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What is Dolby Atmos & Why Is It Necessary for Your Home Theater?

by Ann Ferguson

The perfect sound doesn't exist — unless you have Dolby Atmos. Sure, surround sound gets you close — it almost sounds just like the movies. But something is still off, and Dolby Atmos is the solution!

So, what is Dolby Atmos? It's the key ingredient you didn't know you needed! We'll go over what you've been missing, how it works, and what you need to take your home theater experience to the ultimate level.

What is Dolby Atmos?

3D soundwave

Dolby Atmos is a sound system that creates a 3D soundscape in your home theater. It's the first codec change in over a decade working with more channels than your typical 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems, stunning viewers ever since. With Dolby Atmos, sound has more depth, clarity, and details, making the experience more realistic. It's basically like 4K for your ears!

Why is it important for your sound system?

Nuclear explosion on TV concept

The great thing about Dolby Atmos is that it doesn't just add depth to the sound — it makes it feel like the sounds are coming from all around you. Atmos adds height elements to the soundstage, which, unlike surround sound where sound goes from side to side, it provides overhead sound.

So basically, Dolby Atmos creates a sound bubble featuring overhead action effects or subtle atmospheric and object-based sound, with you in the center of it! Whether it's the dulcet tones of a rainstorm or the explosive excitement of an action movie, Dolby Atmos brings the sound to life in a way that traditional surround sound can't match.

How Dolby Atmos Works

Dolby Atmos uses a 9.1 bed channel that consists of stationary sounds like background sound and music, 128 tracks, and 118 simultaneous sound objects to create an immersive soundstage. But what is a sound object? It's anything from the sound of footsteps to the bouncing ball set in a specific position in a scene.

With Atmos, sound creators can place sounds in exact locations and set any movement in a 3D space, which brings movie theater-sound quality to your home theater! The Dolby Atmos optimized technology analyzes audio data based on the number of speakers and their placement. It then determines the optimal playback in real-time by informing your A/V receiver how to process the audio data. So, the more speakers you have, the better your audio positioning is!

Height Speakers & Dolby Atmos

Speakers places just right in home theater

The key to getting the most out of Dolby Atmos is to use height speakers. These speakers are mounted on the ceiling in the front to add the dimension of height to your surround feel, so you can hear the discrete effects across the screen. By reflecting sound off the ceiling, they create a more immersive experience that makes you feel right in the middle of the action.

If you have both front and back height speakers, you'll add both directional and panning effects to your sound, but each speaker needs to be aimed toward the listening position to provide better results. In a 3D bubble, front height speakers produce the most directional sounds, either mounted on top of the front wall or slightly above your front surround speakers.

But even without height speakers, most Dolby Atmos-compatible speakers have upward-firing drivers to bounce sound off the ceiling just like a height speaker. In addition, almost any speaker can work with Dolby Atmos; however, only Dolby Atmos height speakers will produce the most accurate sounds that engulf the listener completely.

Virtual Height

Another way you can add height dimension to your sound is virtually. Dolby Atmos created a processing feature called "Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization" that makes a "virtual" Atmos experience even with non-Atmos supporting hardware.

This virtual sound simulates the overhead sound experience at the listener level to create a 360-degree sound field from a 5.1, 7.1, or even stereo speaker configuration. It applies height cue filters to overhead components in a mix before it travels to the speakers. So, this way, you can experience those explosions and everything else the way the creators intended — just like with Dolby Atmos speakers!

Pro Tip: Virtual height can only do so much and it won't be as perfect, so make sure to upgrade to Dolby Atmos height speakers to experience the full effect!

Placing the Speakers Just Right

One of the most important things to get right with Dolby Atmos is speaker placement. The height speakers need to be placed just right to reflect sound off the ceiling and create the desired effect. If they're not positioned correctly, you won't get the full benefit of Dolby Atmos.

You'll also need a minimum of four speakers, with two in the front and two in the back to create the optimal experience, plus two to four ceiling speakers. Avoid placing your Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers higher than ½ the height of your wall, and space them at least three feet away from your listening position (five feet or more is ideal!). And above all, don't go for more than 34 speakers — that's all your system can handle, and anything more will be overkill for your space.

Pro Tip: Don't try to set up your speakers yourself — your custom integrators will know the exact placement and how to connect each one properly!

Welcome to Your New Sound

Fancy home theater with lots of speakers concept

Now that you know all about Dolby Atmos, there's no excuse not to take your home theater experience to the next level! With its immersive soundscape and three-dimensional sound, Dolby Atmos is the perfect way to make your movies and TV come to life. And Refined Systems is your first step to getting there, with the audio setup and expert planning you never knew you needed!

So, don't wait; contact us today to set up your consultation appointment!