It has been a little over a year since Dolby Atmos officially arrived in the home. If you've somehow missed previous explanations of this technology, Atmos is an object-based surround sound format that gives sound mixers more freedom to direct sounds to specific locations instead of being restricted to the common channels we've come to know in home theater. One of those locations is overhead, which requires the addition of either in-ceiling speakers or use of special Atmos-enabled front/surround speakers with drivers that direct the sound upward to reflect off your ceiling. You'll also need a new AV receiver or preamp that has the ability to decode the Atmos soundtrack on a Blu-ray disc.
Some may be quick to dismiss Atmos as unnecessary or gimmicky, to which we ask: Have you heard it? I've sat through my fair share of Atmos demos at recent CES and especially CEDIA trade shows; and, although I went in with no preconceived notions of performance (I've never heard Atmos in the movie theater), I came away very impressed with the way a well-executed Atmos home system elevates the sense of envelopment and immersion to a higher level. Earlier this year, Sean Killebrew installed Atmos in-ceiling speakers for his review of Integra's DTR-70.6 AV receiver, and he was pretty blown away by the results, saying, "No matter how much I write, it's not going to be possible to convey how realistic and immersive this new technology is." Brent Butterworth recently reviewed a complete Atmos system built around Klipsch's Atmos-enabled RP-280FA tower speakers, and he found the up-firing approach to provide a nice sense of envelopment, too--which is good news for the many people who are unable to accommodate in-ceiling speakers.
Since the format's arrival, a growing number of Atmos-friendly products has arrived in all three of the categories mentioned above: electronics, speakers, and Blu-ray discs (in that time, DTS has also introduced its own object-based format, DTS:X). For those of you who might be thinking about taking the Atmos plunge and want/need to go the up-firing speaker route, here's a quick overview of what's available right now (or coming very soon).
To say that electronics makers have fully embraced Atmos would be an understatement. Suffice to say, the market is now loaded with a variety of new AV receivers and preamps that run the gamut from entry-level to uber-high-end. We're not going to try to list every Atmos-capable receiver and preamp currently available, but we have highlighted some models that can process nine to eleven (or more) channels and, in the case of receivers, have at least nine channels of amplification. More channels means the ability to add more Atmos height speakers for a more enveloping experience. Of course, it also means more money; it's worth mentioning that many seven-channel receivers also support Atmos, and some include extra preouts to add amplification for additional Atmos speakers.
Acurus ACT 4 11-channel AV preamp ($8,499)
Anthem AVM 60 11-channel AV preamp ($2,999)
Datasat RS20i 16-channel AV processor ($19,000)
JBL Synthesis SDP-75 AV processor, available in a 16- or 32-channel version (Coming soon, price TBD)
Marantz SR7010 9-channel AV receiver ($2,199)
Onkyo PR-SC5530 11-channel AV preamp ($2,499)
Pioneer Elite SC-99, SC-97, and SC-95 9-channel AV receivers ($1,600-$2,500)
Sony STR-ZA5000ES 9-channel AV receiver (Coming soon, $2,799)
Trinnov Altitude32 (up to) 32-channel processor (about $26,850)
Yamaha CX-A5100 11-channel AV preamp ($2,499.95)
While Atmos is everywhere on the electronics end, speaker manufacturers have been slower to embrace the official Atmos-enabled up-firing speaker. At the recent CEDIA Expo, almost every speaker manufacturer had an Atmos demo, but most used in-ceiling speakers for the height effects. Of course, the CEDIA Expo is a show for custom installers, so that approach makes sense...and there's a multitude of in-ceiling speaker options available if you want to go that route. On the other hand, only a handful of manufacturers have introduced dedicated Atmos-enabled up-firing speakers and Atmos modules (which are designed to sit on top of regular tower or bookshelf speakers to add the height effect). Here are the ones we know about:
Klipsch RP-280FA Tower Speaker ($1,200 each)
NHT MS Satellite Speaker (Coming soon, price TBD)
NHT MS Tower Speaker (Coming soon, price TBD)
Pioneer SP-EFS73 Tower Speaker ($699.99 each)
Pioneer SP-EBS73-LR Bookshelf Speaker ($749.99/pair)
Pioneer SP-BS22A-LR Bookshelf Speaker ($299.99/pair)
Triad InRoom Silver LR-H Bookshelf Speaker ($1,500 each)
Triad InRoom Bronze LR-H Bookshelf Speaker ($1,000 each)
Atlantic Technology 44-DA ($499/pair)
Definitive Technology A60 ($299/pair)
ELAC A4 ($229/pair)
KEF R50 ($1,200/pair)
Klipsch RP-140SA ($499.99/pair)
MartinLogan Motion AFX ($599.95/pair)
NHT Atmos Mini (Coming soon, price TBD)
Onkyo SKH-410 ($249.99/pair)
Pioneer SP-T22A-LR ($199.99/pair)
SpeakerCraft Architectural In-Wall Height Module (Coming soon, price TBD)
Here's a list of all the Blu-ray discs that include a Dolby Atmos soundtrack as of today:
The Age of Adaline
Bram Stoker's Dracula Supreme Cinema Series
The Expendables 3
The Fifth Element Supreme Cinema Series
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season
Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season
Gravity: Special Edition
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay--Part 1
Léon: The Professional Supreme Cinema Series
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Man From U.N.C.L.E
Mission: Impossible - Rouge Nation
On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter
Roger Waters: The Wall
Step Up All In
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Transformers: Age of Extinction
For an up-to-date list, click here.
Have you assembled an Atmos system yet? If so, which components did you use, and which Atmos soundtracks provide the best demos? Let us know in the Comments section below.
• Check out our CEDIA 2015 Show Report and Photo Slideshow for more discussion and product announcements reagrding Dolby Atmos.
• Dolby Teams with Sony Pictures to Release Dolby Vision Titles at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• No Love For Next-Gen AV Technologies? at HomeTheaterReview.com.