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..
 

Aix.

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Late to this topic but recently I've been using Windows Sonic while playing Overwatch. The odd thing is that OW has Dolby Atmos for Headphones as an option and it says to disable stuff like Windows Sonic, CMSS-3D, etc.

However, the positional sound in OW has been pretty bad for a while even with the Dolby Atmos option enabled...but when I turned on Sonic while still using Atmos I was suddenly able to locate everything correctly again. I don't know why the combo works together but I've had great results and I make sure to enable Sonic when I play OW.
 

RPGWiZaRD

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I don't feel like starting a new thread and it's close enough to the topic. Recently a free 10 day trial of Dolby Access in the Microsoft Store showed up for me so thought I'd give it a go. At least I think Dolby Atmos for Headphones have changed slightly more recently as it seems to perform better now than it did for me when I tried it last time. Particularly what I like it allows for custom EQ settings these days when you had some presets before or you can obviously turn it off completely like I do as the headphones already sound balanced to me (although I'd say the tiniest possible boost at 32Hz is probably helpful due natural roll-off of bass on the headphones. The 10-band EQ that is included in the custom presets actually works very well if you're into that) and you can turn off the surround virtualization on a button that makes it sound pretty much identical to listening to it completely turned off or you would assume it does but...

If I'm not completely imaginating things, I still spot an ever so slight increase to soundstage, the similar amount I percieve comparing stereo vs 5.1 speaker setting on Realtek onboard sound switching back n forth while listening to music so it could be there's some HRTF or whatever tweaks but it doesn't impact the sound quality at all, in fact I'd say I seem to even prefer listening to music with Dolby Atmos for headphones turned on under the "Spatial sound" settings but the Surround virtualizer turned off in Dolby Access app as that one does have a slight impact in how the music sounds although very slight (even less so than Windows Sonic which is also pretty moderate), but there's slightly more clarity and separation to the sound with it turned off but while gaming when that setting is turned on again it's really not that noticeable and as a plus the surround processing expands the soundstage very noticeably, stuff coming from more far away sounds like coming much further away and not sound like coming next to your ear sorta. Actually it suprised me how well it works. With earlier Dolby Atmos for Headphones experiences the number one issue I thought the depth perception and the transition from sounds coming further away felt not smooth and realistic but testing it now it does seem like it works a whole lot better, the perception of distance is so much more accurate to me now and it's very smooth in how it reacts moving around and natural in the games I've tested. Could be my settings were off previously, it seems to lock in all the settings, you cannot change anything these days and it'll turn off, you switch speaker config, or bitrange or samplerate and it will be automatically turned off so.
 
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