Should I Add Front Height Speakers to My Sound System?
You are not an early adopter. Or, maybe you were at one time but learned your lesson. Early adopters pay extra for the new, shiny tech just to get something that is half-baked and full of bugs. Not you! At least, not anymore. You wait until you feel sure that something is going to stick around and seems to be working before you invest. Dolby Atmos has passed your test. But adding speakers to your ceiling is not something you really want to do right now. Should you add front height speakers to your surround sound system to test it out? Let’s discuss!
What is Dolby Atmos
We’ve talked about Dolby Atmos a bunch on this site. Mostly on how to set up speakers. In short, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are surround formats that include overhead speakers. The general idea is that you have a couple of pairs of speakers in your ceiling that can recreate sounds that occur above you.
This sounds like a neat idea until you look more closely into the logistics. Putting speakers on or in your ceiling isn’t for everyone. At the very least it requires long cable runs either on or inside your walls and likely a visit to an attic. It makes sense that people are a bit hesitant to add these overhead speakers. Luckily, there is a more palatable way to add Atmos speakers.
Front and rear height speakers are meant to be placed high on the wall above your front or rear speakers in your surround sound system. “High on a wall” is much easier to stomach than “in the ceiling.” Wires that run on a wall are much easier to hide than those that snake up a wall and across a ceiling. They are certainly easier to implement than trying to run wires in your wall.
Why Front Height Speakers
It is understandable that people want to try something out before fully committing. We get that. So it makes sense that they’d start with the easiest set of Atmos speakers first. The front heights are just above the main front left and right speakers in your sound system. Your gear is usually nearby so it will require the shortest speaker wire run. There is also (usually) a very large TV or screen that can help hide wires. But should you start with these speakers?
The Case Against Front Height Speakers
Here’s where we drop the bad news: front height speakers really don’t make that much of a difference. Sure, there are people out there that will swear to the heavens that front height speakers are the bee’s knees. They are lying. Maybe not on purpose, but that is what they are doing. Every reputable expert I’ve spoken to has agreed with me. Front height speakers don’t make that much of a difference in your sound system.
There are, of course, some exceptions. People with exceptionally poor room acoustics or speaker placements may find that the height speakers can offset some of those issues. But it wasn’t that height speakers were so great. It is simply because any change would have helped (as would addressing the original issues without adding any speakers).
What Should You Do
We understand that adding front height speakers to your sound system is the easiest first step into Dolby Atmos. The problem is that they do very little to help steer the sounds over your head. At best, they only make the front soundstage a little taller. What you want is something that will add an overhead experience that you can notice. You can do that in one of two ways.
If you can only add one pair of speakers, you’ll want to add top middles. These speakers are meant to go directly over your couch a couple of feet in from the side walls. But you can, with one of the angle speaker options, place them high up on your side walls. These will give you more of an overhead experience than any front height speakers ever could.
If you can power two pairs of overhead speakers, go for front and rear heights. These can go on your front wall above your front left and right speakers and your back wall across the room from your fronts. Now you have two sets of speakers that can work together to create a convincing overhead soundstage. They will steer sound above you from the front to the back and side to side better than any single pair of speakers ever could. Plus, front and rear heights are better for DTS:X anyhow.