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What are all the ways of setting up a virtual 7.1/5.1 headphone speaker system?

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

I needed a noise canceling microphone for speech dictation so I decided to get a gaming headphone and perhaps get something new and better in music listening at no extra cost. Consequently I read many reviews on Amazon.com on headsets that I thought might be suitable. I do not gain I just wanted good music listening and a noise canceling mic for my speech dictation. After reading many reviews I decided to get a plantronics 780 headset. And once it arrived I was amazed at how much it improved my music listening over what I thought was a very good stereo speaker system enhanced by the sound manipulation tricks of an USB Creative Labs sound card.


Even though the Plantronics 780 headset is not proving durable it sound is a spectacular improvement over the speakers I was listening to music on. This headset is said to have "Dolby Headphone" and are powered by a USB connector which also provides the Dolby headphone via its software. It has a switch which turns of the Dolby headphone off and on according to the manufacturers forum. However there were only a few music video files I was able to hear the difference on when supposedly switching the Dolby headset off and on on. The mother lode of improvement appears to occur by its simulation of a 7.1 surround speaker system. So this evokes my many questions I have on how this computer headphone audio system stuff works.


It seems like  you should be able to create comparatively cheap new high fidelity headphone system using headphones instead of speakers, but when you go to other arrangements than the just USB connector powering the headphones directly from software how does it work? I see a lot of headphones talked about on this site with no mention of software or even a USB connector. But they talk of big or small soundstages which implies to me simulated surround sound. So how are all the ways it could work. Can you use software plus a USB powered headphone amp or do you need special amp or USB soundcard for processing or do you just have to have a sound card for the best audio?


I also do not understand if virtual speakers and surround sound I something different? I obtained a copy of PowerDVD13 which is said to be able to decode Dolby 5.1 sound and watching a music video, which had this kind of sound, the sound is just fantastic. So what are all the ways of getting this Dolby 5.1 sound to power a virtual set headphone speakers.

post #2 of 4
No - when we talk about "soundstage" of headphones we are talking about how spacious the stereo headphones make the sound appear. Some headphones are very direct and give an"inside your head" feel to the sound, while others seem to give the sound more space. It is NOT digital audio processing - it is simply part of the headphone's design.

What you are talking about is a completely different thing. Dolby Headphone is a specific digital processing and you need electronics to do it. Those electronics can be in a separate box (some home theater receivers include it) or built-in to the headphones (like your Plantronics). Dolby Headphone is not very popular - it simply hasn't caught on outside of some niche markets. So, you aren't going to find it in the mainstream.

True Dolby Digital or DTS is a way for music to be encoded. It is not "simulated" surround sound, it is multi-channel sound. There are 5, 6, 7 (or more) separate channels of sound and a subwoofer channel (the .1). The sound engineers that create the movie put different sounds onto each channel, and each channel goes to a different speaker. Because some of the speakers are in front of you and some are behind you, that provides the effect of having the sound be all around (surrounding) you. To get the benefit of multi-channel sound, you need electronics that can decode the digital signals and create the separate channels of analog sound for each speaker and the subwoofer. If you do not have the home theater receiver to decode the 5.1 and you do not have the 5.1 speakers, then you have not actually heard "surround sound" - you have just heard the stereo sound also contained in the same digital signal.

You just can't do that with two speaker drivers located a few centimeters from your eardrum - like with headphones. So, with Dolby Headphone they play tricks with the timing and phase to try to fool your ears. It sounds like that works for you!

post #3 of 4

Aside from the gaming folks (who use Dolby headphone), almost everyone on this website who talks about soundstage is referring to regular, old fashioned stereo. High quality equipment and good recordings can create a very convincing sense of space without any special digital processing. To use virtual surround like Dolby headphone (which is not true surround because at the end of the day you only have two headphone drivers, right and left, not 5.1 or 7.1), you need equipment that has it as a feature such as your headset, certain audio soundcards, or AV receivers. Most "audiophile" USB DACs do not have Dolby headphone. 

post #4 of 4
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the above replies.


I read the replies at least a few times and now think perhaps I have been engaged in a great fooling of myself. I relisten to a passage BBC proms concert which I have a long admired for its sound quality. But this time I configured my Plantronics headset to two channel stereo in the window provided for that in Microsoft Windows. My Plantronics headset again gave me the same tremendous improvement in how the instruments seem separated in space from one another over listening to this concert over my stereo speakers even with the tweaks that the Sound Blaster UBS soundcard was supposed to give my speakers to give you simulated surround sound. I even heard the commentary on the concert from the back of my head as if the producers of this concert meant the commentators to be commentating in a back balcony. So I am thinking the configuring of these headset to be only two speakers would turn off the Dolby headphone effects, but I am not sure.


If this is what happened and I fooled myself does this probably me I can get even better soundstage affects by getting an even better headphone and perhaps an USB DACs?


Is there a headphone with its soundstage best for listening to the instruments that are stretched out in a Symphony Orchestra and another one best for listening to a trio?

Edited by bbmiller - 1/20/14 at 10:12pm
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