Tech news: Dolby Atmos – Upward Firing vs. Ceiling Mounted


Atmos is the biggest buzz word around AV at the moment. In short, it enables the sound designers of movies to place sound in a three-dimensional space around the cinema or home cinema, whereas a trusty 5.1 system will only offer a 2-dimensional plain.

Rather than have the sound only circling around (think back to any Dolby 5.1 demo you used to hear in the cinema), Atmos adds an aspect of height to the equation, meaning you can now have sound flying over the top of your head to offer a truly three-dimensional, incredibly immersive, cinematic viewing experience.

Fantastic news, home cinema has taken a step forwards! However, this does mean you are going to have to put your hands in your pockets whichever way we look at this. Fortunately, Dolby Atmos-enabled AV receivers are very easy to find nowadays.

A traditional surround-sound configuration is 5.1 or 7.1; that’s five or seven speakers and one subwoofer. A Dolby Atmos configuration is 5.1.2; that’s five traditional surround sound speakers, one subwoofer and two extra speakers – the configuration of which is open to debate.

Below are two popular configurations: Figure A is a ceiling-mounted system, that requires either two in or on-ceiling speakers to be mounted above the viewers head.


Figure A


Figure B is an upward-firing system, that requires two dedicated Dolby Atmos speakers to be mounted slightly above or on top of your existing front speakers.


Figure B


So to start, Figure A is the more common Dolby Atmos set-up – it’s how the audio track was designed to sound, with actual effects firing above and around your ears. What’s involved is usually a pair of ceiling speakers cut into the ceiling just above and behind the viewers head. Not everybody can cut holes in the ceiling without being kicked out of the house by an angry partner, or have any idea how to put a hole into the ceiling in a productive and none destructive manner… If you do get the go ahead, then fantastic news. If you’re a little unsure what you’re doing, then don’t panic; we have a team of dedicated installers who can get the job done to a professional level.

Another slightly less daunting approach is on-ceiling speakers, which will work in the same configuration, but will require a smaller set of satellite speakers to be mounted downwards, thus eliminating the need to carve a 6″ hole in the roof…

Upward-firing speakers, are a dedicated set of speakers designed to sit at the front of your set-up, above your front left and right speakers, and fire the sound upwards towards the ceiling, which then bounces downwards and into your ears, giving the illusion of ceiling-mounted speakers.

This is the slightly less common configuration of Atmos for two reasons; the first being that the dedicated Dolby Atmos speakers are less than ideal if you have a satellite package – short of mounting a small shelf, there’s not much place for them. These are more suited towards those with floor-standing speakers, or alternatively you can buy front speakers with Atmos built in.

The second reason is as plain and simple as this: they’re not as good. Having spent time with both configurations, I found the upward-firing to be relatively underwhelming. You lose a lot of the sharpness that you would get if you had some ceiling-mounted speakers. I was still aware I was listening to Atmos, so still had the reassuring sounds of bullets flying over my head (strange sentence) but when it came to something a little more subtle, it became less crisp and more rounded and soft…

Here’s where I eat my own words. I live in a rented house, so I can’t drill anything into the ceilings. But I love Atmos, so for me, despite my views above, I will still be installing upward-firing speakers into my house in the near future.

Whilst I still agree with what I have said, Atmos will always enrich a home cinema system: upwards-firing speakers are just a mid-range Atmos configuration. Ceiling-mounted speakers are the high-end alternative. For now, I’m happy with upward-firing.

If you want to learn more about Dolby Atmos, are interested in having either ceiling-mounted or upward-firing speakers in your home, visit your local Richer Sounds store where we can help you find the perfect set-up.

Author: Garrett, Plymouth store