Aimable Tweeters for Atmos In-Ceiling Speakers: Worth the Extra Money?
You’ve decided to take the plunge on Atmos. You’ve convinced your partner to sign off on installing in-ceiling speakers. Now, you just have to order them. But…which ones? You know you don’t need to spend a bunch of money on them. You also have some recommendations. But, then you come across something different. Some in-ceiling speakers have aimable tweeters and those seem like they would be perfect for Atmos. In fact, it doesn’t take much digging online to find people recommending them. But are they a good idea? They certainly cost more but are they worth it?
The thought behind in-ceiling speakers with aimable tweeters for Atmos is simple: If you can aim the tweeter, you can “steer” the sound toward the listener. If you can’t place the speakers exactly where Dolby would suggest (not that their suggestions are all that good based on their diagrams), the ability to aim the tweeter seems like it could help.
When we consider our other speakers, this makes even MORE sense. We toe-in our speakers to get the best sound. While it is impossible to change the angle of an entire in-ceiling speaker, aiming the tweeter is the next best thing. Surely, it makes sense to spend a little more to get the flexibility of changing the angle of your in-ceiling tweeter.
In-ceiling speakers are designed to be heard off-axis. Because of how they are installed, it is assumed that most of the people that experience them not be directly under the tweeter. Instead, they will be standing off to the side at some angle. Therefore, they are designed to sound good off to the side.
Dolby, when they developed Atmos, knew this. At no point in any of their literature do they suggest that you should “aim” your Atmos speakers at your seat (even though every other speaker is aimed in that direction). In-ceiling Atmos speakers were never supposed to have aimable tweeters. Instead, they were intended to extend the sound field above you. They were always meant to be “atmospheric.” Providing a more diffuse sound from above was always the idea.
There are other reasons that we don’t ever recommend speakers with aimable tweeters. They are sometimes included in in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. They really come from car audio where speakers often have extremely compromised placement. The big reason we don’t recommend them is because of how crossovers work. As the woofer crosses over into the tweeter, they are both playing the same sounds around those frequencies. By changing the orientation of the tweeter, you are changing how those sound waves are interacting. This is called comb filtering. Since most in-ceiling speakers have very good off-axis response, we think the risks of destructive interactions are not worth whatever benefits you may gain by aiming the tweeter.
More importantly, the design of an in-ceiling speaker with an aimable tweeter has to be different from regular in-ceiling speakers. They must design the tweeter to sound good on-axis. This is not how most in-ceiling speakers are designed and will compromise the off-axis response. Having good off-axis response means that the in-ceiling Atmos speakers can reach everyone on the couch. The speaker with the aimable tweeter may only sound good to one person.
But What If It Is Too Late?
You’ve already bought them, haven’t you? They seemed like a good idea at the time, and you read enough people recommending them that you pulled the trigger. Don’t worry, you won’t have to rip out your speakers.
The easy answer for how to set up your in-ceiling atmos speakers is to point the aimable tweeters straight down. That should alleviate any problems that moving the tweeter out of line with the woofer might cause. Even in-ceiling speakers with aimable speakers much assume that some people will sit off-axis. They should sound better this way.
That said, if you have aimable tweeters in your in-ceiling Atmos speakers, go ahead and play with the angles. Our advice is necessarily very generalized. We know that if everyone follows it, they will get good results. That doesn’t mean you aren’t the one person where the aimable tweeters in their in-ceiling speakers make a massive difference in your Atmos experience. We just don’t recommend that people pay extra money for these speakers. Most of the time, the differences won’t be worth it.