True Surround Sound Headphones

Surround Sound Headphones | Best Buys & Types

Surround sound headphones are a must for hardcore gamers. They make the game much more immersive, and allow you to be a better player by knowing where you’re about to be attacked from. They also help to make movies a little more mesmerising, particularly action-packed blockbusters.

In this article, we’ll explore the two main types of surround sound headphones, talk about the technologies behind them, and cover some of the best headphones on the market.

How do surround sound headphones work?

There’s two different types of surround sound headphones which use different technologies to create surround sound—true surround headphones, and virtual surround sound headphones.

True surround sound headphones

Surround sound systems use multiple speakers to “surround” you with sound. In a home theater setup, this might include three speakers next to the television, and two speakers on either side of the couch (5.1 surround sound because there’s five speakers).

“True” surround sound headphones work in the same way, but instead of the speakers being placed around the room, they’re placed around the ear cups to achieve the same effect. So true surround sound headphones use multiple speakers to create surround sound but in a much smaller space.

True Surround Sound Headphones

True surround sound headphones (Razer Tiamat 7.1) that use multiple speakers in one ear cup. Image from DEXTmall

Because true surround sound headphones have to pack so many speakers into such a small space, they tend to be bulky and expensive. And with software becoming ever more powerful, virtual surround sound headphones have become a lot more popular—they’re cheaper, smaller, and produce a similar quality of surround sound.

Virtual surround sound headphones

Our ears and brains have evolved to be extremely good at detecting where sound is coming from. This helped to alert our ancestors to danger, such as a tiger slowly stalking its way towards their cave. So when we hear the subtle crack of a branch behind us, we know exactly where it’s coming from and can whip around to fight off the stripey nightmare.

This phenomenon is known as head-related transfer function (HRTF)—how our ears receive sound from the space around us. Virtual surround sound headphones use this phenomenon to mimic surround sound, but with software instead of multiple speakers (they have just two speakers, one in each ear cup). The software is able to send the distinct audio channels to different parts of the ear, to mimic how you’d hear the sound if it were coming from a particular direction. If you were watching Mowgli with virtual surround sound headphones, and the dreaded tiger Shere Khan starts creeping towards you from behind, the crunch of leaves and snapping of branches would be sent to the back of your ear, so you’re tricked into believing that a deadly tiger really is about to pounce (try not to attack your chair in response).

Virtual surround sound headphones use software to create surround sound, so only have two speakers, and look like regular headphones. Image from JW

While there are plenty of standable virtual surround headphones available, you can also make most modern headphones surround sound capable by installing an app or amplifier (more on these below).

Because software is used to achieve the surround sound effect, the audio processing can happen in various places—on the gaming machine you’re using, an external amplifier, or sometimes in the headphones themselves.

Best true surround sound headphones

If you’re for true 5.1 surround sound headphones or 7.1 surround sound headphones, these are the pick of the bunch.

Razer Tiamat 7.1 v2

Razer Tiamat

Image from Razer

  • Cost: $379.95
  • Built for gaming—includes a microphone
  • Wired headphones
  • 10 speakers to deliver true 7.1 surround sound
  • Super comfortable
  • Compatible with PC

Logitech G430 7.1

Logitech G430

Image from Logitech Software

  • Cost: $100
  • Built for gaming—includes a microphone
  • Wired headphones
  • Great pad flexibility to make them extra comfortable
  • Two surround sound modes: Dolby 7.1 and DTS Headphone:X, which create a 360-degree sound field
  • Compatible with Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista

Corsair Void PRO

Corsair Void Pro

Image from JB Hi-Fi

  • Cost: $110
  • Built for gaming—includes a microphone
  • One of the best wireless surround sound headphones on the market
  • Highly durable headphones that should last for years
  • Dolby 7.1 surround sound
  • Compatible with Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, mobile devices

Best virtual surround sound headphones

SteelSeries Arctis 7 Wireless

Steelseries Arctis

Image from Steelseries

  • Cost: $249
  • Built for gaming—includes a microphone
  • Wireless headphones
  • Uses DTS Headphone:X surround sound technology
  • 24-hour battery life, so your gaming won’t be interrupted
  • Compatible with PC, Mac, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, mobile devices

Corsair HS60

Corsair HS60

Image from Corsair

  • Cost: $75
  • Wired headphones
  • Budget option—great value for money!
  • 7.1 surround sound technology
  • Attractive design
  • Compatible with PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, mobile devices

Kingston HyperX Cloud II

Kingston HyperX

Image from HyperX

  • Cost: $90
  • Wired headphones
  • 7.1 virtual surround sound
  • Well-built, durable headphones
  • Excellent bass
  • Compatible with PC: Mac, PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, mobile devices, and VR systems

Surround sound headphone apps

The market is flooded with virtual surround sound apps, each with their own proprietary technologies which produce unique sounds for each. These are the most common virtual surround sound apps available.

Dolby Atmos

When you think of surround sound, you probably think of Dolby. They’re the pioneers of surround sound technology, and you can download their Dolby Access app to activate object-based surround sound for any pair of modern headphones. Awesome!

DTS Headphone:X

DTS:X is a technology that was hot on the heels of Dolby, providing exceptional surround sound capabilities (up to 11.1) for headphones. Like Dolby, it uses an object-based method that tells the amplifier where a specific sound is located, to create a truly immersive experience. This makes it a prime choice for gamers.

Creative Super X-Fi

This multi-award winning technology recreates a surround soundstage in your headphones, delivering a natural-sounding experience with immense depth and realism. You can purchase standalone amplifiers that work with PC, Mac, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and mobile phones, or choose from a range of their headphones and earbuds.

Apple Spatial Audio

Apple Spatial Audio is a software that turns Dolby Atmos signals into surround sound, helping to recreate the cinema experience. As you might expect, they work exceptionally well with Apple’s AirPods, using its inbuilt accelerometers and gyroscopes to accurately position the various sounds and create an immersive experience1.

Sony 360 Reality Audio

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio uses an open-source technology (MPEG-H 3D Audio) to create a full 360-degree experience for the listener. This allows audio engineers to map out sounds in a circular space, and create truly unique songs and TV soundtracks.

Wired vs wireless surround sound headphones

Which is better—wired or wireless surround sound headphones? There’s pros and cons on either side, so it all comes down to your personal preference.

Wired headphones tend to be cheaper, have better sound quality (the audio comes straight through the cable), and don’t need to be charged. The only real downside to wired headphones is the wire itself!

Wireless headphones are a bit more expensive and don’t have quite the same quality of sound because it’s sent via a Bluetooth signal. On the other hand, there’s no ugly cable to get in the way, and you can also use the headphones for phone calls if you need to.


  1. Tom Parsons, 2021, Apple spatial audio: what is it? How do you get it? What HiFi