they can thus be simulated by suitable sound systems in such a way that the sound effects can be freely localized in three-dimensional space. As a result, a completely different degree of realistic sound reproduction can be achieved.
Doby Atmos with soundbars
As mentioned above, soundbars usually use up-firing speakers to generate Dolby Atmos sound. You should make sure that you are sitting at the right distance to the soundbar so that you are really in the center of the sounds reflected from the ceiling. Depending on the orientation of the up-firing speakers, you should therefore keep a certain minimum distance. As a rule of thumb, 8ft is often given as the optimal distance between the soundbar and the couch.
There are also soundbars that are advertised with Dolby Atmos, but do not have up-firing speakers. They simulate the sounds from above and should ideally make the listener think that sounds are coming from there, even though they are actually coming from the front.
This is exactly the method used by the Sony HT-X8500, whose surround sound is really excellent for its price range, but without a doubt, this 3D simulation cannot match a setup with up-firing or even down-firing speakers. Dolby Atmos should really hit the listener from all directions to create a three-dimensional soundscape.
If you’re looking for a soundbar with Dolby Atmos, we’ve listed what we think are the best soundbars with Dolby Atmos in different price ranges.