Contact us
Close contact box
Connect ID #
430 429 538 4
Connect ID #
430 429 538 4
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.

Thank you. We will be calling you .
We're sorry. We have encountered a problem.

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.


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 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

This JBL 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.

  • Don K. from Atlanta

    Posted on 3/20/2023

    Very helpful article; clearly explained, well organized. Thanks!

  • Avinash Gupta

    Posted on 7/22/2022

    Hi My question is if the sounbar dos not support Dolby Atmos and support only DTS X the what is the output we receive if the sound formate is of Doly Atmos like from Netflix or Amazon prime will we get the same DTS x effect of not

  • Ben from Wolfeboro

    Posted on 11/4/2021

    So which is better? Atmos or DTS:X?

  • Max K. from Plymouth, MA

    Posted on 10/25/2021

    Hey guys, How do you feel about 3rd, newly popular height speaker option, wall-mounted above fronts? SVS displays this configuration for their Prime Elevation speaker, and it seems to be gaining popularity for its ease of installation and direct sound vs reflection .

  • James from Blr

    Posted on 10/24/2021

    Nice subject captured

  • Russell May from Aldershot.

    Posted on 10/23/2021

    I bought the Samsung HW-Q950 Cinematic Soundbar. It states it has Atmos AND DTS:X but i cannot get the Xbox Series X to output in DTS:X. Have a bought a lemon or am i doing something wrong?

  • 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.
Compare the sound