How to Implement Dolby Atmos with Two Rows of Seats
When Dolby introduced their Atmos processing, they did more than just add some speakers to the ceiling. They added a whole bunch of confusion. Which are the best speakers for Atmos? Do I need the same brand as my other speakers? Where are the best places for Atmos speakers and what should I label them? But the biggest issue for some people, what to do if you have two rows of seats with your Dolby Atmos speakers? If you look at their website, it is mum. Not a single suggested setup includes more than a single row (most look like a single-seat but you can extrapolate to a row). So what to do? First, you need to know what you really want.
Do You Have a Row You Care About More than the Other?
In many home theaters, there is a single main row and the extra row. The extra row (known as the “loser” row) is for the rare occasion when guests are over and you need more seats. In these theaters, you should place the Atmos speakers as Dolby would suggest pretending that you don’t have two rows of seats (check the Dolby recommended placement options for exact angles). If that puts an Atmos speaker directly above the second row of seats, so be it.
In these theaters, the second row rarely gets used and it is often used by those that wouldn’t notice the overhead speakers anyhow. Or, if you are like us, you’ll give your guests the good seats and you’ll sit in the “loser” row. You get great sound every day. Let your guests have the good seats!
But What if You Care About Both Rows?
Sure, that second row doesn’t get as much use as the main row, but that shouldn’t matter! You want a great Atmos experience for ALL your rows! Well, this complicates things. By definition, your Atmos speakers cannot be optimally placed for both rows. In a movie theater, the ceilings are so high that putting multiple speakers creates a much more diffuse sound. Plus, they have processors that can process many more speaker locations than you can at home. So, again, you have to answer some questions…
How Many Atmos Speakers are You Planning?
At the time of writing, consumer-level processors top out at six overhead speakers. Most receivers can’t do more than four overhead speakers. If you are going to only have two overhead speakers, you’ll label them “Top Middles” and then have to decide on their placement. Either they will be above one row or the other. If you really want the rows to get a similar experience, put them between the two rows. They will be too far forward for one row and too far back for the other. Everyone wins?
If you are planning four overhead, you have even more decisions. If you really want both rows to get similar experiences, you’ll place one set in front of the front row and the second behind the second row. We’d recommend about three feet distance from the row in each case. This places the front Atmos speakers a little too close to the front row and too far away from the second row. The opposite is true for the back row. But they are close enough provided that you have normal ceiling heights (around eight feet). You’d labeled these “Top Fronts” and “Top Rears” or “Front Heights” and “Rear Heights.” There are reasons to choose one over the other, but, in the end, you’re unlikely to notice a difference sonically.
But what if you are a power user? You bought the shiny, new Monoprice HTP-1 processor that can do six overhead speakers! You have amps to power them and the ability to place them in your ceiling. If you care only about one row, you’d place them as Front and Rear Heights and Top Middles. If you care about both, place the Top Middles between the two seats and the Front and Rear Heights in front of the first row and behind the second row respectively. Rather than worry about angles, just make sure that the Front and Rear speakers are at least five feet from the Middles and at least three feet from the nearest row. This should give your system the ability to steer the sound around the room convincingly.
Placing Dolby Atmos speakers is hard with just one row of seats, much less two. This guide doesn’t give you exact locations because we don’t know enough about your room. We don’t know the ceiling height, the distance between the rows, and how much room you have behind your second row. If your second row is pushed up to a back wall, you shouldn’t be worrying about their Atmos experience at all. Place the speakers so they are good for your main row and never look back. Have questions about your specific room? Head over to AV Rant. They answer questions like that every week. Or post below and we’ll try to help out.