Windows Sonic vs Dolby Atmos & 7.1 virtualization in Creators Update

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by RPGWiZaRD, Apr 25, 2017.

  1. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    I think this needs a discussion for sure, IMO it's the most noteworthy change for Windows 10 Creators Update. I'm a person with great experience in this field having experience from all these software pseudo surround configs: CMSS-3D, Dolby Headphone, Dolby Atmos, THX TruStudio Pro, SBX Surround, Razer Surround.

    Since the Creators Update, there showed up some new tab for "spatial sound" where options "Windows Sonic" and "Dolby Atmos" become available as well as a checkbox for "Virtual 7.1 surround sound".

    Here's my personal findings so far:

    * Enabling these options limits you to 48kHz samplerate and 16bit bit depth and "Stereo" speaker config. Changing any of these settings will automatically disable the spatial sound settings and Windows itself adjusts to those settings when enabling them. This is something I'd personally wish was improved in the future to allow more flexibility as the sound volume I've noticed drops considerably with 48kHz vs 44.1kHz in some games (from top of my head for example Skyrim, Far Cry 3).

    * Virtual 7.1 surround sound checkbox I think is recommended to use with both options at all times, much like with similarly named setting on a SoundBlaster G5 or E5 USB soundcard, this is probably some kind of setting that allows proper multichannel processing of a game's audio and then downmixed into your stereo headphones and this affects the way soundstage and positioning is percieved. What this does is to noticeably expand soundstaging to be much larger and improved smoothness in how the audio is percieved to be moving from one side to another as well as improving the sense of depth to the soundstaging.

    Windows Sonic:

    Expands soundstage with noticeably clearer positioning. This isn't the same as simply using 5.1 or 7.1 speaker option in the past Windows versions in favor for stereo on a pair of stereo headphones, it clearly improves on positioning and soundstaging one step further, seems to be some HRTF tweaks of some sort (YMMV). The best thing is, it does so without affecting sound quality at any noticeable amount which is many of these "virtual surround" settings shortcomings, especially for the more sound quality concerned invidual who rather get as much positioning improvement with the least possible sound quality hit possible. If so, then this option is perfect for you.

    Dolby Atmos for headphones:

    Compared to Windows Sonic, I can instantly say, it's not as good. What it does okay job at is to allow pinpointing of directions but it's most other aspects it falls short to Windows Sonic: the soundstage expansiveness is greatly reduced, more "closed-in"-sounding (aka. closed headphones vs open headphones effect), sounds are percieved to appearing closer to you and the depth is lacking. It perhaps biggest weakness together with the less expansive soundstaging is the accuracy of percieving distance to the sounds, it's often difficult to tell how far away the sounds are coming from. In Unreal Tournament for example I sometimes thought a rocket launcher was much closer to me than it truly was. From a sound quality standpoint it's also slightly worse, adding a bit of that typical "processed" sound you can notice with many other surround sound algorithms (SBX Surround etc) but the impact is still very subtle, it still roughly SBX Surround ~ slightly better in fact but compared to Windows Sonic which doesn't have any obvious impact, it still comes out as second when it comes to being able to process the audio as natural sounding as possible.

    If my time allows during weekend or whenever (pretty busy with my hobby of promoting newcomers producers on YouTube), I may attempt to do some more in-depth comparison by recording or using some old Demorec recording from Unreal Tournament 3 or UT2k4 (a gaming session that has been recorded so when loading up the recording I'll be able to play the exact same scene over and over again with the exact same stuff happening, making it the ideal way of comparing various sound settings). I currently own SoundBlaster G5, SoundBlaster ZxR, ASUS Essence STX II and have Realtek ALC1150 onboard chips for comparison, so if I was really keen could do some kind of comparison but we'll see, certainly won't promise anything.

    I think this added spatial sound is a huge deal for 2 reasons, one is improved positional sound for VR applications and second, the built-in surround sound into Windows means even if you get a more HiFi audio quality oriented USB Dac with only stereo output, you should be able to get decent surround sound experience and this opens up a huge amount of options for gamers. Personally I always grabbed a soundcard with 5.1/7.1 support for my computer to be able to get proper multichannel mixing for gaming. But I'd gladly have someone with stereo-only USB DACs confirm that it allows you to use the spatial sound settings also with that as I currently don't own one.
     
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  2. Tup3x

    Tup3x [H]ard|Gawd

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    As far as I can tell it doesn't work properly at all. I made sure that my Zx didn't do any processing so I used stereo direct mode to test (bypass SoundCore3D chip, straight to DAC chip). In stereo direct mode only stereo speaker config is available (and IMO sound quality improves).

    Tested in Skyrim and it sounded the same as without it (though it may process pure stereo content a bit). If I use SBX and set Windows speaker config to 5.1 it obviously works. Skyrim is one of those games that has crappy audio mixing and the sound volume is incredibly low in stereo mode but just fine in 5.1. When Windows Sonic was enabled the volume was low which makes me think that games feed stereo to it because that's what's configured. If game can override that then maybe it works but it doesn't look like they have thought this through.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
  3. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    I think "direct mode" typically disables this kind of algorithms to work properly, it's a pure non-processed form of stereo output so it disables all HRTF tweaks and such taking place, "Disable all enhancements/sound effects" seen in several soundcards/realtek in sound card properties tends to have the same effect and it's recommended to not enable that when using 5.1 speakers with headphones for example.

    I agree they haven't thought it through fully but Skyrim is more of an exception regarding needing 5.1 speakers to sound "properly". Far majority of games aren't that extreme and works relatively well when using stereo setting (minus not being able to process surround ideally without some kind of software surround processing algorithm).

    I hope they will improve on this in the future to let the Windows Sonic be more flexible in what settings it can be used with due to how varying results games can provide depending on settings used. I would rather see the "yes we will only support one setting but you're free to try other settings on your own risk"-mentality here. Limiting it like this sucks.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
  4. MavericK

    MavericK Zero Cool

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    I've been using Atmos through Windows 10 with my receiver for a week or so now...I guess it sounds better? I can't really tell with general YouTube / audio stuff, and anything movie or show related is generally putting out its own DTS stream.
     
  5. Clovis559

    Clovis559 n00bie

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    You should guess youtube doesn't sound any better, it doesn't support Atmos. It should sound the same. What movies have you listened to? Did they support Atmos? (There aren't many). Most shows don't support Atmos either. Do you have Game of Thrones on Blu Ray? You may not be listening to any Atmos content.

    Have you tried Battlefield 1 or Battlefront? That's it for games.
     
  6. MavericK

    MavericK Zero Cool

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    Well it claims that the PC is pushing Atmos through my receiver, rather than typical PCM, but I guess without specific content it just doesn't do anything? If I had Atmos content it would pass through Atmos to the receiver anyway from the media player, so I'm not quite sure what the point of Atmos in a general Windows environment is, if it doesn't do anything.
     
  7. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    I don't know about Dolby Atmos through reciever as I'm a headphone user but it does change the sound when using Dolby Atmos for headphones, whether or not the audio is encoded with that in mind, for example music playback or any game is sounding different when it's activated. There's some headsets with Dolby Atmos built in like those new Steelseries Arctis so at least "Dolby Atmos for headphones" is some kind of surround sound algorithm similar to SBX and alike.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2017
  8. Clovis559

    Clovis559 n00bie

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    I see. Are you using the Dolby Access App? Spatial Sound turned on?
    I've played with this extensively for the time being. The app is totally buggy.
    You can make anything say it has Atmos signal using that, but it doesn't actually.

    [​IMG]
    Medieval war 2 in Atmos YEEE, nope... actually 2.0 audio.


    In reality, Dolby Access with receivers in mind, doesn't do anything for you (Currently) but allow you to watch the demos.

    The best part is, without it... and with your receiver... Everything that was actually Atmos... worked without the Dolby Access App.
    Edge on Dolby Atmos homepage
    Atmos Movies
    Games... The 2 Games...
    Test Tones you can download from Dolby homepage
    Atmos demo disks...
    Etc
     
  9. MavericK

    MavericK Zero Cool

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    Yes to the app, and not sure to the spacial sound. Does that just upconvert 2-channel audio to surround? I didn't want to mess with normal bitstream operations so I may have left that off.

    Yeah, that is kind of the impression I got from it.
     
  10. Monstieur

    Monstieur Limp Gawd

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    I do not yet understand how it would work in most games. Since the speaker configuration is changed to stereo, the game may see only 2 channels and do its own downmix first. I suspect this would work correctly only if the game uses WASAPI or Xaudio2 directly in a channel-agnostic fashion.
     
  11. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD Gawd

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    Perhaps Windows is just configured visually to show stereo but internally it does 7.1, to avoid confusion for casuals in how 7.1 could possibly work with a stereo source, that was my first thought. Ie. the added "Windows Sonic" is just a glorified way of naming 7.1 speakers channel mixing on a stereo device. Could very well be.

    Casuals be like "I believe in what I read", me be like "I don't expect everything work like it says". My senses be the judge :p
     
  12. Monstieur

    Monstieur Limp Gawd

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    There are two components involved, namely the list of formats supported by the device (such as 2 channel 48 kHz, 6 channel 48 kHz etc.) and the current speaker configuration. The supported formats can return a higher number of channels than the device physically supports (e.g. if the driver contains an APO for downmixing) and Windows Sonic may spoof this, but the format also includes a channel mask that indicates which speakers are actually present based on the audio control panel selection. My worry is that applications may use the channel mask to determine that they should output only stereo. It's unknown whether Windows Sonic spoofs the channel mask as well. All of the above only applies to apps using the existing WASAPI IAudioClient. Apps that use the new ISpatialAudio client will always work correctly. The virtual 7.1 checkbox determines whether the audio is linearly downmixed or whether it uses a HRTF.
     
  13. Monstieur

    Monstieur Limp Gawd

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    I tested Dota 2 with the in-game setting set to Default, Stereo, 5.1 and 7.1. The volume level of Default and Stereo are the same, and it reduces increasingly for 5.1 and 7.1. This leads me to believe that Default only assumes 2 channels even with Windows Sonic and virtual 7.1 enabled.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2017
  14. Stanley Pain

    Stanley Pain 2[H]4U

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    I've been running Dolby Atmos to me receiver for a couple of weeks now and I think it sounds amazing. I get full speaker use in games. Positional Audio is impressively accurate. Sounds better than DDL or DTSLive ever did. I'm using HDMI from my 1080 to my receiver (Onkyo TX-NR757). From my understand Atmos will only work via HDMI. The Windows Sonic never really worked properly when I tried it.
     
  15. Monstieur

    Monstieur Limp Gawd

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    Sounds like it's running in "gimmick" mode. Games are already 7.1 when running over HDMI, so I don't know what "Atmos" means here, except for the 2 existing games that output true Atmos. It cannot magically convert plain 7.1 games to Atmos so positional audio should be the same.

    However, AVRs have an Atmos upmix mode where 7.1 sources are upmixed to the height channels using a completey unrelated upmixing algorithm. This may change the perceived audio, but whatever it's doing is a gimmick and is objectively "wrong".

    You should never have enabled DDL / DTS Connect if you had HDMI.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2017
  16. Clovis559

    Clovis559 n00bie

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    I'm confused what Stanley is testing.

    Windows Sonic for Headphone, Atmos over HDMI to Receiver... Are you plugging your headphones into the Receiver? If so, and I don't know about other receivers, but with a Yamaha you're not getting Atmos. You're getting Dolby TrueHD. It tells you if you hit the on screen information from your receiver. Even if your playiing a game with an Atmos Signal like Battlefield 1.
     
  17. bigbeard850

    bigbeard850 n00bie

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    I don't understand something...are you enabling 5.1 (or any derivation of it in games as well, or do you have games set in stereo mode? headphone mode?

    For sbx games are always set to speakers (non-stereo).
     
  18. Monstieur

    Monstieur Limp Gawd

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    Most people who claim to be using "Atmos" are just upmixing stereo or plain surround, unless they are bitstreaming a Blu-ray with no chance of screwing it up.
     
  19. Clovis559

    Clovis559 n00bie

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    Or playing battlefield 1 :D
     
  20. Stanley Pain

    Stanley Pain 2[H]4U

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    Sorry about the late reply folks :)

    I was basing my experience on running an Asus Xonar Essence STX vs. HDMI w/ Atmos. Hence the DDL/DTS Connect comment. Comparing HDMI 7.1 vs HDMI Atmos I'd have to say that Atmos still sounds better in games (outside of BF1, which obviously sounds incredible with Atmos). The sound stage and positioning is much more accurate to my ears with Atmos enabled.

    It depends on what kind of receiver you have. My receiver supports Atmos and it's telling my I'm receiving an Atmos signal.
     
  21. Monstieur

    Monstieur Limp Gawd

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    Based on other forums posts, it looks like both Windows Sonic for Headphones and Dolby Atmos for Headphones use stereo to fake surround holophonic upmixing for legacy APIs, and true surround to holophonic downmixing for the new spatial sound APIs. This means for legacy games you should still use SBX Surround / Dolby Headphone which presents a 7.1 channel device to the game in order to get true surround to holophonic downmixing.

    Atmos enabled where? Dolby Atmos for Home Theatre in Windows or enabling Atmos in the AVR for a plain 7.1 input? Based on other forums posts, it looks like enabling Dolby Atmos for Home Theatre for legacy APIs just fills the unused channels with silent audio and therefore the AVR will not upmix anything. Enabling Atmos in the AVR for plain 7.1 channel audio does a true surround to fake height upmix.
     
  22. Stanley Pain

    Stanley Pain 2[H]4U

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    Both headphone options are software based upmixing afaik.

    Enabling it Windows, there's no where else that you'd need to "enable" it. If your AVR supports Atmos it should just switch to it (at least mine does). I know that the height channels get upmixed for non true Atmos audio sources, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the fact that positional audio with Atmos enabled sounds better than just straight 5.1/7.1 via HDMI. I've tested it extensively on my receiver. Atmos positions audio much more accurately than not. I've tested all the various processing settings on my AVR as well. DTS, DTS:X, Thx, Direct, Stereo, etc. It could very well be that my receiver just does a great job with creating a soundstage with Atmos.
     
  23. Monstieur

    Monstieur Limp Gawd

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    Yes, both Windows Sonic and Atmos modes create a sound stage. Even plain stereo output from games has better positioning through Windows Sonic. Whether this is desirable or not depends on the source material. It's good for podcasts, YouTube, or other "unmastered" material where the sound is not stereophonic and is fatiguing. Mastered material like TV shows and music already have a sound stage when simply played on headphones or speakers.
     
  24. Clovis559

    Clovis559 n00bie

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    Oh. That's what I'm trying to show you in the picture above. It's more buggy then anything. It will say any sound is an Atmos signal. You speaking into the microphone is an atmos signal. Now common sense... it's not really Atmos.
    If your receiver supports Atmos, your sound hasn't changed at all since CU update, except it now makes the Atmos signal ... for everything. Sound is still the same.

    The Atmos for Home Theater actually doesn't do anything for you at all right now. It doesn't upmix/downmix your sound. It doesn't enable Atmos for anything.

    Everything that was Atmos, already worked before you installed Dolby Access, even in Windows Native Apps. Dolby Access only introduces bugs, to the point that I removed it.
     
  25. Stanley Pain

    Stanley Pain 2[H]4U

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    I agree with the bugginess comment. I get odd audio dropouts from time to time as well.

    I know that non Atmos encoded audio is only being upmixed via the DSP on my receiver. It's just setting whatever bits are required for the receiver to say hey this is an Atmos stream. What I'm saying is that the upmixing of 5.1/7.1 HDMI to Atmos that my receiver does is better than all the other DSP modes. At least to my ears. Even without the faux height channel the sound stage, positioning and imaging of the sound sounds better to me. I wasn't being clear about Atmos encoded audio and the Atmos DSP mode :), sorry about that.
     
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  26. Clovis559

    Clovis559 n00bie

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    I see, and I agree with you there!