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Teach me about surround sound headphones

post #1 of 11
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Hey everyone. I just got my Xonar Essence and am absolutely blown away by the sound quality these things throw out. Right now I've got my 2 channel headphones hooked up (Pioneer HDJ-2000) and am just fiddling around with various trance tracks and really feeling the music. It sounds amazing.

Right, so I jumped into World of Tanks a bit ago and was messing around with the Xonar Audio Center. I configured it to be set up as 8 channel audio, Dolby Headphones, 7.1 virtual speaker shifter. It created a virtual 7.1 system, I believe, where I could move the speakers around and hear a difference. Everything sounded like there was much more air in the space and it sounded like I was sitting in between my current 5.1 system. The thing is, I don't know how this is simulated or anything. I basically know nothing about positional audio.

Once again, the settings I set in the XAC for gaming are:

Audio Channel: 8 channel
Sample rate: PCM 192 KHz
Analog Out: Headphone
SPDIF Out: [ ] PCM
[X] 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter
[X] Dolby Headphone

I am interested in perhaps purchasing a surround set of headphones to game with, if they are a good buy. If not, I'll steer clear.

So, my questions are the following:

1) Did I set up my Xonar Audio Center the proper way to experience virtual 7.1? If I didn't, how do you set up yours to experience 7.1 in stereo headphones?

2) How do two speakers simulate surround sound?

3) How do surround sound headphones work?

4) Are any surround sound headphones any good? If so, which ones and why?

5) Should I leave the PCM setting off when using headphones, as that only affects SPDIF? (As far as I know, audio coming from the computer is digital PCM already.)


Thanks for any answers you give me! As I said, if there is a good surround sound set of cans to get, I'd love to experience them. It'd also be nice to have the microphone on the cans. Thanks again!
     
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post #2 of 11

I can't really tell you how it works either, but i do know that if you break it down to the simpler form. How does your body tell which direction a sound is coming from? We only have two points of reference, the body is able to tell. So I know if you record it right, you can get perfect surround sound with headphones.
here is a great example of this.

This was recorded with two microphones placed at ears to simulate what the ear would hear. Amazing how it works.
post #3 of 11
double post.

Close your eyes for the video.
post #4 of 11
You'll have better positioning turning off the virtual surround and just selecting headphones.
I also own a pair of turtle beach HPA2 headphones, they have multiple drivers for a surround sound effect, and while they work relatively well for movies with surround audio in games not so much.

With headphones I have found stereo is the best option.

Edit: I don't know why people think that hair cut video is so amazing. You make it sound gradually louder in one ear and softer in the other, wow, it sounds like the scissors are moving.
Edited by Mygaffer - 12/26/10 at 1:28am
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post #5 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by thrasherht View Post
I can't really tell you how it works either, but i do know that if you break it down to the simpler form. How does your body tell which direction a sound is coming from? We only have two points of reference, the body is able to tell. So I know if you record it right, you can get perfect surround sound with headphones.
here is a great example of this.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA
This was recorded with two microphones placed at ears to simulate what the ear would hear. Amazing how it works.
I cannot facepalm enough

binaural =/= surround sound
    
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post #6 of 11
I want to clear for you the concepts of "surrond" vs non-surround headphones. The normal headphones have two channels, right and left, and this is why they're called formally stereo headphones. Because recently there has been an explosion in 5.1 speaker hardware, some headphone manufacturers started offering the so called 5.1 headphones. Those are headphones that work effectively like 5.1 speakers. That is, they have five or more drivers, and those drivers are positioned so that they can simulate a typical 5.1 speaker setup. Note that using 5.1 hardware only makes sense when your sources can generate 5.1 sound (usually DVD movies and some games). The 5.1 headphones are marketed to gamers and they're usually ridiculously expensive.

Now, the Dolby Headphone technology is meant to _emulate_ surround sound on stereo headphones. The Dolby Headphone technology is meant to take some kind of multichannel surround input. It works very well for movies. There is also a way to make normal stereo recordings into surround sound with some kind of upmixer technology. Then that multi-channel sound can be filtered with Dolby Headphone-type filter to produce surround sound on stereo headphones. This technology can be a good thing for movies and music. The stereo recording standard was not meant to be optimal for headphones. It was meant to be optimal for a setup with two speakers placed at the corners of an equilateral triangle with you sitting at one of the corners. So most stereo recordings are meant to produce a good sound stage in this setup, and once you put on stereo headphones (with no Dolby or other DSP) they usually destroy the original sound stage.. for this reason, Dolby Headphone is a good technology IMHO. However, it doesn't work well for all recordings. I just went through about 50 CDs I own and I realized that Dolby Headphone makes an improvement in about half of them. The rest must have been recorded in such way that Dolby Headphone is not necessary (or even not recommended). Ultimately, it depends on your headphones and your tastes. If you feel like the sound stage, specially human voices are all "in your head", then it's a good idea to apply Dolby Headphone or other surround filter to your music, but otherwise no. This stuff can be done entirely in software. I use foobar2000 with two plugins, Dolby Headphone and Channel Mixer to filter music I export to portables. There is also a plugin called Andrew Labs that works with foobar2000 and winamp. I prefer Andrew Labs for listening music on PC, but it seems to crash when I use it as a filter when encoding lossless CD data into MP3.

Things are slightly different for games. Most new games use OpenAL API for sound. It's up to your OpenAL library to decide how to render that sound. The standard openal library that's available to most for free is not complete with respect to surround sound. That is, in the games, you can't tell the difference between sounds coming from front or back if you use stereo headphones. This is because the free versions of OpenAL do not implement HRTFs, those are filters that fool your ears into hearing things from front or back. However, the OpenAL that's implemented on modern ASUS and Creative sound cards in hardware does have HRTF support. Some games don't use any APIs and implement their own HRTFs.

One thing that you should realize by now, is that almost certainly you don't need any "surround" headphones! Entirely software based technologies like CMSS-3D and Dolby Headphone can deliver excellent surround sound through stereo headphones. In fact most people would argue that 5.1 headphones are a gimmick. You can buy excellent audiophile grade stereo headphones for the price of a typical 5.1 headset. Certainly, some stereo headphones are better at producing a wide sound stage than others. You should browse the archives of this discussion board. Some of the recommended headphones for this kind of thing are Sennheiser HD555 and HD595, their successors HD558 and HD598, and also some Audio Technia headphones.
Edited by ZAKOH - 12/26/10 at 1:35am
post #7 of 11
It has to do with simulating the way the human ear filters sound coming from particular directions... In my experience, "surround sound" headphones are not worth the money. I bought a pair of Turtle Beach surround sound headphones for my dad a while back, and they're bulky, and require a USB connection (to power the amp, I assume) as well as audio connections. Not versatile enough for me, and they don't really perform all that great.
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post #8 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by ZAKOH View Post
I want to clear for you the concepts of "surrond" vs non-surround headphones. The normal headphones have two channels, right and left, and this is why they're called formally stereo headphones. Because recently there has been an explosion in 5.1 speaker hardware, some headphone manufacturers started offering the so called 5.1 headphones. Those are headphones that work effectively like 5.1 speakers. That is, they have five or more drivers, and those drivers are positioned so that they can simulate a typical 5.1 speaker setup. Note that using 5.1 hardware only makes sense when your sources can generate 5.1 sound (usually DVD movies and some games). The 5.1 headphones are marketed to gamers and they're usually ridiculously expensive.

Now, the Dolby Headphone technology is meant to _emulate_ surround sound on stereo headphones. The Dolby Headphone technology is meant to take some kind of multichannel surround input. It works very well for movies. There is also a way to make normal stereo recordings into surround sound with some kind of upmixer technology. Then that multi-channel sound can be filtered with Dolby Headphone-type filter to produce surround sound on stereo headphones. This technology can be a good thing for movies and music. The stereo recording standard was not meant to be optimal for headphones. It was meant to be optimal for a setup with two speakers placed at the corners of an equilateral triangle with you sitting at one of the corners. So most stereo recordings are meant to produce a good sound stage in this setup, and once you put on stereo headphones (with no Dolby or other DSP) they usually destroy the original sound stage.. for this reason, Dolby Headphone is a good technology IMHO. However, it doesn't work well for all recordings. I just went through about 50 CDs I own and I realized that Dolby Headphone makes an improvement in about half of them. The rest must have been recorded in such way that Dolby Headphone is not necessary (or even not recommended). Ultimately, it depends on your headphones and your tastes. If you feel like the sound stage, specially human voices are all "in your head", then it's a good idea to apply Dolby Headphone or other surround filter to your music, but otherwise no. This stuff can be done entirely in software. I use foobar2000 with two plugins, Dolby Headphone and Channel Mixer to filter music I export to portables. There is also a plugin called Andrew Labs that works with foobar2000 and winamp. I prefer Andrew Labs for listening music on PC, but it seems to crash when I use it as a filter when encoding lossless CD data into MP3.

Things are slightly different for games. Most new games use OpenAL API for sound. It's up to your OpenAL library to decide how to render that sound. The standard openal library that's available to most for free is not complete with respect to surround sound. That is, in the games, you can't tell the difference between sounds coming from front or back if you use stereo headphones. This is because the free versions of OpenAL do not implement HRTFs, those are filters that fool your ears into hearing things from front or back. However, the OpenAL that's implemented on modern ASUS and Creative sound cards in hardware does have HRTF support. Some games don't use any APIs and implement their own HRTFs.

One thing that you should realize by now, is that almost certainly you don't need any "surround" headphones! Entirely software based technologies like CMSS-3D and Dolby Headphone can deliver excellent surround sound through stereo headphones. In fact most people would argue that 5.1 headphones are a gimmick. You can buy excellent audiophile grade stereo headphones for the price of a typical 5.1 headset. Certainly, some stereo headphones are better at producing a wide sound stage than others. You should browse the archives of this discussion board. Some of the recommended headphones for this kind of thing are Sennheiser HD555 and HD595, their successors HD558 and HD598, and also some Audio Technia headphones.
i couldn't agree with this more... i had a pair of logitech g35s for about a year and they were not all that good of surround sound, don't get me wrong they were fantastic but not what you would expect from a 130 dollar pair headset with supposed 7.1 channel surround sound... after the year past the started to wear and what not so i bought a new pair the sennheisers hd 595 and for that little bit more... the quality would of tripled and the surround sound wasn't all that much of different... so i say invest in some audiophile headphones or headsets and you will not regret it, more so with music then games.
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post #9 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Mad Mule View Post
I cannot facepalm enough

binaural =/= surround sound
Ummmm............. Surround sound is designed to give you positional audio. So binaural does not equal surround, but the both are ment to give the same effect.

Why don't you go post in a forum where somebody cares about what you think.
post #10 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by thrasherht View Post
Ummmm............. Surround sound is designed to give you positional audio. So binaural does not equal surround, but the both are ment to give the same effect.

Why don't you go post in a forum where somebody cares about what you think.
Actually, he is correct. We are talking about surround sound and binaural recording is a completely different animal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binaural_recording The discussion here is about software/hardware for computer audio, not methods of recording sounds so they sound correct. Binaural works only for real life sounds being reproduced for later listening, not sounds generated and simulated in real time such as in video games. While music and movies can be recorded with binaural methods, that has nothing to do with the OPs question of surround sound headphones and/or sound cards that are used by the end user.
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