Chat
Contact us
Close contact box
Connect ID #
319 028 616 3
Connect ID #
319 028 616 3
All finished with your chat session?

We’ll email you a transcript of this conversation for your records.

Our contact center is currently closed.

Please enter your name.  
Please enter a valid email address. Why is this required?
Please enter your US phone number.  

For Tech Support, call 1-888-292-2575

Thank you, !
Our conversation will be emailed to
Chat Advisor Image

Your Advisor,

More about me
Please enter a question  
Don't wait on hold. We'll call you back when it's your turn to talk with the next available .
Please enter your name  
Please enter your phone number  

Please enter a message  

Calls may be recorded for training and quality control purposes.

We are located in Virginia USA.

Lead image

DTS:X vs. Dolby Atmos

Two ways to add overhead surround sound effects

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are two of the most popular surround sound formats available. Both deliver immersive, realistically placed surround sound effects. Whether the scene has rain falling or jets flying, both sound like they're right above you. If there's a car driving across the screen, you can hear it transition from left to right. That's the beauty of object-based surround sound with overhead effects.

Woman in surround sound with alien invasion

Immerse yourself in surround sound with overhead effects

What's that mean? Think of it this way: your surround sound system creates a three-dimensional sound bubble. Every sound is like an object that can then be “mapped” by a sound engineer to a specific location inside that three-dimensional bubble. The end result is sound that moves realistically around your room. It’s drastically different from the surround sound formats of old where the sound was limited to moving front-to-rear.

One example I like to give is the movie Battleship. Despite its faults, the soundtrack was put together very well. There’s a scene near the end where the protagonist and his crew are aboard their battleship when the big, bad alien ship comes out of the water and locks onto them.

At one point, the alien ship fires missiles (that funnily enough look like the pegs from the Battleship board game) and they go soaring from the right side of the screen to the left. As the pegs are flying towards our plot-armored heroes, they drop the anchor on their battleship and water sprays up all around the screen.

With an object-based surround sound format, all those sounds are mapped according to where they are in the scene. The missiles, for example, transition from the right front speaker over to the center, then to the left front. The water spraying up when their battleship drops anchor starts on the front right and rear right speakers and finishes out on the front left and rear left.

You can feel the missiles screaming as they get closer and closer. And you might swear you’re in the middle of the splash. That’s what an object-based format and proper mapping can do.

To take advantage of what Dolby Atmos and DTS:X offer, you’ll need a compatible receiver to decode them. But, more on that in just a few.

STR-ZA1100ES_UBP-X800M2

Sony's STR-ZA1100ES receiver and UBP-X800M2 Blu-ray player as part of an Atmos system.

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos got its start in cinemas across the globe in 2012 and found its way into households a little while after. It uses a proprietary system for mapping sound objects. That allows the mixers taking care of the soundtrack to be able to place objects at fixed distances, heights, and locations rather than assigning them to discrete channels like traditional surround sound systems.

At the very least, you’ll need a seven-speaker system that uses height speakers and a receiver that supports Atmos to take advantage of the format. You can add more speakers for even more realistic surround effects.

Dolby Atmos Speaker Layouts

It’s important to understand exactly what 5.1.2 and other variations (like 7.1.4) mean. The first number relates to the number of “ground” speakers that are in a system. The second number relates to how many subwoofers there are, and the third is how many overhead or Atmos enabled speakers are used.

Speaker layout

A 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker layout with four overhead speakers.

Speaking of 5.1.2, that’s the minimum you’ll need for overhead surround effects, though it’s not uncommon to see larger setups. 7.1.4 is what Dolby Atmos uses as a reference for their sound engineers. And some receivers can support Atmos configurations up to 9.1.4.

DTS:X

DTS:X got its start in home cinemas back in 2015. It was developed with the same aim as Atmos: to create a more immersive cinematic experience by moving smartly mapped sound across the room.

How DTS:X does it, though, is a bit different. The format uses the open-source MDA (multi-dimensional audio) platform as its base. Since it’s using an open-source base, anyone can use it. That allows manufacturers to create any component to be compatible with DTS:X.

Another cool benefit of it being open-source is that sound engineers aren’t restricted to mapping the sound to a specific speaker layout. They can place sound objects wherever they see fit in the sound bubble. That can be seen as somewhat of a double-edged sword, as the placement isn’t pinpoint accurate like Atmos.

You don’t necessarily need height speakers to take advantage of what DTS:X has to offer, but having them helps make things more immersive since it gives the sound more places to go.

When you’re setting your receiver up to play the format for the first time, it plays some pink noise that your receiver's microphone registers and then measures the distance and location of your speakers. After that’s done, DTS:X can then untangle the audio input signal (that is, the soundtrack of your movie) and send it to the corresponding speakers.

It also lets you do some tweaks yourself, primarily in the dialogue department. You can raise the level of voices in your center channel to keep the dialogue crisp and clear.

What do I need to get Dolby Atmos and DTS:X?

To take advantage of either format, you’ll need a receiver that can decode them. Luckily, most home theater receivers with seven or more channels nowadays can. On top of that, those receivers can typically upscale non-Atmos and non-DTS:X encoded content, meaning you can get overhead effects from almost any content you may be watching.

Denon AVR-X8500HA

The 13-channel Denon AVR-X8500HA has enough height and surround channels to support a range of Atmos configurations, including 9.2.4 and 7.2.6.

Dolby Atmos receivers have dedicated height channels for reproducing overhead effects. You’ll need some height speakers in addition to a regular 5.1 or 7.1 speaker layout. There are two flavors: those that sit on top of your tower speakers (called Atmos enabled speakers) and those that get installed overhead in your ceiling.

Klipsch system

Klipsch Reference Series speakers in a 5.1.2 Atmos setup with Atmos enabled upward-firing speakers.

The "toppers", as I like to call them, are angled and work by reflecting sound down from your ceiling onto your listening position. Their official title of "Atmos enabled speakers" is a bit of a misnomer, as they’ll work for both Atmos and DTS:X content alike. While they’re not as effective as true overhead speakers, they do a respectable job and keep you from having to cut holes in your ceiling.

In-celling speakers

In-ceiling speakers are a great space-saving way to add accurate overhead effects.

For the best overhead effects, in-ceiling speakers are worth considering. They’re more directional and do a better job at creating an immersive height channel. On top of that, some models have an aimable tweeter, increasing your placement options and helping out if your overheads need to be offset a little from your listening position.

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content

Dolby Atmos content is far more readily available than DTS:X. It can be found everywhere from Disney+ and Amazon Prime to Blu-ray discs and Apple iTunes. There are even even video games and albums that have been encoded with the format.

DTS:X is primarily found on Blu-ray discs. If you plan on enjoying both formats or if you’ve got physical copies of movies encoded in either format, it’d be beneficial to pick up a Blu-ray player that supports both (most of them do). Or, if you prefer streaming, you can use a compatible device like an Apple TV 4k.

To stream Dolby Atmos content, your receiver and streamer will need to support eARC. You'll also need ultra high speed HDMI 2.1 cables to handle the eARC signal. The added bandwidth that eARC provides ensures clear, high-quality surround sound effects. If you'd like to learn more about HDMI 2.1, check out our handy HDMI cables buying guide.

Atmos and DTS:X Sound Bars

If the scale of an Atmos or DTS:X speaker system seems a bit much for your room, don’t fret — there are sound bars that support both formats. Granted, you'll be compromising a little since a sound bar can't reproduce the same level of immersion and detail that a full speaker system can.

Most Atmos and DTS:X sound bars use less than five channels and have upward-firing speakers built in for height effects. They decode the signal and process it to downmix the audio. After that, the amplifier assigns the sound to the speakers inside the sound bar. The result is modestly emulated surround sound.

JBL Bar 9.1

JBL's Bar 9.1 sound bar system features four upward-firing speakers for a complete 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos system that also accurately reproduces DTS:X signals.

On the flipside of that, there are other sound bars that are more than capable of delivering a full Atmos sound. They have, at minimum, seven built-in speakers. In most cases, the speakers are all contained within the sound bar itself, but some models include a pair of wireless rear surrounds for more wraparound effects.

Marisa on the phones

Crutchfield Advisor Marisa is a home theater and TV aficionado, and is happy to help folks get the Atmos or DTS:X system of their dreams.

Any questions?

If you’re just getting into the world of 3D sound, it can be a lot to take in. Thankfully, our advisors have done countless demo sessions and can help guide you along. For free one-on-one shopping advice, contact us and we’d be happy to help you get your system started.

Last updated 6/9/2021
  • Bob Lotman from Fort Worth

    Posted on 7/30/2021

    Hi, I am running a Denon 2300x with Polk Monitors I got from Crutchfield years ago. My atmos speakers are upfiring Klipsch. I can't seem to get the Atmos signal from Disney+ or other streaming sites. I use my Vizio Px tv and my Sony UBP X800M2 4K for streaming. I've checked every setting but only get the Atmos signal on occasion. Any suggestions?

  • SprSynJn from Japan

    Posted on 6/9/2021

    Excellent article, thank you for updating it. Am I correct in assuming that a Yamaha soundbar (the 207 specifically) will not work with Atmos encoded music even with Virtual X enabled? From what I gathered it will just downscale the material to Dolby Digital or whatnot. Thank you for reading.

  • Monty from Melbourne

    Posted on 12/2/2020

    Hey guys, hope you all are well. Have you guys had the chance to check out the new HT receivers and new processor and power amps from Anthem?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 12/3/2020

    Hi Monty, I have indeed! They look to be extraordinarily well-built, and I'm looking forward to trying them out once they're in house. I'm particularly excited by the new ARC (Anthem Room Correction) Genesis room calibration system.
  • Monty from Melbourne

    Posted on 8/9/2020

    G'day guys, hope you all are C19 free and well. I wanted to know your thoughts on Triad 18" Platinum Subs. I have 2 of them in my media/family room. How do they compare to the SVS 16 Ultra Subs, supposedly new sensation in the current market? Want to know your thoughts. I have a setup of Yamaha Pre/Pro of 1st gen CXA5000/MXA5000. My speakers are: Fronts = Paradigm Studio 100 V5 Center = Paradigm Studio CC 690 V5 Primary Surrounds = Mission MX-4 Rear Surrounds = Mission Di-Pole and 2 Subs Triad Platinum 18".

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 8/10/2020

    Hi Monty, thank you for your well-wishes — they're appreciated!

    I'm not familiar with your Triad subs, but I imagine that dual 18" woofers deliver quite the bass experience. That said, SVS is worth a look if you're considering trying a different configuration. The SVS PB16-Ultra is one of the best subs we've ever heard, and our customers have loved it.
  • Ron from Mesa

    Posted on 7/1/2020

    Thanks for the crash course on these 2 awesome surround sound types. My wife says that,"you have a problem, look at all this stuff. When are you going to use it!". I turned a bus driver, from the school that I work at,to some small Klipsch. He won't part with them now!

  • JOHN SALTER from Herndon

    Posted on 11/26/2019

    Hi Monty: Thanks for the info, but it seems to me that DTS:X and the new DTS:X Pro decoder might be worth a mention; since the latest pre-pros are now supporting it with 16 or more audio channels, including up to 6 in-ceiling speakers and up to 4 sub-woofers. It seems to me that this is becoming the future for Home Theater - so long as you have a fat wallet to pay for it!

  • Dean from Port St Lucie

    Posted on 10/15/2019

    Love your article! Quite informative. I recently purchased the Beatles 50th Anniversary Abbey Road Box. As I write, I'm listening to it (and loving it!). My question is, I have 3 options on the screen; PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio & Dolby Atmos. What, in your opinion, is my best listening option? I would say that with the DTS-HD, the front is more subdued and I can actually hear sound from my surround speakers. In the Dolby Atmos, the front is significantly louder. For equipment, I have an Onkyo TX-RZ610 reciever; an OPPO UDP-205 Blu-Ray Player; GoldenEar Triton 2's, A GoldenEar Supercenter speaker and 4- GoldenEar Invisa HTR 7000 surround ceiling speaker. In both of these listening options, I am amazed at the sound of this DVD! The clarity is amazing! Giles Martin did a phenomenal job on this. I'm hearing things I never heard before! And I've been listening to Abbey Road in many formats since I was a teenager in the late 60's.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 10/17/2019

    Hi Dean! What a treat it must be to have a totally new listening experience with a record you've been enjoying for so long. As for which format will sound best, I suspect the Atmos version on Blu-ray will yield the fullest sound and the most detail.

    You might want to adjust the overhead speaker levels up (and your front speaker levels down) to balance things out. I bet it sounds incredible with your GoldenEar system!
  • Kevin from Wenatchee

    Posted on 9/29/2019

    Hello Kramer. Currently running a semi-budget surround setup. 4 Polk towers for the four corners. Polk center. 2 Polk 10" subs. Powered by an Onkyo TR-RZ620. Looking to go Atmos now. I have a set of Polk OWM3 and a set of Sony SS-CSE Atmos speakers to work with. On both sides of my TV I have 2 7ft tall book shelves. Am I better off placing the OWM3's up there for forward facing, height speakers....OR...am I better off utilizing the Sony Atmos speakers for upward firing Atmos speakers? Or do you think I'd notice much of a difference? Also, if it matters: my ceilings are slightly vaulted (not a harsh angle, but it's there) and from the top of the shelves they'll be on, to the ceiling is about 3.5-4ft. Any and all info would be really appreciated. Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 10/8/2019

    Hi Kevin, thanks for reaching out! My apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

    That's a pretty sweet setup you have there. I'll be honest: I'm not a huge fan of upward-firing speakers. Especially since you have a vaulted ceiling, I'd go with the OWM3s facing forward from up on the bookshelf. Of course, you can try both arrangements and see which you prefer, but I think you're more likely to hear more impactful overhead effects from the Polks.

    Be sure to re-run your Onkyo's calibration system after you install the height speakers, and let me know which speakers you end up liking better!
  • Patrick from Arlington

    Posted on 9/14/2019

    Hello, I have a question on the difference in the low end between the two formats. On all movies I've watched, from all Marvel movies in ATMOS to all Fast & Furious movies in DTS:X, I have noticed a lot more low end on ATMOS than on DTS:X. It used to be the opposite with Dolby Digital HD and DTS HD. Why is this? I have a Klipsch setup most of the way around with the R-115SW Subwoofer, fronts are RP-280F, center is RC-62 II, rears are RP-250S, and Atmos speakers are R-41-SA (2). Receiver is a Denon AVR-X4200W with a Parasound HCA-1206 THX certified amp. (Also have Polk Audio Monitor 30s for the side surrounds for now.)

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 10/8/2019

    Patrick, thanks for the question! It somehow slipped through the cracks on my end. My apologies for the super-late response.

    If you're hearing a consistent difference in the performance of your subwoofer, it may be worth seeing if its output level is changing based on which format is selected (not likely, but worth double checking).

    That said, we also used to hear more bass from DTS than Dolby. It might be that Atmos is gearing their playback toward a ".2" system given how many of their customers go with two subs. That might explain the bass-heavy playback. I'll ask our rep the next time I speak with him and see if I can get you a more definitive response. Thanks!
  • Chris Herrington from Cairns

    Posted on 3/25/2019

    Hi again Kramer, While I would love to buy more Focals, it would likely result in a divorce. That high of a budget is unfortunately out of the question. Even purchasing the 605's was quite the stretch. Had to empty the piggy bank for those. That's why I've been looking at the Polks. They are a bit more budget friendly, especially because I'll be purchasing 4.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 3/25/2019

    Hi Chris, I totally understand man. Then yes, the Polks will do just fine for you as overhead effects speakers. And I don't think the 8" woofers are overkill for your 7' ceiling.

    Best of luck — I'd love to see a photo of the system once everything is installed!