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Find out everything you need to know about virtual surround sound.
Virtual surround sound technology has made immersive audio more accessible to users.
However, many people associate surround sound with multiple speakers, which can also cause confusion between true and virtual surround sound.
Fortunately, once you grasp how each works, distinguishing between true and virtual surround sound becomes simple. Read on to learn more about virtual surround sound and its differences with other sound systems.
What Is Virtual Surround Sound and How Does It Work?
Virtual surround sound uses software and algorithms to mimic the effect of a multi-speaker setup wherein sound comes from different directions.
On the other hand, true surround sound employs multiple channels and speakers to create a 3D sound field. This typically includes subwoofers, which produce very-low-frequency tones, often inaudible but felt as vibrations, enhancing the overall audio experience. This differs from stereo sound which uses only left and right channels.
Virtual vs. True Surround Sound in Headphones
Besides their operating mechanisms, true and virtual surround sound also differ in other aspects.
Here are the key differences between the two:
- Cost: Virtual surround sound headphones are typically less expensive than true surround sound headphones. This is because the former only has two speakers, whereas the latter uses multiple speakers to create a surround sound experience.
- Build quality: True surround sound headphones are bulkier and heavier than virtual surround sound headphones due to the extra speakers in the ear cups. As a result, some manufacturers might use cheaper or lighter materials for other parts, compromising their build quality.
- Sound quality: Despite using multiple speakers to deliver accurate multi-directional sound, true surround sound headphones don’t seem to differ much from virtual surround sound ones in terms of quality. Some users even argue that virtual headphones offer better sound quality.
- 5.1 vs. 7.1: The most obvious difference between these two is the number of speakers used to mimic three-dimensional sound. The former has five speakers and a subwoofer, while 7.1 features seven speakers and a subwoofer. The added drivers in 7.1 headphones provide a more detailed soundscape.
Can You Add Virtual Surround Sound to Any Headphones?
Yes, you can enable virtual surround sound on any headphones by connecting them to your PC and using specialized software. Here are some surround sound programs to check out:
- Dolby Access with Dolby Atmos: Dolby Atmos creates a 3D audio experience using object-based audio. This positions each sound within a 3D space, giving the impression that they come from different sources. To use Dolby Atmos with your headphones, you’ll need the Dolby Access app, which costs US$14.99 after the seven-day free trial.
- DTS Headphone: X: This app uses Microsoft Spatial sound for precise virtual sound localization. It also uses object-based audio for surround sound. However, DTS compresses audio metadata at a lower rate than Dolby Atmos, theoretically yielding clearer, more lifelike sound and possibly superior sound quality.
- Windows Sonic: Windows Sonic, a free spatial surround sound feature in Windows 10, provides an immersive audio experience. It’s not enabled by default, but you can activate it via the system tray or control panel.
- THX Spatial Audio: This app offers 7.1 surround sound and customizable gaming profiles to enhance your gameplay. It also provides fine-tuned control over speaker position, volume, and distance. While linked to Razer, THX Spatial Audio works with any headphone brand. You can purchase it directly at the Razer website for US$19.99.
- Boom 3D: This popular app boosts audio and offers volume control, a customizable equalizer, and virtual surround sound for any headphones. It’s compatible with Windows 10 and 11, iOS, and Android. While free on iOS and Android, it has optional in-app purchases. A 30-day free trial is also available for Mac and Windows; whereas the full version costs US$12.
FAQs About Virtual Surround Sound
- Can you add virtual surround sound to any headphones on Xbox?
- Can you add virtual surround sound to any headphones on PS4/5?
- Are headphones with built-in surround sound worth buying?
- Should I use wired or wireless headphones with surround sound?
Can you add virtual surround sound to any headphones on Xbox?
Yes, you can. Simply connect your headset to your Xbox One and switch the sound setting from Stereo uncompressed to your preferred surround sound software. Xbox supports Windows Sonic, Dolby Atmos, and DTS Headphones:X.
Can you add virtual surround sound to any headphones on PS4/5?
Yes, but it requires extra steps. PS4/5 natively supports surround sound only for Sony headphones. For other brands, you’ll need an amplifier like the Astro Mixamp Pro TRPS4, which allows audio customization and features Dolby Audio.
Though the MixAmp Pro TR works well with most headphones, it’s optimized for Astro gaming headphones. You can purchase both as a set on Amazon.
Are headphones with built-in surround sound worth buying?
Yes, built-in surround sound headphones offer distinct advantages:
- Better gaming experience: Surround sound headphones offer better support and are more compatible with specific audio and games due to their tailored specifications. The Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen 2 and Razer BlackShark V2 Pro headphones are great examples of gaming headphones featuring 7.1 surround sound.
- Easy setup: Headphones with built-in surround sound eliminate the hassle of third-party apps or settings adjustments. Simply plug in and play to your heart’s content.
Should I use wired or wireless headphones with surround sound?
Both wired and wireless headphones will work with surround sound. The type of headphones won’t affect your audio, because the surround sound experience is created by the software you’re using. The choice is simply a matter of personal preference.
If you use your headphones for extended periods and don’t want to worry about battery life, opt for wired headphones. But, if you value portability and freedom of movement, wireless headphones are a better option.