FAQ: Do Atmos Enabled Speakers Really Work?
Q: Do the add-on Atmos Speakers, (i.e. that sit atop you
current main and surround speakers) really work? If you're not wanting to
drill holes in your ceiling is this a good alternative?
A: If by work you mean do they produce sound? The answer is yes. But if you mean do they work convincingly to mimic discrete speaker placements, then that's a different story. There are always compromises to bouncing sound off of surfaces especially if the surface you're bouncing off isn't flat and even or the distance is too great between the speaker and the ceiling (Dolby recommends 14ft ceilings or lower) causing the reflected soundwaves to get too scattered on their way down. Additionally, sound doesn't propagate like ray optics depicted in the Dolby diagrams. If the listener is too close to an Atmos module, it will still be somewhat localizable, especially at the lower frequencies (< 500Hz) where the wavelengths are longer and there is less control of the dispersion pattern.
In our listening tests of Atmos-enabled vs Discrete Speakers, we've noted the Atmos module does compromise the focus of its companion speaker slightly when comparing it to being off. This is particularly more noticeable for music listening. This isn't a problem when using discrete ceiling mounted speakers. In addition, Atmos-enabled speakers just doesn't sound as convincing as properly placed discretely mounted ceiling speakers. Discrete speakers also tend to provide more even coverage for a wider listening area.
Atmos-enabled speakers (aka. Bouncy house speakers) are ALWAYS a compromise to discrete speakers properly placed on the ceiling. However, if mounting ceiling speakers is NOT an option, then, by all means, you should try the bounce approach if you want to still take advantage of the Atmos height channels. You can experiment (as illustrated here) with a pair of small bookshelf speakers lying around by placing them on top of your front speakers titled at about 20 deg as depicted in the Dolby diagrams. Make sure to apply bass management at 200Hz to Atmos height speakers to help reduce localization. Check the owners manual for your AV receiver as this is often automatically done when you select Atmos-enabled speakers. If you like the results, then consider getting the companion Atmos modules to your front/rear speakers for a better match tonally and aesthetically. Companies like Definitive Technology, KEF and Klipsch have come a long way with their 2nd generation Atmos-enabled speakers in utilizing similar driver topologies to their companion speaker compared to the first generation 3" paper whizzer cone woofer some manufacturers originally licensed from Dolby.
The short answer, yes Atmos add on modules work, and they are a viable and convenient, though compromised alternative, to mounting discrete ceiling speakers.
Please share your results in our forum for the benefit of all of our readers. Thanks for your question.