Is Dolby Atmos Just Surround Sound? (Difference & A Winner)

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When anyone wants to start their home theater journey, either they have the option of going with surround sound or Dolby Atmos. But newbies get confused about what to choose. That’s why I came up with this guide. Is Dolby Atmos just surround sound?

At A Glance: As a basic rule, the Dolby Atmos is the upgraded version of surround sound. The surround sound is on the ground but Atmos adds an additional stage of sound overhead of the audience. Furthermore, in Surround sound, one whole side of the speakers plays one sound but in Atmos each speaker is discrete.

Keep reading to know the difference in detail along with ratings. I am going to compare them head-on with each other. At the end of this guide, you will know what you need. 

But first, define each one briefly, so we can compare them later on.

What is surround sound and why is it called 2D sound?

Surround sound depiction diagram
This is just a depiction. Read my guide about surround sound speakers setup layout

The surround sound is in which you arrange 5.1,7.1, or more speakers on the ground.

The first thing that sounds outdated in this format is that they all are on the ground and the second thing is the whole team of speakers at one side playing one sound.

Let me explain the first point briefly. The speakers are scattered around the audience on the ground. The sound just hits the ears from all sides like a ring and doesn’t have overhead effects. Here the sound is 2D and you can enjoy medieval battles with this format because at that time there were no helicopters, rockets, or bullets. But yeah you will miss the real effect of those soldiers that are shooting arrows from the top of the castle along with their voices.

Let me explain the second point briefly. When a helicopter or arrow shoots on the screen, it is supposed to move from the center of the screen to the back of the characters in the movie. The sound of the arrow will be played by all of the speakers at the side where the arrow is flying in the movie. The sound effect which is produced as a result of these speakers will be mediocre and you won’t feel like the arrow is crossing many areas of the room during its flight.

Keep reading to know the transition of this arrow in the Dolby Atmos.

What is Dolby Atmos and why is it called 3D sound?

Dolby Atmos depiction diagram
This is just a depiction of Dolby Atmos. Read my guide to know how many speakers you need for Atmos.

The Dolby Atmos is a setup of speakers both on the ground and in the ceiling. This speaker format is identified as 5.1.4, 7.1.4, or more. The last digit represents the speakers which will be used for the Atmos speakers.

The first thing that sounds like an upgrade is that you have overhead speakers for the overhead effects and the second is that each speaker in the setup can play sounds separately from the rest of the team which represents the action on the screen more accurately. 

Let me explain the first point briefly. The overhead speakers are crucial for the overhead effects. It can give a real-life touch to the flying of a dragon, flying off an arrow, or a helicopter. You can feel the arrow flying over your head.

Let me explain the second point briefly. When the arrow flies from left to right. Not every speaker plays the sound of its flight but each one plays separately. By this, the first speaker on the left side speakers plays the sound of an arrow first, then the second, and then the last speaker at your back. In this way, you feel like the arrow is moving at your home theater. You can tell when you close your eyes that the arrow is now at the front of the room, now it is in the middle of the room and at your left side, and now it is at the back.

The Dolby Atmos can replicate the coordinates of the arrow impact area in your room. Because the Dolby Atmos is a complete sound bubble around you. That’s why it is the short form of Atmosphere because it can create the Atmosphere of movies in your room in the form of audio.

Keep reading to know which is better and which deserves more ratings.

Final Verdict. Surround Sound Vs Dolby Atmos: Which is Better?

Sound LayoutRatings
Surround Sound7/10
Dolby Atmos10/10
This rating is based on my personal experience

The Dolby Atmos is better because in this layout you still have the traditional 2D surround sound on the ground and an additional layout of sound overhead that makes it a 3D sound field. The 3D nature of audio is very important because it can pair up with 3D video perfectly.

Also, we are transitioning to 3D video content whether it is a movie, TV show, or gaming that’s why Atmos is the future or any other 3D audio stage like DTS: X. Know about the difference between all object-based audios. I have compared every one of them.

Did you get something out of this Dolby Atmos guide? Hold On We Have Something Exciting To Share.

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Can I use surround speakers for Dolby Atmos?

You can use any speaker for Dolby Atmos as long as it is a 2-way speaker. You just have to place this speaker upright on another speaker cabinet or install it in the ceiling above.

The reason I say to use a 2-way speaker is that the 2-way speaker is ideal. It can cover more frequencies that will satisfy the need of Dolby Atmos.

Does Dolby Atmos work with just a soundbar?

There are soundbars that provide Dolby Atmos but that is not a real Dolby Atmos it is a virtual Atmos. It is just a simulation of Atmos. This simulation can never come close to the real Atmos.

But there are soundbars that provide separate speakers for surround sound or Dolby Atmos but they cost a lot. Why not buy a speaker set that can provide a better experience cheaply?

Does Dolby Atmos work with any audio?

There is an AV receiver that can use your ceiling speakers for any audio but that can come close to real Atmos encoding done by Dolby Lab. The receiver will play every kind of sound through the ceiling speakers while encoded Atmos signals will use ceiling speakers just for overhead effects.

Dolby Lab encodes every movie in a way that the receiver knows to send which signal to which speaker. It won’t play voices below the character by the ceiling speakers.

Helpful Resources For The FAQs To Read More

  1. This was my opinion, Know more from this Dolby Atmos speakers’ setup guide. (Resource for the first answer)
  2. Know more from this youtube video. (Below Video Resource for the second answer)

Watch To Learn More

The video is great but doesn’t fall for their Atmos in the soundbar statement. LOL! you might already know that from my this guide. Read this video statement in written form from Dolby Lab’s post.
This article was first posted on
Ayaan Khan
Ayaan Khan

I'm Ayaan khan, a freelancer and a Computer Science degree holder from P.E.S. College. After my degree, I started an internship with my father in his home theater showroom. After working for a month I realized that this is the best job in the world for me and it could be turned into a passion. Fast forward to when my internship ended, I joined my father as a full-time home theater equipment tester. I test new equipment and approve it before it can be installed in the customer's house. I love to test equipment and sometimes love to install it by myself in the customer's theater room. I have the right experience and knowledge to learn from my articles. In my Free time I write & answer questions here on AVSFORUM. Every Article on Homelytainment is curated according to Homelytainment's Editorial Policy and Sponsorship Policy. If you have any questions for me. Reach out to my email (Support(AT)

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