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In my rush to add overhead Atmos channels, I only just recently discovered side channels and how much more of a difference they can make (2 Viewers)

Carlo_M

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TL;DR - Atmos overhead speakers are cool and add to the Atmos experience...but IMO you get more bang for buck going 7.1 first.

Ironically, this recent epiphany of mine was only discovered during my failed first attempt at watching Black Panther at the big auditorium (Laser IMAX projection) TCL Chinese Theater when their connection to the IMAX servers went down. While they were troubleshooting what was going on they ran the theater calibration protocols which displayed on the big screen. That's when I noticed that the side channels (which I'd always know the speakers were there, but never stopped to think about what channel they may be mapped to) were noted as "side speakers". And then in the back were rear left/ride surround.

Because of my living situation I've never had a dedicated theatrical room (the area I have to live in due to my long-time workplace has ridiculously high housing costs) so I've always had to be creative with my speaker layout. Since the early days of 5.1 I've always placed my surround channels to the back surround position (about 25 degrees behind the main listener position on either side) so that I could get that almost 360 degree soundfield. When Atmos came out, I first added the front height speakers (Prime Elevation mounted high, pointed at the main seating position) which I thought added a nice subtle touch of overhead effects. I now have a second pair Elevations en route to install as rear heights. I expect a similar added subtle improvement to overhead Atmos soundtracks during those parts of the soundtrack that have overhead effects that pan front-to-back. Granted overheads are not the most aggressive channels so it's ironic how much money and effort I will have expended for what is admittedly a pretty small percent of the movie's soundtrack.

So back to my recent epiphany about the "side channels" that I saw in the theater's calibration screen. When I got home, I re-confirmed my memory that there are indeed "surround L/R" channels on my receiver which I don't use (as I said, my rear channels are mapped to the rear-surround L/R channels). I dug out some extra speaker wire and a pair of old bookshelf speakers I was no longer using, and plugged them in to the Surround L/R channels and placed them about 6' to the L and R of the seated position (it's all I have room for). They're about 1' in front of the seated position due to logistics, but they're pointed at the listener. I re-ran the manual calibration, adding the new speaker channels, inputting the distances to the speakers, and using an SPL meter to match volume levels. So now my setup looks roughly like this:
Screenshot 2022-12-01 at 8.01.29 AM.png
with the newly added speakers being those immediately to the left and right of the couch.

Holy cow what a difference this has made. I daresay more than the front overheads, simply due to the greatly increased action that is directed to these speakers in 7.1 soundtracks.

Speaking of 7.1, I had largely ignored how many of our pre-Atmos releases came with DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtracks. To me there was 5.1, and then my eventual "holy grail" of Atmos when I could add the relevant overhead speakers. It didn't even dawn on me that Atmos actually plays better with a 7 channel setup.

Of course the first things I queued up after installing the side channels were MCU Atmos movies. Sure enough, that last little bit I missing of the "theatrical audio experience" was immediately filled in. I didn't know all this time how active those side channels are in Atmos soundtracks. But that wasn't the end of it. Curious that I now had a 7.1.2 system I went looking for DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtracks and selected the original Kingsman UHD. Holy cow, the side channels are active throughout much of the movie and significantly add to the enveloping sound experience. I'm just going to guess that even for Atmos movies, the side channels will contain significantly more soundtrack information than the overhead tracks.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still excited to add the rear height channels. But for those who are in 5.1 land, and are contemplating what to add next, my recommendation would be to create a 7.1 system (if your room allows it) first. In my experience you will gain more in terms of recreating the theatrical experience with the added side channels (or if you're already running side channels, add the rear surround channels) than you will with the overheads.
 

ManW_TheUncool

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Yeah, I'm kinda itching to add rear surrounds myself to go 7.1 in my space constrained setup. Right now, I'm still just doing 5.1 (using mix of ELAC UniFi 2.0 and Debut 2.0 speakers plus Hsu VTF-3 Mk5 sub) w/ the surrounds off to the sides aligned about a foot or so behind the seats.

I have a pair of on-wall ELAC Debuts (not to mention some RSL in-ceiling units) I could use for rear surrounds plus some (still new-in-box) Emotiva amps in storage, but apparently not quite that easily retrievable at this time, LOL...

_Man_
 

Carlo_M

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I forgot that Dolby TrueHD also has 7.1 capability, so that's another soundtrack option if you're not Atmos-capable, that will make use of the side channels.

The one thing which I just realized, and I haven't spent any time seeing if I can make my Denon 4500h do this, is for true 5.1 soundtracks (e.g. when streaming services feed your AVR a 5.1 signal, my Denon reads this as Multi Ch In 5.1) the rear channels map to the side surround whereas ideally I'd like them to map to my rear surround speakers, just so I can get that "sounds coming from the rear" sensation on 5.1 tracks. I'll mess around later to see if I can make the AVR default to that if it senses a 5.1 signal.

Given how the majority of the movies I watch on disc either have Dobly TrueHD, DTS HD-MA, or Atmos soundtracks, this is more of an annoyance than a deal breaker.
 

JohnRice

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Absolutely!

Side surrounds are extremely important. In fact, in a 5.1 system, the surrounds are supposed to be on the sides, not the rear. Then when you go to 7.1, you add the rear speakers.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I don’t have an Atmos receiver as I’ve yet but something interesting I’ve noted from my fellow reviewers is that they’ve found that even with an Atmos receiver set up with only 5.1 speakers, that an Atmos track playing in 5.1 sounds better than an included dedicated 5.1 mix. This tells me that there’s a benefit to the Atmos processing even if you don’t have the room or budget to add additional speakers.
 

JohnRice

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I don’t have an Atmos receiver as I’ve yet but something interesting I’ve noted from my fellow reviewers is that they’ve found that even with an Atmos receiver set up with only 5.1 speakers, that an Atmos track playing in 5.1 sounds better than an included dedicated 5.1 mix. This tells me that there’s a benefit to the Atmos processing even if you don’t have the room or budget to add additional speakers.
I have a 5.1 system in the living room, with an Atmos capable receiver, and my immediate impression when I added the receiver is that Atmos soundtracks definitely sound better.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I have a 5.1 system in the living room, with an Atmos capable receiver, and my immediate impression when I added the receiver is that Atmos soundtracks definitely sound better.

I don’t have a room I could set up Atmos overheads in right now - or even 7.1 - but I’m still planning on getting an Atmos capable receiver next time for that reason.
 

Carlo_M

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In fact, in a 5.1 system, the surrounds are supposed to be on the sides, not the rear. Then when you go to 7.1, you add the rear speakers.
In the manual that came with the Denon, the recommended placement for the surrounds in a 5.1 system show the surrounds about 10º behind the seating position, just slightly back of directly to the side. Here's a screencap from my 4500h manual:
Screenshot 2022-12-01 at 11.50.20 AM.png
Because I wanted to get a little more "sounds like it's coming from the rear of the house" sound, since I didn't have room (or the equipment) for a 7.1 before, I kind of split the difference of the surround and back surround placing and put it about 25º behind the listening position.

I think what happened when I only had two surrounds, regardless of where I placed them, the full signal of surround L and R was being sent to them in the (slight) back of the listener. Now that I have 7.1, for Atmos/TrueHD/DTS-MA 7.1 signals, more of the surround signal is being sent to SL and SR, with a little less being sent to SBL and SBR (using the designations used in the pic above). I've actually moved my couch up a little to put SL/SR almost exactly to the side and moved in SBL and SBR so instead of being 25º back from the main listening position, it's more like 45º. We'll see how it affects the sounds of a 7.1 or greater signal.
 

JohnRice

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In the manual that came with the Denon, the recommended placement for the surrounds in a 5.1 system show the surrounds about 10º behind the seating position, just slightly back of directly to the side. Here's a screencap from my 4500h manual:
View attachment 164931
Because I wanted to get a little more "sounds like it's coming from the rear of the house" sound, since I didn't have room (or the equipment) for a 7.1 before, I kind of split the difference of the surround and back surround placing and put it about 25º behind the listening position.

I think what happened when I only had two surrounds, regardless of where I placed them, the full signal of surround L and R was being sent to them in the (slight) back of the listener. Now that I have 7.1, for Atmos/TrueHD/DTS-MA 7.1 signals, more of the surround signal is being sent to SL and SR, with a little less being sent to SBL and SBR (using the designations used in the pic above). I've actually moved my couch up a little to put SL/SR almost exactly to the side and moved in SBL and SBR so instead of being 25º back from the main listening position, it's more like 45º. We'll see how it affects the sounds of a 7.1 or greater signal.
Well, yeah, in a 5.1 system it's ideal for the surrounds to be slightly back, a few degrees. Just not too far and certainly not on the back wall.
 

Carlo_M

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We're definitely in alignment, John. There's the "recommendation" by the studios/manufacturers and then there's our individual room realities where we just have to make lemonade based on the space we have.

I went on a bit of a dig to try and find a TrueHD UHD disc that wasn't folded into an Atmos mix, which was trickier than it sounds. It was much easier to find DTS-HD MA tracks with no Atmos. I wanted to confirm that TrueHD tracks used 7.1 if the system was configured with that many speakers.

Managed to find one, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and spun up the beginning of it. The four surround tracks are used to great effect in that opening jailbreak scene and title sequence. There are definitely distinct sounds and effects coming out of SL, SBL, SR and SBR which do allow for a near-seamless 360º panning effect.

So to reiterate my main point of the thread, for anyone in 5.1 land looking to expand but have only enough $ for one set of speakers, I highly recommend going 7.1 first before adding height channels. The bang for buck is much greater given how active they are compared to height channels, and will be relevant for non-Atmos discs that have either TrueHD or DTS-HD MA tracks.
 

Wardog555

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Please reposition your height speakers as per Dolby specifications.

If you have 2 atmos speakers they go almost directly above you on the ceiling!
Front height is way too low of an angle if you sit too far from the front wall.


If you have 4 atmos speakers they go like this in the attached photo

45 degrees is the benchmark and recommended location.

I don't understand why you had the 5.1 surrounds in the wrong speaker terminals in the first place? Please explain the logistics when in 5.1 they are required to be wired to surrounds/side terminals.

You missed out on all the surround activities by having the speakers wired incorrectly.

And I don't necessarily agree that 7.1 is better than 5.1.2 Dolby atmos when you don't have the atmos speakers directly above your head in the proper placements.

You have done the complete opposite of what is standard and I've never seen in my entire life heard of someone run 5.1 with rear terminals. Then add two speakers into the side terminals. To make 7.1.

The standard way is this. 5.1 to side surrounds. Then you add two speakers to the rear surround terminals. Never the opposite
 

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Kyle_D

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Your findings align with psychoacoustic research. Our brains/ears are more attuned to horizontal placement of sounds than vertical placement, which is why Dolby added rear surrounds with discrete 7.1 mixes before adding height/ceiling objects with Atmos.
 

Doug2000

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

My HT is new and one of the few movies I’ve watched in 4K is Ghost Protocol - before installing my surrounds. Now that I have 2 surrounds I think I’ll rewatch it to hear the difference. Then maybe again when I get the rear surrounds in.
 

Mike Up

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TL;DR - Atmos overhead speakers are cool and add to the Atmos experience...but IMO you get more bang for buck going 7.1 first.

Ironically, this recent epiphany of mine was only discovered during my failed first attempt at watching Black Panther at the big auditorium (Laser IMAX projection) TCL Chinese Theater when their connection to the IMAX servers went down. While they were troubleshooting what was going on they ran the theater calibration protocols which displayed on the big screen. That's when I noticed that the side channels (which I'd always know the speakers were there, but never stopped to think about what channel they may be mapped to) were noted as "side speakers". And then in the back were rear left/ride surround.

Because of my living situation I've never had a dedicated theatrical room (the area I have to live in due to my long-time workplace has ridiculously high housing costs) so I've always had to be creative with my speaker layout. Since the early days of 5.1 I've always placed my surround channels to the back surround position (about 25 degrees behind the main listener position on either side) so that I could get that almost 360 degree soundfield. When Atmos came out, I first added the front height speakers (Prime Elevation mounted high, pointed at the main seating position) which I thought added a nice subtle touch of overhead effects. I now have a second pair Elevations en route to install as rear heights. I expect a similar added subtle improvement to overhead Atmos soundtracks during those parts of the soundtrack that have overhead effects that pan front-to-back. Granted overheads are not the most aggressive channels so it's ironic how much money and effort I will have expended for what is admittedly a pretty small percent of the movie's soundtrack.

So back to my recent epiphany about the "side channels" that I saw in the theater's calibration screen. When I got home, I re-confirmed my memory that there are indeed "surround L/R" channels on my receiver which I don't use (as I said, my rear channels are mapped to the rear-surround L/R channels). I dug out some extra speaker wire and a pair of old bookshelf speakers I was no longer using, and plugged them in to the Surround L/R channels and placed them about 6' to the L and R of the seated position (it's all I have room for). They're about 1' in front of the seated position due to logistics, but they're pointed at the listener. I re-ran the manual calibration, adding the new speaker channels, inputting the distances to the speakers, and using an SPL meter to match volume levels. So now my setup looks roughly like this:
View attachment 164906
with the newly added speakers being those immediately to the left and right of the couch.

Holy cow what a difference this has made. I daresay more than the front overheads, simply due to the greatly increased action that is directed to these speakers in 7.1 soundtracks.

Speaking of 7.1, I had largely ignored how many of our pre-Atmos releases came with DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtracks. To me there was 5.1, and then my eventual "holy grail" of Atmos when I could add the relevant overhead speakers. It didn't even dawn on me that Atmos actually plays better with a 7 channel setup.

Of course the first things I queued up after installing the side channels were MCU Atmos movies. Sure enough, that last little bit I missing of the "theatrical audio experience" was immediately filled in. I didn't know all this time how active those side channels are in Atmos soundtracks. But that wasn't the end of it. Curious that I now had a 7.1.2 system I went looking for DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtracks and selected the original Kingsman UHD. Holy cow, the side channels are active throughout much of the movie and significantly add to the enveloping sound experience. I'm just going to guess that even for Atmos movies, the side channels will contain significantly more soundtrack information than the overhead tracks.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still excited to add the rear height channels. But for those who are in 5.1 land, and are contemplating what to add next, my recommendation would be to create a 7.1 system (if your room allows it) first. In my experience you will gain more in terms of recreating the theatrical experience with the added side channels (or if you're already running side channels, add the rear surround channels) than you will with the overheads.
Yep, I mentioned this many times on the forums. Now I haven't tried atmos speakers (Top, height or Dolby Enabled) but they are diffused by nature and only create a bubble of sound. I tried the virtualizer and that's what it does. IMO, I wasn't impressed. I want a discrete sound not a diffused sound from the 90s when surround first started.

I have a 5.1 setup in my media room and a 7.1 setup in my living room. The 7.1 sounds so much better with surround effects.

If you have a 7.1 setup in place, the essentials, then adding Atmos speakers as "filler sound" may be a good option. BUT the essential 7.1, IMO, must be in place first for the ultimate in surround sound quality.

Honestly in real life, most sounds come around you from the sides. Unless a helicopter or birds are above you, or you're in a thunderstorm, not many sounds naturally come from above.
 

Carlo_M

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I totally agree that overhead sounds will be a niche use case scenario. It needs to meet several criteria: 1) the movie has to have an Atmos track, 2) the mixer has to decide that it will utilize the overhead sound space, 3) the movie has to have scenes that would make the mixer even want to put sounds there.

Hence the point of my original point, I had originally rushed out to add front heights to my 5.1 to "get into Atmos". But if I could do it all over again, I would have made a 7.1 system first as the benefits were immediate, very noticeable (not subtle) and lasted for much longer portions of the film than overhead sounds would. And instead of only requiring an Atmos track, 7.1 works with DTS HD-MA and Dolby TrueHD as well, so the chances that the 7.1 will have all speakers activated are much greater than Atmos overheads in a 5/7.1.2/4 configuration.

That said my second pair of Prime Elevations in gloss white just arrived. Burning them in right now on a stereo amp (just to hear how good they sound as a stereo pair, and the answer is: surprisingly good). If I have the energy left over tonight, I may mount and install them. And then I'll have 7.1.4 with my 4 heights being direct firing from the junction of my wall/ceiling at the front and back of my living room setup.
 

Carlo_M

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Quick addendum. Haven't mounted my 2nd pair of Prime Elevations yet, but I did establish the SoundPath wireless connection to the rear height amp I'll be using (a surprisingly good SMSL DA-9) and mapped/activated the channels on my AVR so it's running 7.1.4 now.

For [email protected]#ts and giggles I started The Matrix UHD in Atmos. Since I hadn't mounted them yet, I literally put the rear heights on my couch next to me, to my left and right, just to 1) confirm that the connection quality for the SoundPath was solid and reliable (so far so good) and to hear what sounds are coming from the rear heights.

To my surprise, they're actually fairly active throughout the movie. Granted this movie has more than its fair share of action scenes, but they're not only active in the obvious fight and shooting scenes, but also have decent ambience like when he's standing out in the rain waiting for the car to be picked up at the beginning of the movie, not only is there rain when he's standing outside on those channels, but when he's in the car talking with the others there is the dull pitter patter of rain on the car roof and the far-off sound of thunder coming through the RHR and RHL speakers.

I still maintain the 7.1 is the more important first upgrade from 5.1, but before I mount these I want to run a couple more Atmos movies to see how active the heights are. I may have underestimated the amount of use they get. I think I earlier wrote 10% of an Atmos movie...I'd have to say after watching about an hour of The Matrix it may be closer to 25-33%.

Let's see how much use the new Top Gun Maverick makes of it. :laugh:
 

Mike Up

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Quick addendum. Haven't mounted my 2nd pair of Prime Elevations yet, but I did establish the SoundPath wireless connection to the rear height amp I'll be using (a surprisingly good SMSL DA-9) and mapped/activated the channels on my AVR so it's running 7.1.4 now.

For [email protected]#ts and giggles I started The Matrix UHD in Atmos. Since I hadn't mounted them yet, I literally put the rear heights on my couch next to me, to my left and right, just to 1) confirm that the connection quality for the SoundPath was solid and reliable (so far so good) and to hear what sounds are coming from the rear heights.

To my surprise, they're actually fairly active throughout the movie. Granted this movie has more than its fair share of action scenes, but they're not only active in the obvious fight and shooting scenes, but also have decent ambience like when he's standing out in the rain waiting for the car to be picked up at the beginning of the movie, not only is there rain when he's standing outside on those channels, but when he's in the car talking with the others there is the dull pitter patter of rain on the car roof and the far-off sound of thunder coming through the RHR and RHL speakers.

I still maintain the 7.1 is the more important first upgrade from 5.1, but before I mount these I want to run a couple more Atmos movies to see how active the heights are. I may have underestimated the amount of use they get. I think I earlier wrote 10% of an Atmos movie...I'd have to say after watching about an hour of The Matrix it may be closer to 25-33%.

Let's see how much use the new Top Gun Maverick makes of it. :laugh:
For $hits and grins, I was just comparing soundtracks in a 5.1 vs 7.1 in Atmos, and just as I said before, very significant with the Surround Back Speakers added. Setting up the my Denon receiver as a 5.1 speaker system (W/Dolby Virtualizer ON) didn't give the 360 degree that I get from the 7.1 speaker system setup (W/Dolby Virtualizer OFF). It was very noticeable going back to a 7.1 speaker configuration, how the sound filled out the area behind, as well as to the sides. Adding Surround Back Speakers is a must for a full surrounding theater sound! First get that 360 degrees of sound, then worry about the sound coming from above.
 
Last edited:

Carlo_M

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so would you say that a 7.1 set up is more preferable than 5.1.2?
Having gone from (in this order) 5.1, to 5.1.2, to 7.1.2, to 7.1.4 and ultimately to 7.2.4 I would say the "biggest audible jumps" was when I added the 5 to 7 floor speakers, and then when I introduced the 2nd subwoofer. For overheads, I found the front heights to be a subtle improvement, but all four to truly reveal the benefit of Atmos's overhead effects.

So for anyone who can only upgrade in a piecemeal fashion (as I did), I would recommend this order.
  1. Start with 5.1
  2. Go to 7.1
  3. Add second sub for 7.2
  4. Save up and buy/install at least 4 overheads for 7.2.4
The reason I say to save up and buy all four overheads all at once is, if you only install the front heights, you may not notice enough of an overhead soundstage expansion that you may question your decision to even go down the Atmos route. It wasn't until I added the rear heights that I had the full "oh wow" experience.
 

Mike Up

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Would you say the rear atmos speakers or maybe even a middle top atmos speakers (for those with sofa on the rear wall) is more beneficial than the front atmos speakers? Dolby seems to think that the front atmos speakers are the most important if you follow their steps of installation.

BTW, I tried "2" identical subwoofers in my square living room and it was detrimental to the overall bass. I tried several positions with either more nulls or standing waves than with a single subwoofer. Some told me to use DSPs processors and mics to fix that but honestly, that's more hassle, time and money than it's worth to me. I feel I have really good bass with my one subwoofer, in it's one spot near a hallway opening, on the wall and not in a corner. In the corner, I lost low bass while emphasizing higher bass plus made it really sound muddy.

Years ago, when tower speakers had bigger drivers and more bass, it was said a single subwoofer was better than 2 large towers because of the interference issues (nulls & stand waves) with bass coming from 2 positions.

I had my previous Velodyne Subwoofer in the same spot as my current Klipsch because it sounded better there too. While many don't like Klipsch, for the money, I get stronger bass down low than the Velodyne and also have stronger punch. It was an older, lower Velodyne model CT-100 with same frequency specs as Klipsch but lower power and was a smaller 10" driver. Cost was the same for the 2 sub even though the Velodyne was bought 20+ years ago.
 
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