Looking for an immersive surround sound listening experience, but not sure that studio headphones are the answer? We’re here to help you solve the puzzle!
What is Surround Sound?
To understand surround sound, we first need to understand mono and stereo sound. Mono is a single channel form of audio, meaning that the sound being fed to each speaker in your car, headphones, or home stereo is exactly the same.
A stereo sound is a combination of two mono signals, one being sent to the left channel and the other to the right channel. This is how when listening to music, or watching your favorite shows, the audio can sound different from each side!
With surround sound, we can take things a step further!
Surround sound uses four or more separate channels to disperse audio in a 360 degree circle around the listener. Originally this was done by creating four channels, left, right, center and rear, but we have come a long way in the world of immersive audio since the humble beginnings of surround sound!
Today we have 5.1, 7.1, and even more complex systems. These involve dividing the audio into six, eight, or even more channels, then dispersing them to different speakers, physically surrounding the listener with sound from all sides!
Some more advanced systems even include speakers above and below the listener to go beyond adding just width and depth, but also height to the sound!
All of this can give the listener a truly immersive entertainment experience!
Now that we understand more about surround sound, let’s see how this applies to studio headphones.
Studio Headphones and Surround Sound
Let’s consider for a moment how studio headphones are designed. Studio headphones consist of carefully tuned housings containing two small speakers known as “drivers”. These types of headphones, often referred to as “studio reference headphones” or “studio monitor headphones”, are meticulously designed to reproduce any audio played through them extremely accurately.
If you’d like to learn more about studio headphones, check out our article “Are Studio Headphones Good For Listening To Music?”
Commonly used studio headphones such as the Audio Technica ATH-M50x, Sennheiser HD 600, or AKG K702 have drivers that are between 40-45mm in size. These well designed little speakers are capable of reproducing frequencies as low as 12hz, and as high as 39khz or more.
This all sounds pretty complicated, but what it means for us is simple!
Each pair of studio headphones has only two speakers. While these speakers and their housings are carefully designed to give the listener an accurate representation of the stereo sound-stage. Still, this means that it is not possible for them to produce true surround sound.
But don’t give up just yet!
There is software available that will emulate surround sound for us to enjoy through our high end studio headphones!
Looking for new headphones? We’re here to help! Take a look at our Buyer’s Guides!
Virtual Surround Sound for Headphones
With powerful software, we can emulate some of that wonderful width, space, and immersion that comes with those huge surround sound systems in the comfort of our own bedrooms, home studios, or really anywhere you’re bold enough to bring a laptop. All without breaking the bank on expensive stereos and bunches of speakers.
Listeners report varying results with Virtual Surround Sound and Spacial Audio technologies. So, in the end, which of these sound the best is all up to your own personal preference!
Now let’s take a look at the options available for you to try out!
Windows Sonic for Headphones
For the Windows 10 or 11 users out there this is a simple one. It works with any headphones, and it’s free to boot!
Set up is very straightforward:
1. Right click the Speaker icon in the System Tray at the bottom right hand corner of your screen.
2. Next, hover over “Spacial sound”, then select “Windows Sonic for Headphones”.
3. Done! Have a listen.
Don’t use Windows?
Fear not! Apple Music has Spacial Audio options as well!
Apple Products and Spacial Audio
If you’re an Apple user, you can combine AirPods or Beats headphones and Apple Music to listen to Spacial Audio with Dolby Atmos support!
As long as you have AirPods or Beats with an H1 or W1 chip and iOS 16 or newer, you can easily configure personalized spacial audio!
There are a few more steps to go through here, but it is still fairly user friendly:
1. In your Bluetooth settings, select the ⓘ next to your connected AirPods or Beats headphones.
2. Scroll down to “Spatial Audio”, and make sure the toggle is enabled.
3. Directly below “Spatial Audio”, select “See & Hear How It Works”.
4. Ensure that “Spatial Audio” is selected, and not “Stereo Audio”.
5. Select “Turn On for Supported Videos”, this enables spacial audio!.
6. Done! Have a listen to any supported audio through Apple Music!
Now that we have covered the default versions of Spacial Audio, lets delve into some options for Virtual Surround Sound and Spatial Audio software!
Virtual Surround Sound Software Options:
There is a lot of competition is this space, and too many options to list! So we’ve put together the top three most popular options for you!
Sadly, the options for Apple users are limited, if you’re a Mac OS user, Boom 3D is the only option for you here.
Dolby Access allows for Virtual Surround Sound with Dolby Atmos technology to be used on any headphones! There is a free trial, and the $15 price tag is not too steep for those who enjoy it’s sound!
Setup is easy, simply install the app through the Microsoft Store, fire it up, and check out the settings tab.
Razer THX Spatial Audio:
Razer THX will give you a lot of easy to use configuration options for any headphones. Setup is easy and will guide you through everything! Like with Dolby Access there is a free trial, and although this one costs a bit more at $20, the ease of use when customizing your settings makes up for that $5 price bump.
Of the all the Virtual Surround Sound options out there, Razer THX is my personal favorite for both gaming and watching movies.
Boom 3D boasts a myriad of features, for gaming, video, and audio listening. Again, setup is easy here, but not as much so as Razer THX. This one weighs in at the hefty price of $50, and there is a free trial available. It’s hard to say if that difference in price is equal to the different in the quality of the features that Boom 3D provides.
We recommend that you try the trial versions of these products and pick the one that sounds best to you!
Let us know in the comments which one you like best!