Can I Use Bookshelf Speakers for Atmos?

Upgrading your current surround sound home theater to Atmos can be an expensive exercise. So, you wouldn’t be the first to wonder if you can use a spare set of bookshelf speakers for Atmos.

You can use bookshelf speakers for Atmos in two ways. Set them on top of your front speakers, angling them up to the ceiling. This way, they’ll fire the sound up and off the ceiling to the listening position, or you fix them into or on the ceiling to provide the height element that’s key to Atmos.

Also read: Can Any Speaker Be Used for Dolby Atmos?

Bookshelf Speakers for Atmos

It’ll probably be music to your ears, knowing that you can recycle your spare bookshelf speakers for your Atmos home theater. But you’re likely also wanting to know more. So, let’s take a look.

What Are Bookshelf Speakers?

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Despite their name, bookshelf speakers don’t have to sit on bookshelves. But, they do need to sit in an elevated position. It just doesn’t have to be a bookshelf, as long as they’re not on the floor.

Unlike their bigger brother, the floor-standing speaker, bookshelf speakers are compact. They’re perfect for the home environment, where space can be a limiting factor.

The Polk Audio T15 100 Watt Bookshelf Speakers (Amazon link) are an excellent example of decent bookshelf speakers. They’re wall-mountable. That’s useful if you don’t have shelving or the floor space for a stand to accommodate them.

How Should You Position Bookshelf Speakers?

You’ll get the best sound experience from bookshelf speakers when their tweeters are at ear-level. That’s ear level when you’re in your listening position, which is usually seated.

You can buy stands designed for bookshelf speakers like these Mounting Dream Speaker Stands on Amazon, if wall mounting isn’t an option.

When Do You Use Bookshelf Speakers?

Their frequency range and compactness make them a flexible choice as standalone speakers. They’re also ideal as part of a surround sound home theater setup.

In a home theater environment, you use bookshelf speakers as the main left and right front speakers. But, their flexibility and compactness mean they’re often also used as surround speakers for the rear positions in a home theater setup.

What Is Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is an extension of the familiar 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound of the home theater setup. It adds another dimension, the vertical dimension.

So, surround sound provides you with sound on a horizontal plane, from the front, sides, and rear. With Atmos, you can now experience it from above as well.

This is the so-called all-immersive 3D sound experience. So, 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound become 5.1.2 or 7.1.2, where the third digit represents the number of Atmos speakers. That ending 2 is often increased to 4 and can go higher.

The other element of Atmos is the idea of sound as objects that are placed anywhere within this three-dimensional sound stage.

So, the placement of a sound is no longer restricted by channels. Instead, it can move with the character or the object that’s making the sound, following them or it around.

With Atmos, when a helicopter flies overhead, it’ll seem like it’s right there above you, like in real-life. So much so, you’ll be surprised that it doesn’t ruffle up your hair.

So, Atmos provides more realism through precise sound placement within a three-dimensional space. You can get a better understanding of it from this video:

How Do You Add Atmos?

There are two ways to add the vertical dimension of Atmos. The first will give you a genuine Atmos experience. The other is more a virtual Atmos experience.

The Real Deal Atmos

The genuine Atmos experience is in the form of ceiling speakers. With ceiling speakers, sound rains down from the ceiling to the listening position.

This Klipsch CDT-5800-C II In-Ceiling Speaker (Amazon link) is an example of a high-end in-ceiling speaker. They have a swiveling tweeter and rotating woofer. This gives controllable sound dispersion to help maximize the coverage of the sound equally to all listeners.

Virtual Atmos

The virtual version of Atmos consists of forward-firing speakers with additional drivers at the top. The top drivers are angled to fire sound up, so it bounces off the ceiling and down to the listening position.

Take these floor-standing Klipsch R-26FA Speakers which are available on Amazon. You can see the additional drivers inset in the top at an angle. These speakers would replace your existing front left and right speakers.

This type of speaker is what you’ll see in many Atmos home theaters. The simple reason for that is because it’s a more practical option than in-ceiling speakers.

There’s an even less expensive version of virtual Atmos. It’s ideal if you want to keep all your current speakers.

They take the form of small add-on speakers containing upward-angled drivers. You sit them on top of your current speakers to direct sound toward the ceiling.

The Sony SSCSE Dolby Atmos Enabled Speakers (Amazon) are a good example. The advantage of this type of speaker is that you keep your current front speakers. So you can get a version of the Atmos experience at a reduced cost.

How Can You Use Bookshelf Speakers for Atmos?

Speakers for Atmos

As discussed above, one advantage of bookshelf speakers is their compact size. That makes it possible to place them and move them wherever you want. Probably this versatility is why you might be looking at using them for Atmos.

Angle Bookshelf Speakers Upwards

The use of bookshelf speakers in this way replicates the virtual Atmos arrangements referred to above. This involves firing the sound upwards toward the ceiling.

To use bookshelf speakers as upward-firing speakers, you’d place them on top of your front speakers and tilt them up.

Getting the right tilt angle might involve some trial and error. You’ll need to see what angle gives the best result for your setup and your room. The correct angle will depend on things like ceiling height and distance of the listening position from the speakers.

Placing bookshelf speakers on top of your current front speakers isn’t the prettiest solution. But, if it works for you, it saves the cost of replacing your front speakers or buying the special add-on Atmos speakers.

Use Bookshelf Speakers As Ceiling Speakers

To give the real Atmos experience, you’d put your bookshelf speakers in the ceiling.

The ideal position is slightly in front and to the left and right of the listening position, based on Dolby’s recommended layout.

If in-ceiling isn’t an option, you can attach the speakers to the ceiling or high up on a wall.

Angled wall mounts like these Monoprice 106839 Adjustable Speaker Wall Mount Brackets, hold up to 33lb (14.9kg).

Whether in or on the ceiling, you’d want to tilt the speakers to aim them towards the listening position.

You need to bear this angling requirement in mind even if you take the in-ceiling route.

Bookshelf speakers are designed to fire sound forward. That’s why ordinarily, you need to point them at your listening position. So, pointing them straight down from the ceiling would send the sound straight down to the floor.

Instead, angle them down and toward the listening position for best results. There’s an image of this in post 13278 on this link.


So, if you have a spare pair of bookshelf speakers, it’s well worth trying them out in an Atmos setup.

Using them as ceiling speakers is the better option, whether you insert them in or attach them to the ceiling. It’s the obvious way to add the height element of Atmos.

You might need to spend some time and play around with the correct angle. But that’s a modest price to pay if it means you get to make use of speakers that you already have.

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