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Upward-Firing "Modules" for Atmos/DTS:X...Yay or Nay?

IntelliVolume

Active Member
My trusty older-than-a-decade Onkyo 605 has succumbed -- I think -- to the dreaded HDMI board failure (I only use the HDMI OUT port now to feed my new Samsung 4K TV for onscreen menus; the AVR doesn't support 4K video passthrough, so my video is going direct from a Cambridge 4K Blu-ray player into the TV) so I'm probably going to be in the market for a new AVR soon (I need the onscreen prompts for the menus). This means, of course, getting my feet wet in the Dolby Atmos/DTS:X pool, being that I already own a good amount of Blu-rays and UHD Blu-rays with Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks, but I was thinking of going the "shortcut" route of adding the upward-firing "modules" that sit atop the left/right main speakers in order to experience the overhead enhanced formats...

As it stands, I'm still running a plain old fashioned 5.1 setup, with Polk RTi12 left/right mains, a Polk CSi30 center and two SpeakerCraft in-ceiling surrounds (which were already installed in our home when we moved in)...alas, I never even upgraded to 7.1. I do have extra ceiling speakers to add to our arrangement to make 7.1 or possibly Atmos/DTS:X configurations (they're installed in the ceiling like our other SpeakerCrafts, but they would have to be moved into the right listening positions over our seating area), but I'd rather not go through the whole "cut holes in the ceiling" thing to achieve the overhead height channels, and instead would prefer using these so-called modules...

Here's my question, though: Are these things just as good for delivering the bounced-off-the-ceiling sound for the enhanced sound formats as dedicated in-ceiling or on-ceiling speakers? I've heard mixed things about this; some say the modules just don't work at all compared to dedicated speakers in the correct locations. Do these modules deliver a satisfying near-precise Dolby Atmos/DTS:X experience, or is it 100-percent necessary to have the ceiling speakers installed?
 

Rambles

Distinguished Member
Upfiring speakers work well in my room, I have low flat plastered ceilings. If I listen to a 7.1 soundtrack and turn the upmixing on and off, the change in audio is very noticeable. The upfirers add a significantly pleasing expansion of the soundstage.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Yes, in my experience, but beware the cheap Onkyo speakers. There are certain criteria to be followed though.

1 The ceiling must be perfectly flat.
2 Made of a reflective material.
3 Between 8 and 14 feet.
4 Speakers must be set at no more than 50% of the height of the ceiling.

Four speakers will certainly work better than two. After calibration increase the levels by at least 2dB. This works well in my room and I only have room for two.
 

IntelliVolume

Active Member
Upfiring speakers work well in my room, I have low flat plastered ceilings. If I listen to a 7.1 soundtrack and turn the upmixing on and off, the change in audio is very noticeable. The upfirers add a significantly pleasing expansion of the soundstage.
Thanks Rambles.

So you're saying when you view a disc with a 7.1 soundtrack and turn the "upmixing" feature on your AVR/processor on and off, you can hear a difference when the extra Atmos modules kick in and add something to the mix?

My ceilings aren't necessarily "low;" they're of average height in a typical U.S. home...about 9 to 12 feet. And they're flat. Would the modules work?
 

IntelliVolume

Active Member
Yes, in my experience, but beware the cheap Onkyo speakers. There are certain criteria to be followed though.

1 The ceiling must be perfectly flat.
2 Made of a reflective material.
3 Between 8 and 14 feet.
4 Speakers must be set at no more than 50% of the height of the ceiling.

Four speakers will certainly work better than two. After calibration increase the levels by at least 2dB. This works well in my room and I only have room for two.
Thanks Gibbs.

It's funny you brought up the Onkyo versions -- I was considering those...:blush::confused:

Can you tell me what's wrong with them as add-on modules?

Indeed, my ceiling is flat (as far as I can tell) but I'm not sure it's made of a "reflective" material; it's the typical cheap stuff they use in new U.S. homes that you can pretty much stick a pencil through with no problems. We did have a flood upstairs a few years back when a fish tank cracked, and this extended into the living room ceiling, requiring a construction company to come in and basically re-do a major section of the ceiling; so, in retrospect, perhaps my ceiling isn't 100-PERCENT flat or "perfect"...still, would this really make a huge deal with the bouncing-off-the-ceiling effects from Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks?

And the ceiling height, as I mentioned in my previous post, is between 9 and 12 U.S. feet.

When you say "four speakers will certainly work better than two," do you mean installing four on-ceiling speakers or in-ceiling types rather than add the two modules atop the left/right mains?

As for calibration, it's interesting you bring this up, as well, because that was going to be my next inquiry...as it stands, I don't use Audyssey or any other auto setup routine to set my channel levels and such, instead preferring to do it by ear (it's just a preference, as I know my room very well and based on the measurements I've taken with a tape measure, the two front mains and center channel are precisely equidistant from my sweet spot at 12 feet). As such, I have the front left channel set at "+6dB," the center at "+8dB" (for dialogue compensation), the front right at "+6dB" (again, the left and right speakers are perfectly equidistant from my position), the surround right at "+6dB" and the surround left at "+3dB" (this surround channel is a bit closer to my position than the right one, hence the lower calibration trim to compensate). The sub is at 14 feet from me and is calibrated to "+2dB" in the receiver, which enables it to exude some nice slam without overpowering the system or bottoming out.

Now, with all of that being said/reported, if I were to add the two modules, where do you suggest I keep the dB levels at? Should they be a bit higher than the left/right mains? If the left/right mains are at "+6dB," should the modules be at like "+7dB" or even "+8dB"?
 

gibbsy

Moderator
There are several modules on the market, the Onkyo are bargain basement right up to the KEF R8 which are still probably the best performing of all. Four modules are certainly better than two, if I had the room. No I'll rephrase that. If my wife let me have the room I would jump at another pair of modules, so go for four.

Your ceiling should fine, by flat that means no vaulted ceilings or stepped ceilings.

As far as the upmixing modes of DTS Neural and Dolby Surround then they are really good at bringing standard 5/7.1 soundtracks into the Atmos domain. I find Neural extremely good indeed and it seems to suit modules better than inceiling speakers.
 

IntelliVolume

Active Member
There are several modules on the market, the Onkyo are bargain basement right up to the KEF R8 which are still probably the best performing of all. Four modules are certainly better than two, if I had the room. No I'll rephrase that. If my wife let me have the room I would jump at another pair of modules, so go for four.

Your ceiling should fine, by flat that means no vaulted ceilings or stepped ceilings.

As far as the upmixing modes of DTS Neural and Dolby Surround then they are really good at bringing standard 5/7.1 soundtracks into the Atmos domain. I find Neural extremely good indeed and it seems to suit modules better than inceiling speakers.
Thank you.

Indeed, my ceilings aren't vaulted, and they're not made of "popcorn" material.

For the time being, it seems like I am going to have to go with a 5.1.2 arrangement, being that my two surrounds are in the ceiling and therefore there's no way to get "modules" to "sit atop" them...I can do the two modules up front on top of my Polk towers.

Any thoughts about the calibration questions I had? How much "over" the dB levels of the other channels should the up-firing speakers be? And I've read that there's often a ton of confusion over the crossover settings for these speakers, as that can make or break the experience; how are crossovers dialed in?

As a background, right now my current speakers are crossed over like so:

Polk RTi12 left/right mains: 60Hz
Polk CSi30 center: 80Hz
SpeakerCraft left/right in-ceiling surrounds: 80Hz
LPF of LFE: 120Hz

How are the modules adjusted as far as crossovers go?
 

Rambles

Distinguished Member
The Klipsch modules are pretty good, if you can find them at a decent price. I add 3db to my atmos modules, after Dirac has calibrated them.

If you configure yours manually, you could do the same. It's not a requirement, just common practice. Try it out and see what you prefer.

The modules are subtle, they are not an in your face immediate presence, so managing expectations might be handy! The effects are also dependant on the source material. Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks with lots of height audio in the mix, give the biggest impact. But even other content that is upmixed can bring a pleasingly noticeable increase to the soundstage.

Keep the crossovers high, 150hz ish, if your sub plays up to that frequency okay.
 

IntelliVolume

Active Member
The Klipsch modules are pretty good, if you can find them at a decent price. I add 3db to my atmos modules, after Dirac has calibrated them.

If you configure yours manually, you could do the same. It's not a requirement, just common practice. Try it out and see what you prefer.

The modules are subtle, they are not an in your face immediate presence, so managing expectations might be handy! The effects are also dependant on the source material. Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks with lots of height audio in the mix, give the biggest impact. But even other content that is upmixed can bring a pleasingly noticeable increase to the soundstage.

Keep the crossovers high, 150hz ish, if your sub plays up to that frequency okay.
Thank you much, Rambles; I will reply in greater detail as soon as I have some extra time!
 

aoaaron

Well-known Member
i'd say no.

mine give me a fuller sound in the room with verticality.

i bought the kef ones.

did they enhance the expereince? yes. did they provide pin point precision of sound from above, no. if lightning strikes, it sounds like its in the air/above, yes but I don't specifically feel something above my head..

i'd say its akin to when u get a subwoofer and let it take care of the low-end in non-explosion/vibration type scenes.

it creates an atmosphere, it enhanced the bubble of sound around you and immerses you a lot more. yes there is more verticality to the sound and yes its better but its more subtle than you'd think. thats partly due to how its used and content etc.

overall i reccomend it as the final icing on the cake but if you have the option of in-ceiling modules, i'd them every single day.
 

IntelliVolume

Active Member
i'd say no.

mine give me a fuller sound in the room with verticality.

i bought the kef ones.

did they enhance the expereince? yes. did they provide pin point precision of sound from above, no. if lightning strikes, it sounds like its in the air/above, yes but I don't specifically feel something above my head..

i'd say its akin to when u get a subwoofer and let it take care of the low-end in non-explosion/vibration type scenes.

it creates an atmosphere, it enhanced the bubble of sound around you and immerses you a lot more. yes there is more verticality to the sound and yes its better but its more subtle than you'd think. thats partly due to how its used and content etc.

overall i reccomend it as the final icing on the cake but if you have the option of in-ceiling modules, i'd them every single day.
Thanks for your input, aoaaron.

This is good feedback as I continue to ponder whether the on-speaker modules are okay; indeed, we're not going to be playing nothing but Atmos/DTS:X soundtracks through our system (to be honest, the majority of what we watch is still in the DVD format with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes) so it's not like this is an absolutely must-have feature with our next amp. Plus, I don't think I'd use the "upmixing" feature on a new AVR, instead just running 5.1/7.1 soundtracks as such and leaving the discrete Atmos/X-encoded tracks to play back as intended.

As I said, we DO have some extra in-ceiling SpeakerCrafts left over from when we moved into this home (they were pre-installed by the builders) because we only used two of them as the two standard surrounds in our system....so I could, technically, have these re-oriented to be put into position above the listening area (that way they would act as true overheads). But the thing is, this would require cutting into the ceiling to make room for the overhead speakers, then having them moved and then getting the wiring done for them...heck, I didn't want the extra headache involved with this for 7.1 surround which is why I never had the speakers wired up for it....

What about the fact that I'd be running a 5.1.2 arrangement with only modules on top of the two FRONT speakers -- none in the back?
 

aoaaron

Well-known Member
Thanks for your input, aoaaron.

This is good feedback as I continue to ponder whether the on-speaker modules are okay; indeed, we're not going to be playing nothing but Atmos/DTS:X soundtracks through our system (to be honest, the majority of what we watch is still in the DVD format with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes) so it's not like this is an absolutely must-have feature with our next amp.

As I said, we DO have some extra in-ceiling SpeakerCrafts left over from when we moved into this home (they were pre-installed by the builders) because we only used two of them as the two standard surrounds in our system....so I could, technically, have these re-oriented to put into position above the listening area (that way they would act as true overheads). But the thing is, this would require cutting into the ceiling to make room for the overhead speakers, then having them moved and then getting the wiring done for them...heck, I didn't want the extra headache involved with this for 7.1 surround which is why I never had the speakers wired up for it....

What about the fact that I'd be running a 5.1.2 arrangement with only modules on top of the two FRONT speakers -- none in the back?

thats what I have! so my experience is pretty much what i said previously. I have a 5.1.2 :)
 

IntelliVolume

Active Member
The Klipsch modules are pretty good, if you can find them at a decent price. I add 3db to my atmos modules, after Dirac has calibrated them.
Thanks; would these play okay with my Polk mains?

So if I'm running my left/right mains at "+6dB," should the modules be at "+9"?

If you configure yours manually, you could do the same. It's not a requirement, just common practice. Try it out and see what you prefer.
Thanks again; otherwise the setting would just be around 0dB or +6 in my case?

The modules are subtle, they are not an in your face immediate presence, so managing expectations might be handy! The effects are also dependant on the source material. Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks with lots of height audio in the mix, give the biggest impact. But even other content that is upmixed can bring a pleasingly noticeable increase to the soundstage.

Keep the crossovers high, 150hz ish, if your sub plays up to that frequency okay.
Totally understand about managing expectations; I realize the overhead effects will be subtle and based on how an engineer mixed them on a disc. Thank you for the suggestion on the crossover...
 

Rambles

Distinguished Member

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