Can I Use Dipole Height Speakers for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X?

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Q I have a 7.1-channel surround system with four dipole surround speakers. My plan is to move the back surround speakers to the ceiling in my home theater and use them for down-firing height speakers in a Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 setup.  The room is 12 x 20 feet with a flat, 8-foot-high ceiling. Will I get a good Atmos experience with this setup? How will it work for DTS:X? —Dan Spaughs 

A I recently answered a similar question about using dipole speakers as on-wall surrounds in an Atmos setup. The same advice dispensed there holds true for height speakers. Dipoles can be a good choice for 5.1-channel setups in small rooms, or as surround channel speakers for 7.1 setups in larger rooms, but they won’t necessarily work for Atmos setups where multi-speaker arrays have been repurposed into individually addressable point sources. Bottom line: use direct-radiating, rather than dipole, speakers in an Atmos setup.

Now that you’ve got me going, there’s another reason why you shouldn’t repurpose your dipole surrounds as ceiling speakers: Dolby doesn’t recommend the use of ceiling-mounted height speakers of any type for installations where the ceiling is low, or where they’ll need to be mounted on trusses or brackets. In your case, you have both a low ceiling and speakers that need to be externally mounted. According to Dolby, the better option here will be to use Atmos-enabled speakers since they will provide less localized sound that’s more like what you’d experience in an actual Dolby Atmos cinema.

As for the question of DTS:X, according to the company’s own description, that technology isn’t “tied to to existing speaker configurations” when used in home applications. You can use any existing speaker configuration “within a hemispherical layout” and the DTS Speaker Remapping Engine scales the sound accordingly. DTS hasn’t yet announced any plan to release DTS:X enabled speakers similar to the ones used for Dolby Atmos. That said, there’s no indication that Atmos-enabled speakers wouldn’t work for DTS:X soundtracks.

prm1177's picture

You say at one point "won’t necessarily work for Atmos setups where multi-speaker arrays have been repurposed into individually addressable point sources," but also say "According to Dolby, the better option here will be to use Atmos-enabled speakers since they will provide less localized sound that’s more like what you’d experience in an actual Dolby Atmos cinema." I thought dipole surrounds provide less localized sound. What is it, point source or less localized sound?

Al Griffin's picture
Individually addressable point sources are used to convey soundtracks in Atmos cinemas. So if your goal is to recreate an Atmos, as opposed to a traditional, channel-based, cinema experience at home, you're not going to want to diffuse the sound -- something dipole speakers do to approximate the multi-speaker arrays in traditional, channel-based systems. What you should be concerned with is approximating height/overhead sound with Atmos. Dolby has determined that Atmos-enabled speakers, for which the company specifies certain filtering characteristics, does this best in rooms with relatively low ceilings. Could you mount dipole speakers on the ceiling and and try to get the same effect? There's nothing stopping you from doing that. But it wouldn't jibe with the best practices defined by Dolby in its Atmos home theater guidelines, which have been developed through years of research/testing.
freality's picture

These "Ask S&V" segments have become increasingly not good. We can all research what is "recommended" by Dolby. How about actually TESTING what is asked and giving real world testaments instead of regurgitating what you found on a website? Clearly, there is a huge install base of multi-channel setups with dispersion-type surrounds. Be a hero and test an Atmos setup with dipole vs direct surrounds! When GoldenEar had their demo, Dolby told them their setup wouldn't sound right (regarding speakers used and placement)...and guess what, it did to everyone's surprise. So, what is "recommended" doesn't necessarily inform what actually works.

It seems like this writer is just trying to fill a quota. Very frustrating to subscribers!

Other recent examples of poor "answers:"

1) Recommending Atmos-enabled speaker modules as a response to a question regarding not being able to run new speaker wires. What?? You still have to run wire for these speakers! They are speakers, after all.

2) When asked if it's important for height speakers to be powered the same as the others, the writer says, "yes" and goes on about buying a bunch of amps to match. Dude, if you have 7.1.4 and you're driving your mains at let's say 200wpc (1400w total), then you're seriously recommending buying an additional 800w for 2200 total watts?? Might want to recommend installing an additional dedicated 20amp circuit for all that juice, buddy! Even Thomas J. Norton had to step in and correct.

hk2000's picture

Couldn't agree more!
Not to mention "Atmos enabled speakers" is a joke. These speakers are supposed to "beam" the sound to the ceiling, and that sound reflecting from the ceiling to the listeners ears!!!!!!!!! As if it's a light beam? That is ridiculous! Not only is there NO WAY to prevent off axis direct sound to be heard by the listeners sitting a few feet away from the actual source driver, any attenuation of sound due to off axis won't be nearly as much as the attenuation of the sound traveling twice the distance and then reflecting back onto the seating area. I think Atmos will end up being as much a gimmick as 3D is turning out to be. Me? I'd rather spend the extra money on better quality 5.1 or 5.2 system or on a UHD display. But if those are already top notch, then may be on more high quality source material to take advantage of such top notch set up.

mikem's picture

I'm in total agreement.

HTG_ATX's picture

It has been months since Dolby Atmos for the home has been available and the lack of real world reviews or commentary is shocking! It is understandable that installing in ceiling speakers in their homes is challenging for reviewers. However, I'd expect that one way or the other the "experts" would find a way to experience Atmos HT and report on what they've heard with their own ears. How do Dolby enabled speakers really compare to dedicated in or on ceiling speakers? What does it sound like if you take a traditional di-pole based 5.1 or 7.1 set up and add either Atmos Enabled modules or dedicated overhead speakers? Its high time that reviewers find out with their own ears and share their impressions.

mikem's picture

If you look at SVS ( you will see they have a different approach to Atmos setup, and one I find more realistic and 'user-friendly.' There is also a competing surround sound approach from Auro technologies. I've not heard Atmos in a theater and don't doubt it would be impressive but to me looks a bit daunting for an HT setup, certainly in mine, so I'm not going to invest in this. Only last year I re-vamped my 5.1 to a 7.2 and I am happy and impressed with it and my room does not need any m speakers.

mach3billy's picture

The web site mikem suggests is actually, not It doesn't offer any detailed info about an Atmos setup, it just links to Dolby's site for that. It does have info on 5.1, 7.1, 91. and 11.1 configurations.

mikem's picture

I apologize for the incorrect site for SVS. Site is However, SVS does indeed have a different Atmos apporach at:
They reference the sub topic there as: Up-Firing Atmos Elevation Speakers. Or just type in Atmos in search and look for "Read more."

brenro's picture

Just as DTS HD Master Audio supplanted Dolby as the superior surround sound format, DTS X will most likely do the same thing to Atmos.

mikem's picture

I've been a big fan of Dolby ever since it arrived, but an even bigger fan of DTS (witness my collection of Superbit DVD's) when that arrived. But when when DTS MA arrived it was a whole new experience for me. There is a little home test (not a scientific AB comparison) I run periodically, just for the heck of it. I keep all volume levels the same and never change any settings. I have 3 BD versions of Casino Royal: DTS MA 5.1; PCM 5.1; and Dolby True 5.1. Hands down, DTS always appears brighter, more focused, dialog is more intelligible, and the overall sound is less constrained (more musical perhaps?) Did I mention that I'm a fan of DTS??

Deus02's picture

You could be right. It is also interesting to note that, for those that use a 7.1/7.2 speaker configuration in their HT set-ups, while DTS MA has offered both 5.1 and "pure" 7.1 soundtracks on countless Blu-Ray disc movies, I have yet to see the Dolby equivalent offer anything but 5.1 on their versions which, of course, requires PL11X to fill in the gaps of the back channels.

From my own unscientific study, it would seem that when it comes to the actual numbers, for some time now, DTS has dominated the soundtracks of Blu-Ray discs and if their speaker set-up requirements are more flexible, then their dominance will probably prevail even more.

prm1177's picture

I can certainly understand Dolby's recommendation not to install direct radiating ceiling speakers for Atmos installation in small rooms. The combination of being within the critical distance of the nearest speaker, combined with the precedence effect would collapse the sound field to the height channel nearest to the listener. However, bouncing the sound off the ceiling or using dipoles with the null axis aimed at the listening area would achieve the same effect by providing a diffuse sound source for each height channel.

Atmos enabled speakers do have the benefit of not requiring one to tear into and wire a ceiling.

mikem's picture

I have a 7.2 setup and when shopping for BD's the first thing I look for is if it's in DTS MA. DTS has always sounded brighter and more present than any other audio format. The only other BD I've seen to contradict this is the terrible video transfer of House Of Flying Daggers (for sound test only) and it is in PCM audio. Supposedly PCM is a stronger audio codec than Dolby digital, but in this case Dolby Digital sounds better to me. Just some thoughts.

skiman's picture

The Dolby Atmos website illustrates their recommended ceiling speaker placement for a 7.1.4 system here:
I scaled the drawing and estimated the ceiling height to be about 7.5 feet, which is close to average. Note that the illustration specifically shows 'on ceiling' type speakers.
Using the terms 'small' or 'large' to describe a room is meaningless without actual numbers.