Last Updated on September 14, 2020 by Scott Krager
You may have heard about the headphones that offer you virtual surround sound.
As a matter of fact, this breed of headsets is a lot more common than you might think they are, and while they are selling like hotcakes in the market, the major question that we have to ask is whether these are worth the price or not.
You see, headphones that offer virtual surround sound are dominantly more expensive than your standard pair of headphones, and in addition to that, one of the biggest differences is that these headphones are powered through a USB jack rather than your standard 3.5mm audio jack.
Another thing that you need to know is that the emphasis of this article is virtual surround sound rather than true surround sound, and that is exactly what we are going to explore.
Understanding Surround Sound
Before we could explain the difference between true surround sound and virtual surround sound, we should have a proper understanding of the surround sound itself.
When you come to speakers or headphones for that instance, there are certain configurations that you must be aware of. Understanding these configurations will allow you to have an easier time understanding the surround sound in the first place.
So, let us not waste any more time and have a look at all the sound configurations.
- 1.0: Probably the least commonly used type of sound configuration, it is known as the mono sound. In this configuration, only one speaker is used. This is the reason why mono is more popular in phone speakers rather than gaming headphones, or headphones for that matters because it cannot provide you with any spatial awareness of any sort.
- 2.0: This is perhaps the most common type of audio configuration, and it is commonly known as stereo. It uses 2 speakers and can be found in nearly every modern day smartphone as well as all the modern day headphones. While people say that spatial awareness is not good, it largely depends on the type of headphones you use. For instance, open back headphones will be better at spatial information as compared to closed back ones.
- 2.1: The configuration is largely the same as 2.0, however, in this one, there is an additional subwoofer, and it is there to produce low-frequency sounds. For people who listen to a lot of music with bass, this is a great and most common audio configuration for most music lovers.
- 5.1: 5.1 is considered as the first proper surround sound configuration. It consists of 5 speakers, and 1 subwoofer, and allows for one of the best spatial sound configurations. However, some people might have issues with it; so, you do need to consider that as an option too.
- 7.1: Simply put, the 7.1 surround configuration takes everything good about the 5.1, and makes it even better. It does so by adding 2 more speakers to the mix. This is perhaps one of the most complex, and amazing audio configuration and goes really, really well for people who prefer to watch movies with complete immersion.
True Surround Headphones vs Virtual Surround Headphones
If you are in the market looking for surround headphones, then you are going to come across 2 types of surround headphones. Ones will offer you true surround sound, and others will give you the virtual surround sound.
The latter type is a lot more common as well as affordable when compared to the first one, so that is something that one should definitely keep in mind.
Sadly, not many people are aware of the difference between the true and virtual sound, and that is exactly what this section caters to. Therefore, people can have a better understanding of both sound configurations.
True Surround Headphones
A lot of people have asked me if true surround headphones exist in the first place. While as not as common as some of the other options, the true surround headphones certainly exist, and have been in the market for some time now.
As the name suggests, the true surround headphones come with multiple drivers to give you the impressive experience that you would expect from a surround sound configuration.
One of the most common examples of true surround headphones is the Asus Strix 7.1; Asus did an impressive job of packing 10 drivers in each ear cup, giving the users a great, immersive experience.
However, the reason why these headphones are not as common is that these are extremely expensive to manufacture as compared to the standard headphones.
Another reason why true surround headphones are not as common is that the drivers are placed so close to each other that the whole benefit of spatial awareness just ends up diminishing itself.
Virtual Surround Headphones
This is perhaps a more common form of surround sound headphones available in the market.
Understanding these headphones is rather easy. Instead of relying on hardware, it uses some cleverly and carefully created methods of simulating the surround sound.
Now, almost every headphone in the market can make up for a great virtual surround headphone, you just need to have a headphone that is really good by default. For starters, headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, as well as the Sennheiser HD598 are excellent headphones and can make up for some great virtual surround headphones too.
The virtual surround sound offers good to a great level of spatial awareness, and it also depends largely on the person’s perception. I would not entirely call them a gimmick, as they work for the most part, but not every gamer wants to have virtual surround headphones. In fact, I shifted from Corsair Void Pros to Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, and I could not be happier as the experience was made much, much better.
So, are virtual surround headphones worth it?
They most certainly are, but if you are looking for the best possible immersion with these headphones, then I would suggest you opt for an open back headphone design because that will give you the best possible experience due to their wider sound stage.
Some closed back headphones like the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are also great for the virtual sound surround, so that is certainly one of the things you must keep in mind.
As far as the true surround headphones are concerned, I believe that they cost a lot of money, and in many cases, they are just not worth it. The reason being simple; the drivers are in such close proximity, that it ends up ruining the overall experience as well.
So, it is better if you just avoid the true surround headphones for an overall better experience. To learn more, check out our gaming headset buying guide.