Windows Sonic for Headphones: better on or off?

biggles

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I just noticed this option in Windows 10. By right clicking on the sound icon in the lower right corner of the screen the following options are displayed from the 3rd menu item down:
Off
Windows Sonic for Headphones
Dolby Access
DTS Sound Unbound

The last 2 options seem to be only available after purchasing in the Windows store.

Questions:
1. Are the options for Windows Sonic, Dolby Access, and DTS just versions of simulated surround for headphones?
2. Windows Sonic being free, I assume it is not as high quality audio vs Dolby Access and DTS, correct?
3. Are the Windows Sonic and other sound enhancements mainly for video games, music, movies, or all of the above? Do people here find the enhancements increase or decrease the audio quality?

By the way, I discovered these because plugging in a USB-C headset did not allow the mic to work without turning on Windows Sonic first. So, if you are having trouble with the mic on a USB-C headset in Windows 10, try that!
 

MaZa

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Only if the game allows you to change the speaker setting from stereo to surround/5.1 or higher. Or if you watch movies you can use the mixer inside video players to force output to 5.1 or 7.1. In those situations Windows Sonic (and Dolby Atmos) can convert that signal meant for multiple speakers to surround sound with headphones with accurate(ish) ques for sounds coming from behind you. Simulated binaural audio.

Unfortunately great majority games rely on the Windows speaker settings when determining what kind of audio they should output and Microsoft in their infinite stupidity force you to use stereo speakers setting when you turn on Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos for Headphones.

If the game is outputting stereo then Windows Sonic does absolutely nothing but ruin the sound quality. Dolby Atmos is slightly more useful as more and more games come with built in Atmos support. For those Dolby Atmos for Headphones can do its magic without caring for the windows speaker setting.
 

OFaceSIG

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I too am curious as to how good Windows Sonic is. The Razer Surround seems to work fairly well. But as others have said, if anything pins the game to stereo, it's game over.
 

criccio

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All this worry over a simple tick box...oh the effort.
I have to agree. Between turning it on myself and playing with it, then just Googling it, found everything I needed to know and realized it was pretty garbage. Just give me true Stereo.
 

RPGWiZaRD

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For games I compared DTS Headphone:X vs Windows Sonic vs Dolby Atmos and for me Dolby Atmos sounds pretty shit, the soundstaging gets very narrow sounding so that one was clear last place to me but between DTS: Headphone:X using the "general" sound profile in my case (couldn't find a setting for my headphones and tried a few other headphone optimized sound profiles but they all sounded off with my headphones) vs Windows sonic it was pretty close and I'd say possibly a tie even.

Versus just using "stereo" speaker config I think Windows Sonic and DTS offers greatly increased positioning with very little sacrifice to audio quality. However I still slightly prefer just sticking to "5.1 speakers" in Windows and nothing else (enhancements I feel must be enabled as an important thing to point out as many people disable it for "audio purity" reasons but I think that also negates the HRTF when using it with stereo/headphone setup so it will sound similar to using stereo speaker setting and you don't get the same accurate positional sound but with 5.1 speakers you get no hit to audio quality whatsoever though, only slight improvement I'd say for increased sound staging and positioning to sounds. But I'm pretty critical about sound quality myself but if I knew no better and would have stuck to using "stereo" speaker config over my headphones (pretty logical) instead of 5.1 speakers for better positional cues I would probably find those attractive to use though for gaming.
 

michalrz

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I don't use anything for headphones. Well, I do have the Realtek/Aorus equalizer set to slightly lower 20-200 hz due to Gigabyte forcing too high of a bass level (distortion city).
I also like the Loudness equalizer in 10. I've been using a feature like this to compress dynamic range ever since the SB Live! days for some documentaries or talk shows where sound is poorly mastered (too quiet and then BAM). Works cool.
But sonic? Sounds wrong to me, this is all on ATH-AVC500
 

MaZa

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For games I compared DTS Headphone:X vs Windows Sonic vs Dolby Atmos and for me Dolby Atmos sounds pretty shit, the soundstaging gets very narrow sounding so that one was clear last place to me but between DTS: Headphone:X using the "general" sound profile in my case (couldn't find a setting for my headphones and tried a few other headphone optimized sound profiles but they all sounded off with my headphones) vs Windows sonic it was pretty close and I'd say possibly a tie even.

Versus just using "stereo" speaker config I think Windows Sonic and DTS offers greatly increased positioning with very little sacrifice to audio quality. However I still slightly prefer just sticking to "5.1 speakers" in Windows and nothing else (enhancements I feel must be enabled as an important thing to point out as many people disable it for "audio purity" reasons but I think that also negates the HRTF when using it with stereo/headphone setup so it will sound similar to using stereo speaker setting and you don't get the same accurate positional sound but with 5.1 speakers you get no hit to audio quality whatsoever though, only slight improvement I'd say for increased sound staging and positioning to sounds. But I'm pretty critical about sound quality myself but if I knew no better and would have stuck to using "stereo" speaker config over my headphones (pretty logical) instead of 5.1 speakers for better positional cues I would probably find those attractive to use though for gaming.


Not sure I am understanding you correctly, are you use 5.1 windows setting with stereo headphones with no enhancements? There has to be something downsampling the signal or otherwise you will not hear any sound meant for the center and rear speakers. It is the 5.1/7.1 signal that benefits from HRTF simulations like Windows Sonic and Atmos as they can take those rear and center speakers and turn them into a genuine directional sound in stereo headphones.
 

OFaceSIG

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I've heard the differences between cmss-3d and razer surround. I do believe they add to the effect. Interesting to see as more opinions come to the forefront about this tech from all these new vendors coming out with different versions.
 

RPGWiZaRD

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Not sure I am understanding you correctly, are you use 5.1 windows setting with stereo headphones with no enhancements? There has to be something downsampling the signal or otherwise you will not hear any sound meant for the center and rear speakers. It is the 5.1/7.1 signal that benefits from HRTF simulations like Windows Sonic and Atmos as they can take those rear and center speakers and turn them into a genuine directional sound in stereo headphones.

Yes 5.1 speakers with stereo headphones and I believe "enhancements" checkbox must be enabled but ofc you can keep all off anyway and it won't matter much (although this could have changed later on, earlier on it would affect HRTF). Obviously it somehow downsamples to stereo but it changes how the game sounds like still as the channels are still being processed. Just try it yourself, I thought especially Far Cry series benefits a lot (but most if not all games do) comparing plain stereo (no ingame pseudo surround mixing enabled) vs 5.1 speaker settings.
 

RPGWiZaRD

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Yes 5.1 speakers with stereo headphones and I believe "enhancements" checkbox must be enabled but ofc you can keep all enhancements off anyway in the list and it won't matter much (although this could have changed later on, earlier on it would affect HRTF I remember so it sounded like using stereo when setting to 5.1 speakers). Obviously it somehow downsamples to stereo but it changes how the game sounds like still as the channels are still being processed. Just try it yourself, I thought especially Far Cry series benefits a lot (but most if not all games do) comparing plain stereo (no ingame pseudo surround mixing enabled) vs 5.1 speaker settings. The positional sound improves, it just sounds more open overall and say for example cars sound more in 3D space when they move around. Then I'm only speaking for Realtek onboard now, various soundcards could provide different results obviously. On Creative ZxR card this wasn't working the same at least as you were forced to use "headphone" setting on that card which sounded more similar to "stereo" setting.
 

mustang_steve

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Sonic Is pretty meh. I messed with it for a year and it didn't really work like I expected it to. Positioning was always a bit off, and I got better positioning just by using good headphones like my HD580s without any surround processing..
 
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