Which In-Ceiling Speaker Should I Use for Dolby Atmos?

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Q I have a 5.1-channel surround speaker setup in my basement that uses Infinity speakers. Recently, I upgraded my receiver to Denon’s 7.2-channel, Atmos-capable AVR-X2400H.

A company I contacted said they can run wiring through my basement’s ceiling to install a pair of height speakers for Atmos. They recommended Proficient C661s, an in-ceiling model with a built-in 15-degree angle. They also gave me the option of installing a pair of direct down-firing speakers over the viewing area. Here’s my question: Is it better to have overhead speakers that are angled toward the viewer, or ones that fire directly down at the sitting position? Also, should I be mixing different-brand speakers with my existing Infinity system? —Steve Thompson  

A Dolby’s guidelines for a 5.1.2 Atmos setup (the specific configuration that your 7.2-channel Atmos-capable receiver supports) is to install in-ceiling overhead speakers slightly in front of the listening position. They additionally recommend using “conventional overhead speakers with wide dispersion characteristics.” How wide is wide enough? About 45 degrees from the reference axis over the audio band from 100 Hz to 10 kHz, according to Dolby. The reason for these guidelines is to ensure a) adequate coverage of the listening area; and b) that the sound will be similar to what you’d hear in an Atmos cinema, where the speakers are installed high overhead.

If the direct down-firing speaker your installer is offering meets the wide dispersion requirements (a spec, by the way, that’s not typically made available by manufacturers) demanded by Dolby, it should work fine in your Atmos setup. If not, Dolby suggests using models with “angled or aimable elements” as an alternative. The Proficient C661 in-ceiling model you mention has a pivoting tweeter. With that tweeter angled toward the listening area, it should be able to deliver adequate height effect coverage when watching movies with Atmos soundtracks.

Which speaker should you go with? If I were in your situation, I’d lean on the expertise of the installer to select the model that better satisfies Dolby’s requirements for Atmos. Since Atmos soundtracks consist of audio objects that can be positioned anywhere in a 3D soundfield, Dolby additionally recommends using overhead speakers that match the timbre, frequency response, and power-handling capabilities of the main speakers. The easiest way to get that is to buy matched speakers from the same manufacturer. Infinity no longer makes in-ceiling speakers, however, so I’d look at other-brand models that closely match the specs for the rest of your system.