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What is Windows Sonic for Headphones (& How to Enable It)?

Last updated: 6 months ago
5 min read

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Windows Sonic for Headphones is a free program that artificially recreates the experience of listening to a 3D surround sound system.

It improves the audio in games and movies, making it more life-like and immersive.

The best part? It’s free, and we’ll show you how to enable it on your device step by step (more on that below).

HD6xx for gaming Windows Sonic

Traditional surround sound formats amplify your movie-watching and gaming experience. However, to make the sound feel like it’s all around you, you have to use software like Windows Sonic for Headphones.

CONTENTS (show more)

    In this article, you’ll find out:

    What is Spatial Sound?

    Spatial sound is a name for a sensation of sound coming from all directions around you. It mimics how you naturally perceive environmental sounds.

    The sensation is slightly different from the normal 7.1 surround sound, which only has a horizontal plane. Spatial sound adds height to the equation, making you hear things above and below, as well.

    The effect can be done physically by using multiple speakers. Or virtually, by using headphones, software, and psychoacoustic tricks.

    Psychoacoustics is a scientific study of how humans perceive various sounds.

    Multiple speaker setup from Logitech

    How Headphones Fool You into Hearing Big Soundstage?

    While we only have 2 ears, we can accurately pinpoint the direction of the sound.

    How’s that possible?

    When something emits sound waves (creates sound), one of your ears hears it sooner than the other. Then, your brain uses that delay information to calculate an approximate direction of the sound.

    More specifically, this is called head-related transfer functions (HRTF).

    These psychoacoustic tricks are also used when mixing audio. By adjusting reverb and delays, even headphones with 2 drivers can fool you into thinking the sound is moving around your head.

    How Spatial Sound Works?

    To experience the spatial sound effect, you require a surround sound mix (song, games, movie) and dedicated surround software to translate the mix to your headphones.

    Surround sound presentation
    Spatial audio mimics the experience of listening to multiple speakers but via headphones which only have 2 speakers (left & right).

    Sound designers make the sound mix. They create positional data of where all the sounds come from in a three-dimensional virtual space.

    In games and movies, sound designers take a lot of time to carefully place each sound where it should be, making an immersive listening experience. However, those sound mixes usually work best with multi-speaker setups.

    That’s where spatial sound software like Windows Sonic for Headphones comes in. It uses the positional data and converts it to adapt to regular 2-speaker headphones with a stereo sound.

    The result is an enhanced audio experience, as if you’re listening to home theater system in your room, but you hear it with your headphones.

    What is Windows Sonic for Headphones?

    Windows Sonic for Headphones is a spatial sound software that enhances the listening experience by enlarging the soundstage. It gives you the illusion of sounds coming from far away and all around you.

    Soundstage in headphones mimics 3D space around your head.

    Though, virtual spatial sound experience often comes at a cost of sound quality. Sounds that are artificially pushed away can sound quiet and less crisp.

    How Does Windows Sonic for Headphones Work?

    Windows Sonic for Headphones uses spatial sound data to analyze the direction of sounds. Then, it virtually creates a larger soundscape for headphones and places the sounds like in a surround sound.

    As a result, you hear things further away from you as if they’re coming from multiple directions. Consequently, you feel like you’re hearing sounds the same way we hear them in real life. It makes the audio more immersive.

    Windows Sonic is a great solution if you don’t have enough space for a real surround sound speaker system in your room.

    Man with headphones playing games
    Most games natively support spatial sound, so Windows Sonic should work with your favorite games too.

    How Many Apps Use Spatial Sound Data Supported by Windows Sonic?

    The audio source must be mixed in surround sound format for Windows Sonic spatial sound to work.

    However, only Dolby Atmos and 7.1 spatial sound formats work, whereas DTS won’t.

    Nevertheless, Microsoft points out that many developers use audio engines supported by Windows Sonic. Some apps are even tailored for Windows Sonic to fully use its potential.

    When to use Windows Sonic for Headphones?

    Here’s where you’ll gain the most benefit from using spatial sound technology like Windows Sonic.

    Man playing video games
    Enable Windows Sonic when playing video games to boost your immersion and competitive performance.

    Games: Video games are all about spatial sound, using special audio engines to ensure a listening experience with pinpoint accuracy. Therefore, this is the best way to test Windows Sonic.

    Movies: You’ll see the biggest difference in movies using 5.1 or 7.1 audio mixes. Remember that Windows Sonic can also use data from audio mastered for Dolby Atmos.

    Advantages

    • It’s FREE: No need for expensive equipment and license purchasing. Windows Sonic for Headphones comes with Windows 10/11 operating systems for free.
    • You can use any headphones: Windows Sonic isn’t restrained to specific headphones like DTS or Dolby Atmos. You can use it with any ordinary stereo headphones you have at home.
    • Saves space: If you have a small room, placing multiple speakers is impossible. Using headphones to create a similar effect is very practical.
    • Easy to enable: You turn on Windows Sonic with a few clicks. The setup is simple.

    Disadvantages

    • Possibly worse sound quality: Unlike Atmos or DTS, content isn’t explicitly mastered for Windows Sonic, leaving software some “room for interpretation.” As a result, you can end up with an inaccurate sound.
    • Not as good for music: Music typically isn’t mastered in surround or spatial sound format, so it behaves strangely when run through Windows Sonic.
    • Only for headphones: As the name suggests, Windows Sonic for Headphones works best for headphones. You might experience distortion when trying to use it on desktop or built-in laptop speakers.

    Should You Use Windows Sonic?

    If you want to experience virtual surround sound but don’t want to spend the extra money on subscriptions or additional equipment, then using Windows Sonic is your best choice.

    Though, not all audio content sounds good with it. You have to know when to use it and when to leave it off.

    Does Windows Sonic Works With All Headphones Equally?

    While Windows Sonic works with all headphones, not all provide an equal experience.

    • More gaming-oriented headphones and those with already big soundstage will perform better.
    • In-ear headphones show the least improvement when enabling Windows Sonic.

    How to Turn on Windows Sonic for Headphones? (step by step)

    Windows Sonic comes integrated with Windows 10 and 11 operating systems. Since it’s targeting gamers, you’ll find it on Xbox consoles as well.

    How to Activate Windows Sonic on Windows 10

    Here’s how you enable spatial sound (Windows Sonic) on Windows PC:

    1. Right-click on the speaker volume icon in the right corner
    2. Hover over “Spatial Sound”
    3. Select Windows Sonic for Headphones. And you’re set to go.
    Enable Windows Sonic on Windows 10

    How to Activate Windows Sonic on Windows 11

    Here are the steps:

    1. Right-click on the speaker icon in the right bottom corner and select “Sound Settings.”
    Enable Windows Sonic on Windows 11 - part 1
    1. Under the “Output” section, click on “Speaker.”
    Enable Windows Sonic on Windows 11 - part 2
    1. At the bottom, under the “Spatial Sound” section, you can select Windows Sonic for Headphones.
    Enable Windows Sonic on Windows 11 - part 3

    How to Activate Windows Sonic on Xbox One

    1. Navigate into Settings > All settings > Display & sound > Audio output > Headset format.
    2. In there, you can select Windows Sonic (or any other supported surround sound, for that matter).
    How to Setup Windows Sonic for Headphones on Xbox One

    How to Activate Windows Sonic on Xbox Series X (and S)

    1. Go into Settings > General > Volume & audio output.
    2. Under the “Headset audio” section, click on “Headset format” and select Windows Sonic.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    Does Windows Sonic make a difference?

    It depends on the content you’re watching. In general, the difference isn’t that huge. However, if you play video games, you should hear a clear difference in the soundstage size, providing better audio immersion.

    What does Windows Sonic do?

    It takes the location data in audio and places it in a virtual 3D space. Later on, what you hear is a sensation of a larger soundstage, with sounds coming further away from you.

    Do I need Windows Sonic?

    If you play lots of video games or watch movies with headphones, you’ll find Windows Sonic useful. It improves the audio experience to be closer to a real surround sound (like in cinema). However, if you already own a good pair of headphones with a large soundstage, you probably don’t need it.

    When did Windows Sonic came out?

    Windows Sonic for Headphones was added in the Creators Update for Windows 10 in 2017. Soon after, it was also released to Xbox consoles.

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