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Is Dolby Atmos Good? – Or is it snake oil?

2017 saw home theater improvements with affordable 4K displays, HDR (High Dynamic Range), and a slew of new streaming devices to drive it all. But what about the audio? Was THX’s 12.2 surround sound honestly the best we were going to get? Both questions are what we aim to answer for even ourselves!


We give our thanks to George Lucas and his push for Dolby’s stereophonic theater sound for his 1977 release of Star Wars. Since then, all notable films have moved away from mono sound to favor multi-track audio. Dolby refined their stereo audio, and it reigned supreme until 1987’s Moulin Rouge with the first 5.1 channel surround sound implementation. At that time, multi-channel audio seemed to explode in popularity. Only three years later in 1990, home theater systems hit the market with Dolby’s processor logic-based ‘Dolby Pro Logic’ and ‘Dolby Pro Theater,’ then ultimately, true 5.1 channel became readily available for the home.

What does current multi-track lack?

If you look at a modern 7.1 channel surround sound in a standard living room, you’d probably say that the sound is coming from all around. You’d be right, except it only covers directions on a flat plane, or just the X and Y axis. We often forget that sound can be heard distinctly from multiple angles and directions, including above, or the Z axis. Now we have a new numbering scheme that isn’t too far off from what we’re used to. The traditional 7.1 surround means there are seven speaker channels and one subwoofer channel. A Dolby Atmos configuration of 7.1.4 for example, means there is seven speakers, one subwoofer, plus four overhead speakers.

Got a pair of binaural headphones? Check out this DEMO

Dolby Atmos Configuration Options

  1. The simplest plug-n-play solution is a Dolby Atmos enabled sound bar. They contain the left, right, center, and upwards firing speakers. The ones that fire upward is intended to bounce off the ceiling to reach the listener at a normal couch distance (roughly six feet away). This solution might seem like it doesn’t capture the vertical surround well, or that it might have a slight delay, but it doesn’t! It sounds surprisingly well with the way it does an additional sound direction. There is no noticeable lag, and the rain effect demo proves that it can be a perfect solution for smaller room setups.
  2. Ceiling speakers offer the cleanest look to any living room or home theater. Previously, they would use an older style channel such as left, right, or middle instead of a proper channel for spacial sound. The solution is finally here! There is also no need to replace or even rewire the speakers. All you need to do is acquire a Dolby Atmos A/V receiver and connect the ceiling speakers to the corresponding “height” channel.
  3. Dolby did think of everything. If you already love your current tower-style speaker configuration, you can get a pair of the new add-on modules. These modules are upward-firing that you put on top of your existing speakers or even on a surface nearby (in case your tower setup isn’t flat on top). The speakers come in many different designs, sizes, and build quality to meet your needs.

How Easy is it to set up? – Conclusion

The sound delivery of Dolby Atmos is so revolutionary in immersive home theater, we recommend it for everyone to at least try. Dolby Atmos should be a mandatory upgrade for any home theater enthusiast, and upgrade units are very affordable. The soundbar with subwoofer solution takes little time at all to set up, configure, and start enjoying Dolby Atmos. For a more ‘complete’ system, it will require lots of measuring, calibration, careful positioning, lots of fine-tuning, and microphone-assisted balancing. Getting a system just right could take days! That’s where we come in. Smart Homes Inc. has the knowledge, expertise, and a well-refined ear to get a fully Atmos certified setup in action. Contact us today!

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