How to set up Dolby Atmos on headphones: 3D sound on any device

Surround sound has long been the standard for movies, and more recently, 3D sound has been increasingly used in games. The 3D soundscape allows the player to experience atmospheric games with beautiful sound design in a different way and gain real advantages in competitive titles. It becomes possible to hear the direction of footsteps of the sneaking enemy, to feel where the shots are coming from, and with the proper skill, even to hit the enemy through the wall. How to get these benefits – we will tell in the article.

Devices with 3D sound function

There are several ways to achieve surround sound with headphones. The most difficult, but also the highest quality solution is multichannel headphones. Unlike conventional ones with two speakers, they have 4-5 small loudspeakers on each side. But they also cost much more. In addition, the bulky design increases the weight, making them difficult to wear for a long time. But the surround sound is very real, like in a home theater. But the music in them sounds specific, they are more suitable for watching movies and games. Music albums with multichannel sound are rare, although Amazon Music has several releases mixed specifically for Atmos technology, and Sony is developing the 360 Reality Audio format .

Wired headset Asus ROG Theta 7.1 black 21 599 *
Headphones with built-in 3D sound emulation have become very popular in recent years. Structurally, they are familiar to everyone with two speakers on the sides. They either have a built-in hardware module that turns sound into surround with one click of a button, or the corresponding function can be configured in the drivers for the device. In addition, these headphones weigh less than models with a real 7.1 – it is more comfortable to kill monsters in them for hours on end.

HyperX Cloud Revolver S HX-HSCRS-GM Headphones Black
Some sound cards come with surround sound simulation utilities. For example, Creative cards come with the Sound BlasterAxx application with SBX Pro Studio Surround, which does the magic, no additional software is required. Some Asus cards come with the Sonic Studio utility , which also has a similar feature.

Internal card with external block ASUS STRIX RAID DLX 15 899 *
Sony has also developed its 3D virtual audio technology for the next generation of consoles and called it the Tempest Engine . She did this on the basis of developments in the 360 ​​Reality Audio format for music with surround sound. The developers assure that the effect is so strong that you can separately hear the sound of each raindrop in the game environment.

However, all of these solutions require buying real devices or swapping out your favorite headphones for a gaming headset. At the same time, there are ways to reproduce such an effect programmatically with a few mouse clicks.

Windows Sonic for Headphones
Windows 10 users can get by with the built-in capabilities of the operating system. Back in 2017, Microsoft introduced the Spatial Sound feature, which allows various programs to communicate directly with the OS audio stream and add a volumetric effect to headphones. To enable it, you need to open the sound options, select the “Device properties” of the output and in the “Spatial sound” section switch to Windows Sonic for Headphones.
















The advantages of this feature:

Works with any games and headphones. Even if the game itself gives the system not multichannel, but stereo sound, Windows Sonic will turn it into surround sound.
If the game has a multi-channel sound function, then Windows Sonic will work more natural and invisible to the ear.
Free and requires no installation, works also with Xbox One X.
But there are also disadvantages:

In good headphones, the effect becomes too noticeable and strongly colors the original sound, although this is a matter of taste.
The effect of volume itself is not as pronounced as in more advanced solutions – it is more difficult to determine the direction of the sound source, especially if it should
be from below or from above.
Dolby Atmos for Headphones
The second most popular program for such tricks is Dolby Atmos for Headphones. It comes pre-installed on many smartphones and tablets and also comes as a standalone Dolby Access app that can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store. The developer gives a free week for the test, the program itself costs 15 dollars.

Once installed, Dolby Atmos will appear in the Spatial Sound section of the audio device properties.

Dolby Atmos for Headphones sounds noticeably different from the default Windows application. The treatment itself cuts the ear less, while the volume effect is more pronounced. The soundscape is radically different from conventional stereo, this is especially noticeable in direct comparison:

Sounds from above, below and diagonally appear.
Sounds are more organically blended into the environment, making the game world more authentic.
In races, you can hear the opponent behind his back or from the side when overtaking, in shooters – the direction of the opponent’s shooting.
Not only the sounds of shooting, footsteps and the background environment change – the dialogues of the heroes begin to sound differently, and the main character sounds as if the player himself is speaking.
Stereo music sounds familiar. And this will be a plus for those who do not like listening to albums with a touch of processing from such effects – you do not have to turn it off every time in the sound parameters after exiting the game.

Atmos also lets you watch movies with headphones and listen to music with multi-channel audio. The interface has corresponding presets and settings, as well as several user presets.

There is a ten-band equalizer and loudness normalizer to equalize the differences in sound in movies. The developer also assures that the application enhances the effect of volume in traditional 5.1 and 7.1 audio systems.

Which games support Dolby Atmos
The main disadvantage of Dolby Atmos is that the technology only works with games that support it. If the game is able to share only stereo sound with the system, then the magic will not work. The full list can be found on the developer’s website .

It is worth noting that some games already have built-in spatial audio processing. For example, in Overwatch, the Dolby Atmos for Headphones feature can be turned on in the sound settings – you don’t need to download or install anything. And Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has its own 3D audio engine, and you can turn it off to use external software. So it’s always worth checking your game settings first – sometimes they may be enough for the desired result.

Some studios also collaborate with various manufacturers of headphones or sound cards. For example, Battlefield 1 has sound profiles for Logitech headsets with surround sound support.

Which headphones are best for Dolby Atmos?
Technically Dolby Atmos and similar systems work with any headphone. But over-ear headphones with large speakers work best . They allow you to create a wider soundstage and enhance the effect of volume, allowing technology to unleash its potential. On the net you can find various selections of the best headphones for the most pronounced effect, but they all boil down to one thing: the better the headphones are – the smoother the frequency response, the higher the detail and dynamics – the better.

Wired headphones Beyerdynamic DT 990 (600 Ohm) gray 16 999 *
Users of real 7.1 headphones with multiple speakers in each ear will get an even more pronounced volume effect and can more accurately determine the direction of sounds.

DTS Headphone: X
Another virtual 3D sound technology from DTS, which, like Dolby Digital, specializes in multichannel sound for cinema. In the DVD era, films were often accompanied by soundtracks from both companies.

DTS Headphone: X is a feature of DTS Sound Unbound, which can be downloaded from the Windows App Store and tested for free for 20 days, and costs $ 20.

Technically, it also supports any headphone, plus it contains a base of 500 models with pre-optimized settings. Also available for Xbox One X and S. For a list of supported games, see the developer’s website .

How does it even work
Sound arrives in the left and right ear with a slight time difference. From childhood, the human brain learns to tell the difference between how different ears hear the same sound. In addition, sound waves are reflected from the body, head and refracted in a special way due to the shape of the auricles.

The latter is especially important – the ornate shape of the auricles causes the sound to be reflected and absorbed many times before reaching the eardrum. The complex shape of the shell distorts signals coming from different directions in different ways. It is no coincidence that many mammals with good hearing have ears of such a strange shape – this helps to more accurately determine the direction of the sound source.

The brown long-eared bat hides its ears under its wings when it sleeps

It is enough to put a dummy with microphones in the ears (such as are used to create binaural audio ) and an ordinary microphone nearby to compare how the body, head and shape of a person’s ears distort the sound. The set of these distortions is called the Head-related transfer function ( HRTF ) and can be represented in the form of formulas and equations. These data make it possible to fairly accurately simulate the changes in the sound wave on the way to the eardrum.

Surround sound in headphones allows you to watch movies and play games with a multichannel track at any time of the day without disturbing neighbors with the rumble of a subwoofer. It becomes possible to communicate with other players over the network using a familiar headset. And VR games and 3D sound are made for each other – working together, they provide an unprecedented immersion in the gaming world. Esports players get a real advantage due to the ability to accurately determine the direction of the opponent’s shooting, and for ordinary players this is an easy and inexpensive way to get a whole home theater in their favorite headphones, allowing you to experience the gaming world in a new way.