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Virtual 7.1 Surround Sound processing in Headphones

shevalier

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PPS. In 2020, "studios of one game" Croteam has create Serious SAM 4.
The last game, which use object based audio.
XAUDIO2 or ... OpenAl for Creative card.

Check out this differences.
 

GalZohar

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Amazon just dropped 10$ off of GC7 (so 140$ if you count their automatic coupon), although if you are in the US then creative website has even more generous discounts with coupon code HOHO25 for 25% off, which seems to be like it might be off of the already discounted price of 150$.
I had to cancel my Amazon order from few days ago and re-order for 10$ less, they don't seem to be able to fix the price, and I had to go through customer service to cancel this specific item.
 

Jumbotron

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Since it has been mentioned, I have to say that I have owned a license of Redscape for quite some time now, and really, I never liked it much.

On the other hand, the much cheaper Waves NX App for Windows and Mac, for which I also own a license, sounds way better in my case.

I also owned the Sound Blaster X3 for some time, and Creative's Super X-Fi technology did not impress me. The sound profile it created for me was bloated in the low frequencies and lacked clarity.

The three of them were blind buys.
Yesterday I received the head tracker for Redscape, which I am using together with the software while listening to some stereo music at this very precise moment. The two together are doing a pretty decent job at externalizing the sound out of my head. Since I wrote the above line about Redscape not long ago, it seemed fair to me to update my impressions on this solution. For those of you who have the software, but not the head tracker, you really should try it with the head tracker.
 

GalZohar

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I've tried Arma 3 with atmos trial version and with windows sonic, both make your own footsteps (and other sounds right at your character such as flies) sound very bloated. I suspect it's mono sounds being upmixed to play on all speakers? Disabling spatial audio removes the issue but also removes any difference between front and rear (although with atmos and sonic the front and rear are still very similar sounding).
The strange thing is that I don't get this effect using virtual surround on my G35 headset.

Another interesting idea is that in Arma 3 I used some scripting to generate a blind test - You get some action happening either in front of you, or behind you - At random, selected when the game starts. Restarted several times each time with a sound that I don't remember how it is supposed to sound, with eyes closed. With the G35 I could tell every time if the sound was in front or behind (maybe made a mistake once). With the HD560S and dolby atmos I made a mistake many times. Although with Atmos there is a difference between front/rear when you know what it should sound like, but in a blind test for an unfamiliar sound it just didn't work. I'm not sure if I'm more surprised about atmos being bad or the G35 being good. Or maybe I'm just used to the G35 (although the last 2-3 years I haven't been playing much with surround). Haven't blind tested Sonic, but from the minimal testing it seems to be very similar to the Atmos.

In any case, the bloated mono sounds is an even bigger issue as it makes the whole game sound weird, compared to the poor rear surround effects.

Another possibility is some issue with configuration (maybe I messed up Equalizer APO somehow?), but I doubt it because I do get surround effects, they just don't seem to be good.

Tomorrow maybe I'll get the THX trial, seems like it is similar concept to SBX with a 0-100 parameter.
The GC7 for SBX/SXFI will only arrive near the end of the month.
 

GalZohar

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Tried THX, it might have better potential with directions due to configurability, though the configuration is weird (for example, if I set both rear surrounds to be at "max rear" they still sound distinctly to the left and right), and the worst thing is the distortion it adds which seems rather unacceptable.

Dolby Atmos issue with Arma 3 seems to be solved if it is activated before launching the game. If I activate it while game is running then I get strange sound. While its rear/front is a bit lacking (very much lacking compared to the G35), I could otherwise tell directions pretty well with it in a blind test where I set my character to a random direction and need to say where the sound is coming from with my eyes closed, then check which direction I'm actually pointing at (game includes compass showing the exact angle, as I always place the noise directly south of me).

The more I test the more the Logitech G35 surround impresses me in how much more accurate it is compared to Atmos and THX. I wonder what Logitech actually use.

Edit: Even more strange is that it seems G35 just use Dolby headphone tech... Not sure how exactly it differs from the Atmos software and if Logitech modified anything.
 
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GalZohar

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Got the GC7. With both SBX and SXFI and SXFI battle mode I can't tell any real difference between direct front and direct rear sounds. Blind testing gives much better results with my G35 headset which uses some kind of dolby headphone technology. Still need to compare again with dolby atmos. Also, SXFI (regular and battle) modify the sound too much even for sounds directly in front, like some strange equalizer was applied, and sound is much cleaner with SBX. I'm seriously considering returning this and trying something else unless I find a way to make it work at least as good as the G35 did.
Apparently this was the result of windows defaulting to "headset" GC7 which is only 2 channels, rather than the 7.1 "speakers" GC7. So now I get a difference between front/rear in-game. Now I get relatively accurate directions with both SBX 33 (I found that gave the most profound "rear" effect in the internal app tests so I used that for testing) and with both SXFI settings. However, the reverb of the SXFI sounds like I'm in the bathroom, and both SXFI modes seem to have some EQ that kills the bass (or enhances the treble? Or both?) which makes the sounds quite worse. Testing pure speech from youtube and some movies - SXFI sound distorted and battle mode slightly less distorted, compared to the clean sound of SBX. Without SXFI, seems like SBX on/off doesn't affect the EQ/quality much if at all (listening to the same sound placed right in front with SBX on/off). Also, seems like even with SBX off there is a small difference between front/rear, not sure if it's coming from the game engine or the SBX.
 
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mysiak

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Got the GC7. With both SBX and SXFI and SXFI battle mode I can't tell any real difference between direct front and direct rear sounds. Blind testing gives much better results with my G35 headset which uses some kind of dolby headphone technology. Still need to compare again with dolby atmos. Also, SXFI (regular and battle) modify the sound too much even for sounds directly in front, like some strange equalizer was applied, and sound is much cleaner with SBX. I'm seriously considering returning this and trying something else unless I find a way to make it work at least as good as the G35 did.
Apparently this was the result of windows defaulting to "headset" GC7 which is only 2 channels, rather than the 7.1 "speakers" GC7. So now I get a difference between front/rear in-game. Now I get relatively accurate directions with both SBX 33 (I found that gave the most profound "rear" effect in the internal app tests so I used that for testing) and with both SXFI settings. However, the reverb of the SXFI sounds like I'm in the bathroom, and both SXFI modes seem to have some EQ that kills the bass (or enhances the treble? Or both?) which makes the sounds quite worse. Testing pure speech from youtube and some movies - SXFI sound distorted and battle mode slightly less distorted, compared to the clean sound of SBX. Without SXFI, seems like SBX on/off doesn't affect the EQ/quality much if at all (listening to the same sound placed right in front with SBX on/off). Also, seems like even with SBX off there is a small difference between front/rear, not sure if it's coming from the game engine or the SBX.
Did you follow the instructions for taking your personal profile carefully? It might need a couple of tries and another person to take the photos accurately.
 

GalZohar

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Did you follow the instructions for taking your personal profile carefully? It might need a couple of tries and another person to take the photos accurately.
The photos seem OK, the lines seem to match what they are trying to match, but without a reference of what a "good" result should look like I can't really say if it's "good enough" or not. However, the directionality works quite well. It's just the EQ/distortion that's bad. I chose "generic headphones" in the app (I use the HD560S).
 

mysiak

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The photos seem OK, the lines seem to match what they are trying to match, but without a reference of what a "good" result should look like I can't really say if it's "good enough" or not. However, the directionality works quite well. It's just the EQ/distortion that's bad. I chose "generic headphones" in the app (I use the HD560S).
Some claim it will sound bad on headphones with no presets. Others have success with generic profile.
I tried re-taking ear photos, but got even worse sound. It seems excessively filtered/eqed, and I think this is in addition (and not due) to the reverberations. I couldn't find advice on how to tell if the photos are good or not, but they seemed to make sense both times (with the 2nd sounding worse).

With SBX, surround on/off only makes a small negative impact on quality in order to get quite accurate surround effecr.
Let's continue the discussion about SXFI here.

I have headphones which have their own preset in SXFI and to my ears they sound rubbish. Generic profile + custom EQ sounds much better.

I took my SXFI profile more than 10 times, only 2 of them were identical (you can tell by how quickly the new profile gets applied). All the others sounded worse (either way more reverb, or shifted sounds to one side, or unnatural sound / messed up frequency response). Unfortunately there is no way how to tell easily if the profile is good, I use left/right balance and reverb as the main clue.

Keep in mind that SBX is "headphones virtualization", SXFI is "virtualization of speakers in a room". SBX is similar to Dolby headphones, WavesNX or Redscape on minimum settings. SXFI can be compared to OOYH (in HeSuVi for example), WavesNX/Redscape or to some extent Dolby headphones on max room size settings.

SXFI is not universal solution for every content and in my case it depends also on my mood, sometimes I use it for weeks, but then I "must" switch to SBX for some time before I want to use SXFI again.
 

GalZohar

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For me the end goal is to feel like you're in the game world, not in a room with speakers, but also not with headphones. SBX seems to do that nicely, and so is the Dolby Headphone solution on the Logitech G35.

SXFI (with my current configuration) makes the sound so much worse I can't really judge if it feels any better/worse in terms of a surround effect. I guess I'll just have to create a large number of profiles until maybe I can score a good one... I wonder why SXFI distorts the sound so much while SBX distorts it very slightly - Is such an extreme effect really what we need to properly simulate surround speakers in headphones? And with optimal settings, would it still simulate also the bad parts of a speaker system?

Assuming that price difference is small, I'm still not sure if to just return it for a cheaper G6 or to hope SXFI improves in the future and keep the GC7 so that I can find it. I'm not optimistic about SXFI, though.
 

GalZohar

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Testing with pink noise I got a weird effect - Turning SBX off, the effect is instant (more bass mostly), but turning it back on - And the sound is only changed slightly ("moves forward"), but then the bass "decays" within 1-3 seconds and stabilizes there. So maybe it's a result of some minor reverb effect of SBX? With SXFI this doesn't happen. The effect is instant. However, it no longer sounds anything like pink noise. With SBX it sounds a bit colored (mostly the reduced bass) but at least it's not an extreme difference, and moves the sound "forward".

What also confuses me, is how Harman curve and HRTF filters work together, or the HRTF is based on already having Harman curve EQed headphones? Both front right to right HRTF and Harman elevate some treble, at least up to 7k, where the HRTF starts to add a dip while Harman doesn't. Doesn't Harman basically try to give headphones sound like we were supposed to get from front stereo speakers? I guess not exactly, as the HRTF for front right to right would have been flat.

Trying to enable/disable SBX with music, disabled the music sounds better without the missing bass, but enabled the music sounds more "in front". Same for pink noise.

With SXFI while I can get correct directions (no better, maybe even worse than SBX), the quality is horrid. This is actually even more apparent when playing pink noise with/without SXFI, regardless if comparing to SBX on or off. With SXFI the pink noise is metallic and really doesn't sound at all like pink noise...

Basically I'm trying to understand what a surround virtualization should have so that we can get the best sound quality while still getting the sounds coming from the correct directions. Do we really need such significant filters to get the correct directional ques? Especially in the bass - As bass is known to be less directional the lower the frequencies, I would expect less filter intervention as you go down in frequency, but this does not seem to be the case.
 

mysiak

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For me the end goal is to feel like you're in the game world, not in a room with speakers, but also not with headphones. SBX seems to do that nicely, and so is the Dolby Headphone solution on the Logitech G35.
I guess that SXFI is not for you then, it is simulating speakers in a room (or rather bigger studio/movie theater). Even if you will get 100% good profile, it will keep sounding like speakers in a room, just more accurately/natural. You can try OOYH0 profile in HeSuVi for a comparison, it achieves similar result, just less "accurate" as it's not personalized.

SBX sounds like better match for your expectations, I use value "67" for everything - music, games, movies.. It provides nice directional cues, sounds quite natural and doesn't change frequency response too much.

Info from Creative about different values:

While I am unable to dive into details, here are the recommended levels for different usage.
  • 12% - Gentle frontal expansion. (Recommended for Music)
  • 25%-33% - More frontal expansion. (Recommended for FPS Games)
  • 65%-67% - Expands to around the shoulders. (Recommended for Movies)
  • 100 % - Expands beyond the shoulders. (Recommended for maximum "3D" Experience)
 

GalZohar

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I found 25-33 being the most accurate (which explains why it was recommended for FPS), with 33 having the most profound rear effect.

I still can't figure out if I can make SXFI sound good. So many people enjoy it, which makes me suspect I'm missing something, but overall it seems like the effect simply isn't right for gaming. Even SBX seems like it might be EQing things a bit too much, but at least it doesn't destroy the sound like SXFI.

Basically I need to choose if to keep the GC7 for the extra buttons I don't really use (although I haven't got a chance to test the potential of having a game/chat mix knob) and hopes of SXFI possibly being better in the future, or to replace it with a G6 for a more compact shape and very small chance of very slight quality improvement. Plus save cash, although with current prices the difference would be very small, as I bought the GC7 when it has 150$ and the G6 is 143$ now and maybe 2$ less than that locally).

I still also couldn't really understand how harman target interacts with the front speaker HRTF, after all seeing where Harman target comes from I would expect them to be somewhat related, yet front speaker HRTF still modifies sound significantly on top of the Harman EQ.
 

mysiak

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I found 25-33 being the most accurate (which explains why it was recommended for FPS), with 33 having the most profound rear effect.

I still can't figure out if I can make SXFI sound good. So many people enjoy it, which makes me suspect I'm missing something, but overall it seems like the effect simply isn't right for gaming. Even SBX seems like it might be EQing things a bit too much, but at least it doesn't destroy the sound like SXFI.

Basically I need to choose if to keep the GC7 for the extra buttons I don't really use (although I haven't got a chance to test the potential of having a game/chat mix knob) and hopes of SXFI possibly being better in the future, or to replace it with a G6 for a more compact shape and very small chance of very slight quality improvement. Plus save cash, although with current prices the difference would be very small, as I bought the GC7 when it has 150$ and the G6 is 143$ now and maybe 2$ less than that locally).

I still also couldn't really understand how harman target interacts with the front speaker HRTF, after all seeing where Harman target comes from I would expect them to be somewhat related, yet front speaker HRTF still modifies sound significantly on top of the Harman EQ.
GC7 is a great companion to console gaming or just TV in general as it can be conveniently configured either by the buttons or via the Bluetooth app. For me it's more "future proof" than G6 as it can function as a standalone DAC/AMP without a PC. SXFI might get better (they moved to version #2 already, which removed some of the excessive reverb), but I don't really expect it happening any time soon.

I don't think that there is a direct link between Harman EQ and speakers virtualization, one is a "simple" EQ fix, the other requires more advanced DSP techniques.
 

mysiak

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Just for anyone interested - I tried Fiio FH1S IEMs with SXFI and I find it to be the best combination for the most convincing and natural virtual surround. SXFI in general gives me much better directional ques than other solutions, but at the cost of excessive reverb. This is especially true with over ear headphones. With IEMs, the "soundstage" collapses, but SXFI brings it back to very natural levels. Out of all IEMs I have, Fiio FH1S offer brilliant virtual surround and following Harman curve quite nicely, they sound good out of the box also for music listening. I wish it worked so nicely with my Sennheiser HD560s or Beyerdynamic COP, which are now sitting in a drawer ashamed. :) To my surprise, Etymotic HF5 are probably the worst IEMs in my collection, with no "soundstage" with or without SXFI (might have something to do with deep insertion).
 

whazzup

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For me, SXFI has never fulfil its promise of getting a close emulation of speakers. Dolby Headphones (20 year old tech??) and OOYH are still way better in tricking the mind. What I noticed, is that with the better emulation/virtualization techs, bass notes sound 'further away' and does not feel like they are pounding right at your eardrums. With the poorer speaker emulation techs like SXFI, there's virtually no difference (compared to regular stereo mode); bass is still right at the ears.

In addition, when they first introduced SXFI in CES, based on various accounts, the attendees were able to get a custom in-ear calibration for their profiles, while paying retail owners only have the camera-based profile generation method. So there's a disconnect when those attendees were 'gushing' about how good SXFI was, versus what customers really received.

Still holding on to the SXFI dongle, and the slim hope that they'll eventually get it right. But I'm naive that way.
 

Luke Lemke

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Hi, I thought I'd start this thread as a gaming virtual 7.1 surround sound enthusiast in headphones. We can let this thread develop into whatever we like on the topic of Virtual 7.1 Surround Sound processing in headphones, and perhaps I'll continue to edit this first post with links to useful resources or information on this topic that myself & others will find in time. We can talk theory & personal experiences and what works best, anything we want on this topic. Today I've not invested much time in fleshing out this first post with useful information, but I think I'll add to it as it develops, to kick us off here's a very good link to testing 7.1 speakers to validate that you've set up your virtual 7.1 surround system correctly (and even to compare success of different virtual surround processing technologies), it's right at the bottom of the linked page:
https://www2.iis.fraunhofer.de/AAC/multichannel.html
and here's the link to the wav file to test your 7.1 virtual system (I've verified that it's actually using 7.1 channels as I used Equaliser APO to knock out a specific channel and it cut the audio for that virtualised speaker, so it's legit so-to-speak):
https://www2.iis.fraunhofer.de/AAC/7.1auditionOutLeader v2.wav
I've used that file to test my own virtual 7.1 surround system which is based on SoundblasterX G6 and K702 & HD560s Harman EQ'd headphones and for me it works wonderfully in terms of noticing the front/side & back locations. If you own a Soundblaster, then you'd probably use the Surround 0-100 variable to tweak to move the positions of those virtual speakers into the right positions which you'd verify with the test I linked. Those are my additions just for today, but let the experiences & conversations develop, and look forward to recounts of your own experiences, ideas & setups.
I've always thought "virtual 7.1 surround" was not a thing for headphones, much more of a marketing campaign than anything else. Can you point me out to a "starters guide" on how to set-up a 7.1 surround effect on my PC when using headphones?
Do you usually use this feature for movies or for gaming?
 

Luke Lemke

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Check out 'Spatial Sound Card' from New Audio Technology, available for Windows and MacOS.

The light version at around 10 euros works well for gaming, there is a more advanced version for studio/professional work.

You can configure it for 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 and it just looks like another sound card in your system. Simply processing and passing the virtual surround through to whatever real 2-channel output you have.
Interesting. So all I need is this software, a decent sound card and, of course, nice headphones. Is that all I need to set-up a decent 7.1 surround effect for gaming?
 

GalZohar

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Interesting. So all I need is this software, a decent sound card and, of course, nice headphones. Is that all I need to set-up a decent 7.1 surround effect for gaming?
The easiest way is to enable windows sonic by right clicking your speaker icon at the taskbar, and in the "spatial sound" sub-menu select "windows sonic". It's free and comes installed with windows. However, it's far from the best solution. At least it'll give you some idea of what it's about. For proper rear effects I found only Dolby Headphones (comes with certain hardware, like my old Logitech G35 Headset) and Sound Blaster SBX technology to work properly. But most solutions were successful in separating sides vs front at least.

A good solution works very nicely and is strongly recommended for any content that is originally in surround format. Especially games, but also movies. Some games have built-in virtual surround, in which case you should disable any external virtualization if you enable the in-game option (which is sometimes better and sometimes worse than the external one, depending on which game and which external solution you use).

What does seem like a gimmick is "real" surround with multiple drivers in the headphones. From online reviews I've seen - Those don't seem to work well at all.
 
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Robbo99999

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I've always thought "virtual 7.1 surround" was not a thing for headphones, much more of a marketing campaign than anything else. Can you point me out to a "starters guide" on how to set-up a 7.1 surround effect on my PC when using headphones?
Do you usually use this feature for movies or for gaming?
Interesting. So all I need is this software, a decent sound card and, of course, nice headphones. Is that all I need to set-up a decent 7.1 surround effect for gaming?
For me Virtual 7.1 Surround works very well, but it does heavily depend on which technology you choose to use, for instance so far it's only really SBX from Creative that works well for me. What you'd want to do is trial some different options and see which technologies produce the best surround positioning. In fact you can do that already by wearing your headphones and just listening to the files in the following post:
You'd want to make sure you have your headphone sound settings just setup in stereo in order to test out those different audio files, because the surround sound effects have already been baked into those files, so you literally have to play them in stereo rather than placing any additional surround sound processing on top. So you'd choose the technology that works best for you out of those demo files. As you listen to the files close your eyes and try to imagine where you here the sound coming from in relation to your head as each speaker position is tested - you'd choose the one that positions the 7 surround speakers most accurately. In terms of choosing a headphone, I know you have the K701, and that should make a good gaming headphone based on my experience with my K702, as they're almost the same headphone.......so try it with your K701. (You can also run a K701 Crinacle EQ at the same time if you like (if you can find one) or alternatively use Oratory's K702 EQ because K701 & K702 are very similar, if you want to even out the frequency response to Harman)
 
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