Can I Use Dipole Speakers in a 7.1.4 Atmos Setup?

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A Here’s a question that has probably been asked and answered a thousand times. I plan to upgrade my system from a 7.1-channel to a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos configuration. Should I replace my current dipole surround speakers with direct-radiating speakers? Also, which 11.2-channel AV receivers should I consider buying? —Dave Brown / via e-mail

Q The direct-radiating versus dipolar surrounds question is one we’ve tackled before, but it comes up so often that it’s worth revisiting. Dolby recommends using direct-radiating surround speakers positioned at roughly ear-height for Atmos. Why? Object-based surround technology allows for a more spatially precise rendering of soundtrack information than was possible with channel-based formats, and Dolby maintains that direct-radiating speakers are best equipped to deliver it, both in cinemas and at home.

Dipolar surround speakers, in contrast, are designed to create a diffuse soundfield, one that emulates the multi-speaker arrays in older, pre-Atmos commercial cinemas. Most dipolar surrounds in home theaters are also installed above ear-height—a configuration recommended by THX to increase the level of sound diffusion.

So, to adhere to Dolby recommendations, the answer is yes, you should replace your current dipolar surrounds with direct-radiating speakers installed at ear-height. That being said, some on our staff rather like the effect of dipole speakers on the sides in an Atmos setup. Since you already have dipole speakers in place, there’s no harm in upgrading the rest of your system for Atmos compatibility before determining if it’s time to replace your dipole surrounds. See how you like it, then decide. As for 11.2-channel AV receivers, models are available from companies including Denon, Onkyo, and Anthem at prices ranging from $2,200 to $3,500.

For more information on setting up a speakers for Atmos surround sound, see Dolby’s Speaker Setup Guide.