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Upgrade sound to Dolby Atmos? (2 Viewers)

Mike Clemens

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Hello all. I'm upgrading my TV. I'm retiring my 65 inch Panasonic Plasma and going with Samsung 85 inch QN90A. For sound I have a 5.1 setup with a Yamaha receiver that is about 10 years old. It does Dolby Digital and DTS.

Is it worth upgrading the AV receiver to Dolby Atmos? I'd like to keep my speaker setup (3 front, two rear and sub). Or is a soundbar the way to go?
Also, is Atmos effect added by the AV receiver, or is it encoded on the source material?
If keeping my present speakers, do I need to add more?
Thanks for the advice. I really appreciate it.
 

JohnRice

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Is it worth upgrading the AV receiver to Dolby Atmos? I'd like to keep my speaker setup (3 front, two rear and sub). Or is a soundbar the way to go?
Also, is Atmos effect added by the AV receiver, or is it encoded on the source material?
If keeping my present speakers, do I need to add more?
I recommend upgrading your receiver simply to get full 4K compatibility with your new TV. Your current receiver isn't capable of passing 4K video through its hdmi connections.

Regarding your second question, it's a bit of both. Atmos (and DTS:X) involves additional steering info in the audio signal that requires at Atmos capable receiver to use.

To get full use of Atmos, you do need more speakers, but to really take advantage of it requires having speakers overhead (not just high on a wall) installed in or on the ceiling. Not many people are willing or able to do that. There are also reflecting speakers, which sit on the front L&R speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling.

Something I've found is that Atmos soundtracks are noticeably more immersive even with a regular 5.1 speaker setup, as long as the receiver can process the Atmos signal. So, since you need to get a new receiver anyway to take full advantage of your new TV, I'd do that, listen to the system and try out Atmos soundtracks with your current speaker setup and then decide what you want to do from there.
 
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kalm_traveler

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Hello all. I'm upgrading my TV. I'm retiring my 65 inch Panasonic Plasma and going with Samsung 85 inch QN90A. For sound I have a 5.1 setup with a Yamaha receiver that is about 10 years old. It does Dolby Digital and DTS.

Is it worth upgrading the AV receiver to Dolby Atmos? I'd like to keep my speaker setup (3 front, two rear and sub). Or is a soundbar the way to go?
Also, is Atmos effect added by the AV receiver, or is it encoded on the source material?
If keeping my present speakers, do I need to add more?
Thanks for the advice. I really appreciate it.
To piggyback on what John said a bit...

I'm in somewhat of a similar situation. Just within the last month or so I upgraded from a 2014 model Samsung 75" 1080p tv to a 75" Q90A (should have gone with the 85 like you but oh well), and also have upgraded from my 2014 Yamaha RX-A1030 receiver with a 7.1 setup of their NS-777 towers for the front 5 and a pair of the NS-333 bookshelves high mounted on the rear wall with a single HSU VTF-15H mk2 sub to a RX-A3080 receiver, added an Outlaw 5 channel amp for the front 5, added 4 8" Yamaha ceiling speakers and another VTF-15H mk2 for a 7.2.4 Atmos setup.

With that explained, I researched a bit before buying this new equipment and found a few answers to your questions at the same time:

"Is it worth....." is always subjective. I absolutely think it is.

A soundbar is never the way to go if you're wanting the highest quality and most immersive audio experience. To me at least, soundbars are a compromise where either lack of space to put separate speakers is an issue, lack of budget for a proper home theater setup is an issue, or perhaps wife trouble may arise if she comes home to a family room full of $1,000 shiney black boxes in a circle around the couch.

Like John said, Atmos is sort of 2 parts. An oversimplified explanation as I understand it now is found by understanding the difference between older sound formats and these new 3d-sound formats. Previously the 7.1 / 5.1 Dolby and DTS tracks had dedicated sound 'tracks' for each of those channels so you needed to have 5, 6 for a while or 7 speakers arranged in the recommended layout in your room to get the intended experience.

With Atmos, rather than coding the sound for a specific number of channels sound is basically treated like an object in a virtual 3D space in the source and it's up to your receiver to figure out the best way to reproduce it for you based on how many speakers you have, their placement around your viewing area, etc.

So... the more speakers you have that the receiver can process, the more immersive the sound can be. Example, at first I thought just having a 5.2.1 setup would be fine to add the Atmos 'above me' component but as others pointed out with only 2 speakers above you there's no audible reference for something moving overhead from behind to in front or vice versa. I added 2 more ceiling speakers and it's 100% better because now you've got 4 points of sound from above and can very easily identify things moving above you in all directions.

You can absolutely keep your present speakers and add more (as probably most of us have done). My advice there is to either go crazy with a new receiver that can drive at least 9 speakers at the same time (for 5.x.4 Atmos) or better yet as I've finally done get a receiver that can process at least 9 channels for Atmos, and add a separate amplifier for the front 2, 3, or 5 speakers. This way the receiver only has to drive the less-intensely-used channels.

I would add that although I've had rear surrounds on the back wall for most of this rooms theater use, I can't localize the left and right from each other and with the 4 ceiling Atmos speakers I'm not really sure that rear surrounds are necessary anymore.
 
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Mike Clemens

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Thanks for the replies. Valuable information. . I cannot add ceiling speakers, but I can add two up-firing speakers on top of the L and R front tower speakers. Can you recommend a good receiver that won't break the bank? My budget is about $1 - 2K
 

Johnny Angell

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I’d like to say atmos is wonderful. I didn’t say worth it, because that’s a subjective decisions each of us has to make. Atmos will surround you with the movie.

I built my system kind of bit-by-bit. I’ve got 12 speakers, counting the subwoofer. 4 are in the ceiling and really needed to get the full effect. My Denon avr drives them all.

It would have been a real gasp in the throat if I had bought all at once, so I did it gradually. I agree, start with the avr.
 

Mike Clemens

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The real bummer is that my $2000 Yamaha AVR which is only 5 years old is now almost worthless because it doesn't do 4K and atmos. How long will my next AVR be relevant? hahah That's how it goes.
 

kalm_traveler

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The real bummer is that my $2000 Yamaha AVR which is only 5 years old is now almost worthless because it doesn't do 4K and atmos. How long will my next AVR be relevant? hahah That's how it goes.
I think it depends what your plans are. I didn't realize that my old RX-A1030 couldn't pass 4K for a while so I was stuck watching everything in 1080p even with the new 4K HDR tv.

That said, although some people are up in arms at Yamaha's new 2021 line of receivers because they can't do 4k 120Hz or something even with a hardware upgrade... that only matters if you're going to play new Xbox or Playstation games and have a capable TV. I don't have modern consoles so I didn't care at all and the Yamaha RX-A3080 does everything I wanted a new receiver to do... 4k HDR and Atmos for movies.
 

Rob W

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Thanks for the replies. Valuable information. . I cannot add ceiling speakers, but I can add two up-firing speakers on top of the L and R front tower speakers. Can you recommend a good receiver that won't break the bank? My budget is about $1 - 2K

What kind of ceiling do you have ? If it's not flat it won't reflect the upfired sounds, something I discovered with my "popcorn" ceiling in my condo. I had to go the actual speaker route (which is the way to go if you can work it out in any way.)

Also, if you haven't heard an actual home Atmos setup, you may want to keep your expectations modest if you're expecting a huge number of overhead effects throughout a film. Atmos can be quite subtle at times, and there are some soundtracks where you wonder why they even bothered with an Atmos mix, as you have likely seen in various review threads. If you're one of those guys who figures if he paid for extra speakers they should always be heard then Atmos is not for you.

Atmos music will give your system a nice workout far more than a lot of film soundtracks will.
 

kalm_traveler

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What kind of ceiling do you have ? If it's not flat it won't reflect the upfired sounds, something I discovered with my "popcorn" ceiling in my condo. I had to go the actual speaker route (which is the way to go if you can work it out in any way.)

Also, if you haven't heard an actual home Atmos setup, you may want to keep your expectations modest if you're expecting a huge number of overhead effects throughout a film. Atmos can be quite subtle at times, and there are some soundtracks where you wonder why they even bothered with an Atmos mix, as you have likely seen in various review threads. If you're one of those guys who figures if he paid for extra speakers they should always be heard then Atmos is not for you.

Atmos music will give your system a nice workout far more than a lot of film soundtracks will.
Agreed 100% with the bolded parts.

I'm not disappointed since I researched a bit before upgrading, but you're absolutely right - I've only watched about a dozen movies so far with Atmos soundtracks but I'd say half of them I didn't notice anything overhead at all. The ones that do use it well sound amazing though - extremely enveloping which really helps me stay in the movie, especially with my too-high mounted TV.
 

TurtlePen

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Agreed 100% with the bolded parts.

I'm not disappointed since I researched a bit before upgrading, but you're absolutely right - I've only watched about a dozen movies so far with Atmos soundtracks but I'd say half of them I didn't notice anything overhead at all. The ones that do use it well sound amazing though - extremely enveloping which really helps me stay in the movie, especially with my too-high mounted TV.
I also agree with RobW. Building off what Rob and Kalm stated, I'll add:

1) Many soundtracks are not Atmos enabled. What type of content will you mostly watch?
2) Be mindful that ideal viewing distance (seating) for 4K is much closer than 1080p. Might impact ideal layout.
3) Atmos enabled sound tracks are very large. Streaming Atmos is likely limited for foreseeable future.
4) Atmos sound tracks can be incredibly enveloping. One of my favorites is the opening scene of Gravity.
5) I would reevaluate options for installing ceiling speakers.
6) Tuning your speakers (adjusting output) is important. Plan to spend time or money experimenting with each speakers volume in relation to your sweet spot viewing location.
7) The freely available Atmos demo soundtracks are great for isolating the speakers and experiencing how realistic sounds can 'travel' around the room with Atmos.

I've been very happy with my ~$600 Atmos capable Pioneer receiver, and my "budget" home theater.
 
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