Dolby Atmos Surrounds

I Can’t Put Speakers in My Ceiling – What Do I Do For Atmos?

So if one were to read the forums or Dolby Atmos placement guides, one would suspect that the ONLY way to get Atmos is with in-ceiling speakers. But what if you didn’t want to cut holes in your ceiling? Or what if you are renting? Are all your hopes of having a Dolby Atmos/DTS:X system dashed? If you have ever said, “I can’t put speakers in my ceiling – What do I do for Atmos?” – keep reading! 

Option One: Up-Firing Atmos Speakers 

So let’s get this out of the way; I wouldn’t say I like up-firing Atmos modules. Like, at all. Yes, I have tried them. And yes, they did work (sort of) for my room. But when compared to my actual in-ceiling setup, there is no comparison. 

I don’t recommend up-firing Atmos because it requires a near-perfect room and speaker placement to correctly bounce the sound off your ceiling and down to your seated position. Not everyone has a perfect room. Most home theater setups I see are shared spaces with gear placed where practical, not optimal. 

And if you have anything other than a flat 8-10’ gyprock ceiling? Ouch. That’s right, folks; cathedral ceilings, high or angled ceilings, or drop ceilings will have difficulty reflecting sound properly. 

But that said, if you can’t put speakers in your ceiling, up-firing Atmos can be a viable option. Just understand that your experience will depend heavily on placement. 

Option Two – On-Ceiling/On-Wall Height Speakers 

So if you can’t put speakers in your ceiling, the next best thing is on-ceiling or on-wall height speakers. This option is pretty typical. After all, there is an option for height speakers in Atmos and DTS:X configurations. 

SVS Prime Elevation is perfect for height speakers

I had on-ceiling top middle speakers for a few years before moving to in-ceiling for my 5.2.4 system. And guess what? They worked flawlessly. The only reason that I went to in-ceiling speakers is that I wanted a cleaner look. 

The good news is that many wedge-shaped up-firing Atmos modules will work as on-wall height speakers. So you can try bouncing the sound, and if it’s not for you, move to height channels. If you want to go with a non-wedge speaker, many smaller speakers have threaded inserts for mounting to walls and ceilings. Remember, Atmos speakers are “atmospheric,” so you don’t need large bookshelf speakers mounted to your ceiling. 

If you said to me – “I can’t put speakers in my ceiling – What do I do for Atmos?” this would be the option that I would suggest. In my opinion, this is the best alternative to having physical speakers in my space.

Option Three – Presence Speakers / Upmixing / Virtualization 

Well before we had object-based audio, Yamaha came out with presence speakers. Presence speakers are proprietary to Yamaha, and mount on-wall, slightly higher and wider than your front left and right channels. The Yamaha receiver will use Cinema DSP to move sounds to those speakers to supplement the sound from the front speakers with additional ambient sounds. The bad news is that you are out of luck unless you have a Yamaha AV receiver that supports presence channels. And I wouldn’t suggest purchasing a Yamaha receiver for that particular feature. 

Yamaha’s Presence Speaker Layout

The good news is that almost all AV receivers also have Dolby/DTS upmixing. What is upmixing? For simplicity, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and DTS: Neutal X upmixing turns your existing 5.2 or 7.2 system into a 5.2.2 or 7.2.2 system with virtual speakers. Like presence speakers, the AV Reciever uses DSP to create a virtual speaker through sound mixing. 

Before I moved to a physical object-based system, I used virtualization, and I was suitably impressed. Is it as good as having physical speakers in or on my ceiling? No. Is it passable as an alternative to putting speakers on my ceilings or walls? Yes. Like any DSP-based system, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. 

Our Take

So it’s evident that I would recommend in-ceiling speakers for Atmos or object-based audio. It’s not that their performance is life-altering, but rather it makes for a clean and discrete look. But we all can’t (or want to) cut holes in our ceilings to mount them. 

Hopefully, we have given you some viable alternatives to get you Atmos, and answer the question -I can’t put speakers in my ceiling – What do I do for Atmos?

But what about you? What options have you used to get Atmos? Did they work well for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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