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How to Add Virtual Surround Sound to Any Headphones [Xbox, PS4, PC]

Boy wearing headphones while gaming (From: Unsplash)
Boy wearing headphones while gaming (From: Unsplash)

Want to try virtual surround sound on your headphones for a better audio experience? Here’s how to do it on Xbox, PS4, Mac, or Windows PC!

If you’ve ever wondered how some enemy players easily sneak up on you on Call of Duty or Valorant, there’s a very simple answer to that — virtual surround sound headphones.

Most professional gamers use this in gaming tournaments. With these, you can easily pinpoint where certain sounds come from. Finding enemy footsteps will never be easier!

But surround sound headphones do not come cheap. And not everyone has enough cash to spare just for a new pair of headphones. Luckily, you don’t have to spend anything to experience this treat!

You can actually add virtual surround sound to any headphones on different platforms. How? Well, we’ve got the tips right here in this article. So read on!

PC gamer using headphones

Surround Sound – What It Is and How It Works

Surround sound is an audio configuration that enhances the depth and quality of audio. By using multiple channels, it mimics a lifelike sound field. This creates an immersive auditory experience.

This exploits a person’s ability to locate where a certain sound ‘originates’. Whether it’s above, below, far left, or right beside them, surround sound lets users identify where the sound is coming from.

Surround sound was first used in the 1940 Disney animated film Fantasia.

Surround Sound vs. Stereo Sound

You might be wondering how much it differs from typical stereo sound. Well, for one, stereo almost always only produces left or right sound options. While surround makes it feel like you’re actually on the scene with its three-dimensional sound imaging.

Surround sound systems also always come with subwoofers. And stereo sound systems usually don’t.

Subwoofers are responsible for producing very-low-frequency tones. The sounds they produce are usually so low that our ears can’t even hear them. But because it produces strong vibrations, it appeals to the listener’s overall audio experience.

If you’re having a hard time imagining how surround sound works, wear your headphones and listen to this virtual barbershop video. Notice how you can identify where the ‘razor’ is currently “shaving your head”. This kind of sound immersion is what surround sound aims to achieve.

Types of Surround Sound in Headphones

There are two types of surround sound for headphones: Virtual, and True Surround Sound. Let’s quickly dive on both.

True Surround Sound

ASUS ROG Centurion true 7.1 surround gaming headset (From: Amazon)
ASUS ROG Centurion true 7.1 surround gaming headset (From: Amazon)

True surround sound is an audio system that uses tiny speakers to produce lifelike sound imaging. Older models previously had four channels but newer versions now have either six or eight (5.1 or 7.1).

Virtual Surround Sound

ASTRO Gaming A40 TR Wired Headset (From: Amazon)
ASTRO Gaming A40 TR Wired Headset (From: Amazon)

Unlike true surround sound, virtual surround sound creates the same effect through artificial means. It only has two physical speakers (one for each ear). But it uses different algorithms to trick your ears into perceiving that the sounds are coming from different directions.

Virtual vs. True Surround Sound

Virtual and true surround sound’s differences don’t end in how they produce 3D sounds. Some of these are:

Cost

The most striking difference between the two is the cost. Of course, different brands will have different prices. But true surround sound headphones are generally pricier than virtual surround sound headphones. This is mainly because the former has multiple speakers (five or more) while the latter only has two.

Build quality

True surround sound headphones have multiple speakers and drivers in their housing. They tend to be bulkier and heavier because of this. To maintain reasonable costs and a more manageable weight, most true surround sound headphones have a more inferior external build.

Sound quality

Indeed, true surround sound headphones offer a more accurate multi-directional surround sound. However, most agree that there’s no significant sound disparity between the two.

Some even go as far as claiming that virtual surround sound headphones provide higher sound quality. Since their drivers are bigger, they are more intense and powerful.

5.1 vs. 7.1

If you’ve looked for surround sound headphones, you’ve most probably come across these two terms.

To explain briefly, 5.1 surround sound headphones have five separate speakers and one subwoofer. 7.1, on the other hand, has seven speakers and one subwoofer. Because 7.1 surround sound headphones have more drivers, it offers a more detailed soundscape.

Originally, these terms are exclusive for true surround sound headphones. But because of recent advancements, you can also see these terms used on virtual surround

Since we can’t really add tiny speakers on headphones to make use of the true surround sound technology (unless you’re an expert), this article will focus more on virtual surround sound.

How to Add Virtual Surround Sound to Any Headphones on Windows 10

If you’re a Windows 10 user, lucky you! There is a free built-in application for adding surround sound to your headphones. But if you want more customizable features, there are also third-party apps you can install. Let’s discuss each of them.

Windows Sonic

Windows Sonic is a built-in spatial surround sound option in Windows 10. This is a free platform-level solution offered by Microsoft for a more immersive audio experience.

Windows Sonic isn’t enabled by default. But you can enable it by using either your system tray or accessing it through the control panel. Here’s how to do both:

Before taking these steps, make sure that your drivers are updated. Check out Microsoft’s Update Catalog for a list of the latest updatable drivers.

Using the system tray

  1. Click on your system tray and right-click on the sound icon. Your system tray is located at the lower right portion of your PC’s screen.

    Right-click system tray
    Right-click system tray

  2. Click on the spatial sound option and choose Windows Sonic for headphones to enable it.

    Enable Windows Sonic
    Enable Windows Sonic

Using the control panel

  1. Go to your system’s control panel and click on ‘sound.’

    Control panel
    Control panel

  2. On the ‘playback’ tab, double-click on your active headphones.

    Select your headphones
    Select your headphones

  3. Click on the ‘spatial sound’ tab and choose Windows Sonic for headphones on the drop-down menu.

    Choose Windows Sonic
    Choose Windows Sonic for headphones

  4. Click ‘Apply’ then click ‘OK.’

    Save changes
    Save changes

For a video illustration of how it’s done, you can refer to this youtube video.

Dolby Access with Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos uses audio metadata to create a virtual 3D sound environment inside your headphones. It enables the sound to be correctly positioned in your ears to mimic a lifelike auditory experience.

Dolby Atmos vs. Windows Sonic: The main difference between the two is that Windows Sonic is a free integrated PC application while Dolby Atmos is a paid one. Some PC users agree that they work almost at the same level. However, some movies and games are specially modified for Dolby Atmos. Thus, having this application increases the audio experience further.

  1. Download Dolby Access from the Microsoft Store. You need to download it first to access Dolby Atmos.

    Dolby Atmos on Microsoft Store
    Dolby Access on Microsoft Store

  2. Install the app.

    Install Dolby Access
    Install Dolby Access

  3. Launch the app by accessing it through the ‘start’ menu.

    Launch Dolby Access
    Launch Dolby Access

  4. Start your 7-day free trial

    Start trial
    Start your free trial

  5. After this, you will be asked to setup your headphones. Follow the instructions on the screen.

    Setup instructions
    Setup instructions

  6. Once the app and headphones are set up properly, relaunch the Dolby Access app from the start menu and click on ‘settings.’

    Relaunch App
    Relaunch App

  7. You will see a note on the screen saying that your Dolby Atmos needs enabling.

    Note that says Dolby Atmos needs enabling
    Note that says Dolby Atmos needs enabling

  8. To do this, go to ‘sound settings’ using your PC’s search bar.

    Search bar
    Search bar

  9. Click on ‘sound control panel’

    Sound control panel
    Sound control panel

  10. On the ‘playback’ tab, double-click on your active headphones.

    Choose your active headphones
    Choose your active headphones

  11. On the drop-down menu, choose ‘Dolby Atmos for headphones.’ Click ‘Apply’ then click ‘OK.

    Choose Dolby Atmos
    Choose Dolby Atmos for Headphones

DTS Headphone: X

Like Dolby Atmos, DTS Headphone:X leverages Microsoft Spatial sound. It has an advanced virtual sound localization and externalization technology. What’s great about this app is that it works with any headphones.

There is a minimum Windows version requirement for this software to work. It is recommended to have at least Windows 10 version 10.0.18362.380 or later. You can refer to this link to check for the latest Windows updates.

Dolby Digital vs. DTS: Dolby Digital compresses audio metadata to a 10 to 12:1 ratio while DTS compresses it to about a 4:1 ratio. In theory, the less audio compression there is, the clearer and more realistic the sound is. In that aspect, DTS has more potential to produce higher quality sounds than Dolby Digital.

You need to install DTS Sound Unbound to access DTS Headphone: X.

Once you’ve downloaded this free app, you can launch it and download DTS Headphone: X. The app is available for a one-time purchase price of $19.99. It also offers a two-week free trial period if you want to test it out first.

Do not confuse the DTS Headphone:X from the DTS:X decoder. You should buy DTS Headphone:X if you’re going to use it for headphone listening. Luckily, the DTS:X decoder is included when you purchase DTS Headphone:X.

Here’s how to enable it on your PC:

  1. Right-click the speaker icon on your taskbar and click on spatial sound. Choose DTS Sound Unbound and open the application.

    Select DTS Sound Unbound
    Select DTS Sound Unbound

  2. Install the DTS Sound Unbound application on your PC.

    Get the DTS App
    Get the DTS App

  3. Once installed, launch the app on your PC.

    Launch the app
    Launch the app

  4. Accept the license agreement.

    Accept License Agreement
    Accept License Agreement

  5. Click on DTS Headphones: X on the upper right corner of the application.

    Click on the DTS Headphones X
    Click on the DTS Headphones: X

  6. This will prompt you to try or buy the application. Choose which you want and follow the instructions given until it says you’re good to go.

    'Good to go' screen
    ‘Good to go’ screen

  7. Switch to the headphones tab and click ‘Configure’. This allows you to configure your headphone settings to your liking. You can check if your headphones are listed in their registered list for a more personalized sound.

    Configure headphones settings
    Configure headphones settings

If you’ve downloaded DTS Sound Unbound as part of a gaming headphone or a PC purchase, DTS Headphone:X is automatically enabled.

How to Add Virtual Surround Sound to Any Headphones on Mac

Mac doesn’t have any built-in spatial surround sound features unlike Windows 10. But you may install third-party apps to achieve a surround sound audio experience in Mac with your current headphones. One of the most famous of these apps, is the Boom 3D.

Boom 3D is a professional audio enhancement application. It features a volume controller, volume-booster, and customizable equalizer settings. It also has virtual surround sound technology that is compatible with any headphones.

This app also has versions for Windows 10, IOS, and Android phones. For both Mac and Windows, Boom 3D offers a 30-day free trial. The full version costs USD 12. However, it’s free for both iOS and Android, subject to some in-app purchases should you want to avail them.
  1. Open your Boom 3D app.

    Open Boom 3D
    Open Boom 3D

  2. Click on the 3D Surround tab

    Click on the Arrow icon next to 3D surround
    3D surround tab

  3. Adjust the 3D virtual surround sound settings to your liking.

    Adjust 3D settings
    Adjust 3D settings

How to Add Virtual Surround Sound to Any Headphones on Xbox

Xbox is compatible with Windows Sonic, Dolby Atmos, and DTS Headphones:X.

If you plug in a new headset device into your Xbox One, the headset format defaults to Stereo uncompressed. You can switch this to your surround sound software of choice. Here’s how to add virtual surround sound on Xbox:

  1. Press the Xbox button on your controller to open Xbox settings.

    Open Xbox Settings
    Open Xbox Settings

  2. Choose general and navigate to volume and audio output.

    Voice and Audio Output
    Voice and Audio Output

  3. In Headset audio, navigate and select the surround sound software of your choice.

    Select surround sound software
    Select surround sound software

If your headphones already have built-in surround sound, it’s best to turn it off to avoid double processing.

How to Add Virtual Surround Sound to Any Headphones on PS4

Unfortunately, PS4 doesn’t support other brands of headphones with built-in surround sound. PS4 only supports this feature if you’re using Sony headphones.

However, if you really wish to enjoy surround sound on PS4, there’s a way to bypass this. If you’re a non-Sony headphone user, you can buy a headphone amplifier like Astro Mixamp Pro TRPS4 to enjoy a surround sound gaming experience.

This PS4 gaming amplifier allows you to customize your audio settings like mic recording and bass depth. It also features Dolby audio that creates a cinematic and lifelike gaming audio experience.

Although MixAmp Pro TR is compatible with most headphone brands, it works best with this Astro gaming headphones. For a more superior gaming audio experience, you can also buy their gaming set which includes the Astro Gaming A40 TR Wired Headset and MixAmp Pro TR.

How to set up Astro Mixamp on PS4:

Before you begin, make sure that your PS4 and your amplifier are updated to the latest version. You can install Astro Command Center to update your MixAmp Pro TR.
  1. Make sure the switch at the back is in PS4 mode.

    Switch to PS4 (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Switch to PS4 (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  2. Plug one end of the optical cable into the optical output of the MixAmp Pro TR.""</p
  3. Plug the other end of the cable into the PS4’s optical output.""</p
  4. Plug the micro end of the cable into the MixAmp Pro TR""</p
  5. Plug the other end into the PS4 output.
  6. Plug the A40 in-line cable into the 3.5 mm headphone outlet.""</p
  7. Plug the other end into the headphone port located at the front of the MixAmp Pro TR.""</p
  8. Once the amplifier is connected to the PS4, the platform will automatically detect it as a USB device.

    PS4 detects it as USB device (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    PS4 detects it as a USB device (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  9. From PS4’s dashboard, navigate to Settings.

    Navigate to settings (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Navigate to settings (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  10. Select Devices

    Devices (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Devices (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  11. Select Audio Devices

    Audio Devices (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Audio Devices (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  12. Ensure that the input and output device portions are set to “USB Headset (MixAmp Pro TR)” and Output to Headphones is set to “Chat Audio”

    Set Input and Output Settings (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Set Input and Output Settings (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  13. Navigate back to Settings and select “Sound and Screen”

    Sound and Screen (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Sound and Screen (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  14. Select Audio Output Settings

    Audio output settings (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Audio output settings (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

  15. Ensure Primary Output Port is set to Digital Out and Audio Format Priority is set to Bitstream (Dolby).

    Set to Digital Out and Bitstream Dolby (From: astrogaming/Youtube)
    Set to Digital Out and Bitstream Dolby (From: astrogaming/Youtube)

Refer to this youtube video to see how it’s done.

Are Headphones With Built-in Surround Sound Worth Buying?

Since you can easily add virtual surround sound to any headphones, you might be wondering if headphones built-n with this feature are still worthy investments. The short answer is: yes!

Here are some reasons why:

Better immersive experience due to better support

Headphones with built-in surround sound are perfect for those who are looking for a leveled-up gaming audio experience. Headphones like this provide better support. And their built-in specifications make it more compatible with certain audios and games.

Plug-and-play setup

Buying headphones with built-in surround sound is more convenient. This will save you from all the trouble of installing third-party apps and tweaking your device’s settings. All you have to do is to plug it in and play to your heart’s content.

Conclusion

Having an immersive, lifelike gaming experience is no longer out of reach. With virtual surround sound’s superior positional audio system, you can now enjoy playing your favorite games as if you’re inside them.

You can easily detect where your rival’s footsteps are coming from or their estimated distance from you. This will not only give you a competitive edge over your opponents but it will also improve your overall gaming experience.

We hope this guide helped you. If you have any suggestions or if you’ve tried any of these tips, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

1 comment

  1. About article: “How to Add Virtual Surround Sound to Any Headphones [Xbox, PS4, PC]”
    Can i use sound blaster GC7 on ps4 pro and get the same effect as astro mixamp pro (Virtual Surround Sound)?

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