Q: I have a Denon 2313CI AVR and a viewing room that has an open floor plan with 10-foot high ceilings. Because of the terrible layout, all speakers (B&W) other than the center channel and subwoofer are mounted in the ceiling. Predictably, the soundfield is poor. Will a new Atmos AVR like the Denon AVR-S920W provide an improvement is the sound since the left, right and side speakers are already in the ceiling? How much of a problem does the lack of speakers at ear level—except for the center—present?

Thanks, Steve (@hallwhite on AVS Forum)

A: It sounds like you have a challenging situation on your hand. The short answer to your question is that an Atmos AVR will not provide any improvement for your existing speaker system, something will have to change. Unless you need the latest HDMI specs (for HDR support) and explicitly want immersive audio capability, your existing AVR is quite capable and includes Audyssey MultEQ XT for room correction—not shabby at all.

Although all in-ceiling 3D immersive audio speaker systems have been tried—check out my review of a GoldenEar rig here—installing one still requires extra speakers for the elevation channels—a 5.1 speaker system could in theory be configured for 3.1.2 Atmos/DTS:X but there's no logical reason to take that approach.

Since the speaker system you currently use is 5.1, in addition to upgrading the AVR, you'd have to install at least two more speakers for any sort of Atmos/DTS:X compatibility, and even then it would likely not offer any improvement in terms of soundstage and imaging.

So long as you are inclined to consider upgrade options, here are two good options:

1. Use controlled-directivity, angled in-ceiling speakers. Merely aiming the tweeter at the listener is not enough; if you want even a hint of an illusion that the sound is not coming from the ceiling, the front left and right in-ceiling speakers need to feature controlled dispersion—some kind of waveguide.

Furthermore, the speakers need to be angled, so that when rotated, they are aimed at the listener. This sort of design was the key to making the GoldenEar in-ceiling Atmos system I reviewed work. I know B&W has a couple of in-ceiling models that are angled, namely the CCM8.5 and CCM8.5D. But most of the company's in-ceiling speakers only feature a pivoting tweeter.

If you don't have angled speakers up front, swapping out what's there already is potentially your easiest path to an improved soundstage.

2. Add floor-standing or stand-mount speakers to the mix. Yes, they take up space and speaker cables are a pain, but achieving much higher fidelity audio is as simple as adding a pair of tower or stand mounted speakers for the front left and right channels.

Were you to add a pair of speakers up front, there's a great chance your in-ceiling speakers can be re-purposed for use in a 5.1.2 Atmos/DTS:X system. Use the front in-ceiling L/R speakers for Atmos and the rear pair for surround. This is by far your best bang-for-the-buck option and does not require rewiring your walls or cutting new holes in the ceiling.

If your domestic situation would allow for adding standalone speakers to handle left, right, and surround duties, than you could have a 5.1.4 system up and running with minimal effort. With this approach, you can use all four in-ceiling speakers in a 5.1.4 3D immersive audio system.

Nothing else is going to improve your system's sound as much as putting the left and right front speakers at ear level, and you don't need to upgrade to an Atmos AVR if you are happy with 5.1. Adding Atmos using the in-ceiling speakers would be a bonus.

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