Help with Virtual Surround Headphones and Gear.
Jun 2, 2013 at 8:14 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 3


New Head-Fier
Jun 2, 2013
Hey Head-Fi audiophiles. I'm not sure if this is the proper section of the forum to ask but hopefully it can be moved if it isn't.
I'm about to step into the audiophile world, probably at an entry level but still. The main use that I will give the Headphones will be gaming and especially virtual surround gaming which if I understand correctly the best choice would be going with Dolby Headphone technology.
Now, the Headphone that I've set my eyes on right now is the Sennheiser HD598 followed closely by the Audio Technica ATH AD9000, the reasons behind these models is audio positioning, I want to be able to tell where the enemies are in my surrounding with just audio and these two paired up with Dolby Headphone seem to be fantastic at it without giving up much of the Bass, Mids, etc, which is good because I will also use them for music and movie playback. Any recommendation/advice regarding these Headphones or this setup is well appreciated.
Now this is were I start getting lost and could really use some help :frowning2:
I hear all this talk about DAC's, AMP's, Sound Cards, etc, and I'm not sure what I need exactly for what I primarly want to do which is audio positioning and great surround sound during games mainly, not just shooters or competitive but single player experiences as well.
I've read a bit and this is what I've found so far, please correct me if I'm wrong:
1) -DAC's: Mainly used to "clean up" the original signal, especially useful when there is noise, etc, during playback.
From the sound of it seems like I don't really need this to accomplish my goal, I have this motherboard and most modern motherboards already have a pretty decent DAC and with the optical output that has I shouldn't have any problems getting a "clean" signal output. Correct, yes, no?
2) -AMP's: Used to "amplify" the signal, also provides more voltage to be delivered to the Headphone for those that have high impediance (80 ohms+ ?). That's the main use from what I read but I'm confused as to If I need one or not, I see a lot of comments saying that most people won't even benefit at all, or that it doesn't change the sound but then I read others say that It really changes the sound of the headphone for the better especially the HD 598, again, really confused here and I don't know If I should get one or not.
3) -Sound Cards: I guess this is my main question since it seems to be the defining factor to my ultimate goal... virtual surround. From what I understand most DAC's or AMP's are useless for this since they do not have a DPS, which is the "processor" that handles the signal and has the ability to modify or change it's properties like transforming it into Dolby Headphone (assuming the sound card is certified). Now I've read that some AMP's do offer this "feature" like the Astro Mixamp or the JVC SU-DH1 (which doesn't seem to be in stock anywhere now), the great thing from these AMP's is that they are compatible with consoles which even though I'm a PC gamer would be a great benefit to have I must admit.
I'm not sure if I should get one of these (maybe you guys can recommend a better AMP with these features) or if I should get a soundcard. I saw a lot of people recommending the ASUS Xonar Essence STX which at $179.99 is over my budget for a soundcard/amp. I did notice that ASUS has other sound cards like the Xonar D1 or the Xonar DG which come at a lower price.
My question is... would I be sacrificing a lot by going with these lower tier cards or will it not make a difference since my only interest is getting a device that's Dobly Headphone compatible and these cards all have it? Will I have the same virtual surround experience regarding the device as long as it's Dolby Headphone certified?
I know it's a long read but I tried to make it as clear as possible, again I'm new at this and this is what I've come up with before asking for help.
Any help is greatly appreciated!
Jun 2, 2013 at 8:36 PM Post #2 of 3


Headphoneus Supremus
Oct 3, 2002
Dolby can be quite variable. Works really well for some, not so well for others. People's experiences vary because no-one's ear physiology is 'average'. And the algorithms in Dolby Headphone and other virtual headphone tech is based on an ideal average head.
I find a lot of people who don't know enough about virtual surround mistake soundstaging for effective 3D positioning as provided by these technologies. The two aren't interchangeable... headphones which don't have much of a soundstage in stereo can do really well in Dolby H. Also in *any* application of positioning accuracy in terms of regular headphones in stereo, it's always still in your head. Virtual surround actually has a fair stab at taking the sounds outside of your head... and in some cases it's successful (front positioning sadly still is quite 'in your head' with any of the technologies).
Personally, if for gaming I'd get a USB headset with Dolby Headphone integrated. Something like the Corsair USB headsets. I would not bother with the Asus STX. I don't actually think the sound quality in real life application (beside GPU's, etc) is all that, and I also think they've ruined Dolby Headphone by imbuing it with their own bells and whistles. The positioning accuracy that you can get is lost when you use Dolby in an STX, and the only reason you might think it's effective IMO is because you haven't used another Dolby implementation... and on the flipside it's no wonder that a lot of Asus users dismiss Dolby as a gimmick.
Creative's THX equivalent is actually not bad, and if you're game-heavy I think you might be better off going for them if you want a discrete soundcard. They're more EMI resistant (at least I notice it less than Asus) and the gaming positioning is pretty decent. Pair this with an AD700 and you should be fine.

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