Should I Use Ceiling Speakers in a 5.1.2 Atmos Setup?

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A A recent firmware update for my Onkyo receiver added Dolby Atmos processing, but the receiver only accommodates two height speakers. Is it worth cutting into my ceiling for such a minimal setup? If so, where should the speakers be positioned? —Peter Noris / via e-mail

Q Per Dolby, using two height speakers in a 5.1.2 configuration is good enough to get Atmos (see this earlier Ask S&V exchange on the subject). However, an installation using dual height speakers is considered bare bones—Dolby recommends using four height speakers to get a more enveloping, realistic experience. So, whether it’s worth cutting into the ceiling is really up to you. On-ceiling boxed speakers are also an option. If you do decide to go for in-ceiling or on-ceiling speakers, Dolby recommends they be installed roughly in line with your main speakers and slightly in front of the main seating area (position 6 in the graphic above).

However, if you do decide that cutting into your ceiling isn’t worth the trouble, Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers provide a less messy, though some might say somewhat less effective, alternative. These feature upward-firing drivers on the speaker’s top surface that bounce sound off the ceiling to convey overhead information in Dolby Atmos soundtracks. There are two options to choose from: all-in-one models with front- and upward-firing drivers (as shown above), or add-on modules with upward-firing drivers that sit on top of your main speakers.

If you can arrange for a trial with a no/low-cost return policy, it might be worth taking an Atmos-enabled speaker setup for a test drive. The results can be surprisingly good.

For more on Dolby Atmos setup options, see the “Speaker Setup Guides” at