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Can I Use Bookshelf Speakers For Atmos?

Mike Cross
Updated Nov 28, 2021
Can I Use Bookshelf Speakers For Atmos

A great home setup includes the use of surround speakers. This is an innovative way to pipe music throughout your living space. These speaker systems breathe life into movies and bring the music to life. Before we figure out if you can use your regular bookshelf speakers for Atmos, we need to understand how a surround sound system works.

Where did surround sound come from?

Originally, sound from music and movies was piped in via stereo. This means that the music or sound is heard from the left speaker and the right speaker. This early system was based on a 2-channel system. Over time, the AC3 was developed. This added a third channel to the sound system. The AC3 was used for deep, low frequency sounds and was tied into the subwoofer.

From there, sound system continued to evolve and today we have surround sound.

How does surround sound work?

Can I Use Bookshelf Speakers For Atmos
Can I Use Bookshelf Speakers For Atmos

A surround sound system can be explained simply. Technology is used to plit the audio codex into several different and independent channels Each channel is then fed into a different speaker with a specific range of frequencies. You are then able to arrange the speakers into whatever configuration will give you the best surround sound. For this system to work, all of these channels have to be played at the same time in order to consolidate into a full audio track.

What types of speakers do you need for surround sound?

1. Subwoofer

In a surround sound system, the sub-woofer is used for transmitting deep and low-frequency sound signals. These low-frequency signals are the ones that are responsible for the bass, which you hear on audio tracks. The sub-woofer’s channel is exclusively filtered for bass. Therefore, the subwoofer is never able to produce high frequency sounds.

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2. Front Speakers

When you are talking about front speakers, it is good to know that they are responsible for producing the sound that comes from the foreground of the picture. Think of these speakers as left and right side speakers at the movies. The front speakers are also where you will get music from a video game or movie. More often these days, a surround sound system will use a sound bar in place of front speakers. The sound bar is simply a horizontal speaker system that has multiple speakers within it.

3. Center Speakers

Center speakers are smaller speakers. They are capable of handling a  full range and they are usually tuned to a lower frequency than the front speakers. The center speaker is usually placed overhead if one is used or it can be placed on either side of the audience if two are used.

What are bookshelf speakers?

Bookshelf speakers are speakers that are intended to be placed on a shelf, table or any other elevated surface. The only place you would not put bookshelf speakers is on the floor.  These speakers are special; they are designed to maximize sound in small to medium spaces.

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is the latest system of surround system. And while you can use this system with a 5 and 1 speaker system (5 speakers and a subwoofer), you do not have to. The beauty of the Atmos system is that you can use it with as many or as few speakers as you want.

Dolby Atmos takes Dolby Digital up quite a few notches. Dolby Atmos does not use channels. It treats sound as an object. So instead of assigning a sound to channel or speaker, Atmos lets the filmmakers assign a sound to a place.  In this way, sound goes to “left rear corner” instead of “left rear speaker”. Assigning sound this way allows for much more freedom when planning a surround sound system.

So, can I use my regular bookshelf speakers?

While some electronics stores will have you think that you need to buy a whole new setup to get Dolby Atmos, that is not the case. It is very possible for you to enjoy Atmos, although you may have to add a few speakers to your setup. There are two basic ways that you can add speakers to your existing setup to get Atmos, without having to buy Atmos speakers.

1. Ceiling speakers

You can install ceiling speakers. The best location for them is slightly in front of the main listening area in your home. Atmos recommends that for an even better Atmos experience, you can also add a second set of speakers to the ceiling. These would be placed behind the seating area. Since you can use these in addition to the setup you already had, it makes a nice option.

2. Add modules

Adding speakers to the ceiling involves drilling holes and screwing wires in, and maybe you are not keen to do that in your house. If you do not want to do this, you can still use your speakers to take advantage of the Dolby Atmos surround sound when watching movies.

You can purchase Atmos-enabled speaker modules instead of installing speakers in the ceiling. These modules are add-on speakers. They are designed with angled, up-firing drivers that you simply place on top of your existing speakers. To get the best effect, you would place one Atmos-enabled pair of speakers on the main or left/right speakers in the front of your viewing area. You could also the modules to either the main or left/right speakers at the rear.


Surround system is an innovation that has revolutionized your at home movie watching experience. No longer do you need to go out to the movies. With just a few speakers placed in the right space, it is a perfect setup.

The first sound system was Dolby Digital. It has been replaced by Dolby Atmos which refined the concept even further.

If you already have bookshelf speakers, no worries. It is still possible for you to use your current setup with Atmos. You may need to add a few additional speakers, but they do not need to be Atmos ones. Just place a few more in front of you and behind you and grab the popcorn.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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