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Dolby atmos is worse than I expected

I wanted to create this post regarding my thoughts on Dolby Atmos and what I think of virtual surround in general from a hearing perspective and something that isn't technically measured. This is used with the Sound Blaster AE-9 and the Tygr 300Rs.

 

I decided to try Dolby Atmos with the 7-day free trial and see how good or bad it is. Spoilers I will rarely use virtual surround

 

I didn't go into high hopes when trying out this virtual surround sound because I wanted my expectations low. That certainly didn't help because I just wanted to throw off my headphones in the first seconds of trying it out for either a game or music. Their virtual surround implementation is alright for a kind of fake "spacious" bathroomy type sound but the sound quality dropped harder than I don't know what. The sound got very grainy and had a lot of weird EQ going on which ruined the whole frequency response. Using their EQ didn't help with the sound either. As for directionality, it works surprisingly well to distinguish front and behind imaging in for example Battlefield and letting it downmix to stereo from using surround in the game. Mediocre for directional audio for footsteps and of course worse than without it.

 

Then I decided to compare DTS Headphone:X that came preloaded with my ROG Strix mobo and see if there was a difference. And yep, big difference. DTS seems to have less distortion and more clarity without all the graininess that Atmos comes with, but some weird things are going on here which are that for some reason DTS shifts the image to the left by like 3-5 volume adjustments in windows, and sounds like a channel imbalance. My headphones do not have a channel imbalance because turning it off fixes it. This makes it pretty much unusable. The other con is that the bass is boomy and the sound seems more pushed forward losing some detail. I am guessing it's like that because of the way they try to make a spacious soundstage with a "subwoofer" which doesn't sound good although the echo isn't there as much as Dolby Atmos surround. It has pretty good front and back imaging as well as Atmos but it's a lot better in terms of quality. Not that good directional audio either hence the boomy bass and weird imaging.


So as for my last "test" is that I compared both of them to my soundcard's virtual surround from the SBX settings and using the different percentages on the "surround" setting. This is closer to Dolby Atmos with almost zero to no sound quality compromise. Although it increases treble as well as a bit of echo.

 

Having it between 1-33% gives a type of sound almost like I have 2 speakers in front of me with a tiny bit of echo, between 33-67% is just the same but a bit wider sounding and kind of blending the channels. Up to 100%, it sounds almost the same but at 100% it somehow surprisingly makes the sound like it's both in front and behind me as if I am in a bigger warehouse or something, I'm guessing it has to do a bit with the echo and other effects it's applying. The echo is surprisingly low and not at all bathroomy as the others I've tried. This one retains good imaging/directional audio but has a small bit worse front and behind imaging than DTS or Dolby.

 

The only times I've had it to be more of a fun use case it kinda works for movies, casual games, an orchestral track or just to get immersed but not for quality or better directional audio.

 

Dolby - Grainy sound, bathroomy, hollow.

DTS - Channel imbalance (software related), boomy bass, detail loss.

SBX surround - Great sound quality, decent frequency response, same if not more detail

 

To sum it up don't use it if you need sound quality and proper stereo imaging and to rely on the game's sound engine. As for immersion or to have a different sound for casual games, movies, or just some orchestral track, sure. But Dolby Atmos isn't it anyway. I guess the built-in virtual surround in my soundcard works better since it has its hardware and processing for it and it doesn't sound half bad.

 

 

PM or DM me if you have any questions about audio.

My PC specs & audio gear

CPU > Intel core i7 14700K, GPU > RTX 4070 ProArt, RAM > Corsair Vengeance DDR5 2x16gb 5600mhz, Motherboard > Asus ROG Strix B760-F, Storage > 1TB M.2  & 500GB M.2 Kingston, Cooling > H150i Elite, PSU > MSI A850GL

🎧Current Audio Setup🎧

Beyerdynamic Tygr 300 R as daily driver

Soundblaster AE-9 Soundcard

AKG P420 Mic

Other peripherals

Keyboard > SteelSeries Apex Pro

Mouse > Steelseries Aerox 3 wired

Mousepad > Pulsar ParaSpeed XXL

VR > Valve index kit

Read this post if you want a "gaming" headset ;)

 

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Did you use Dolby Atmos for headphones with games that support it (call of duty) or random games?

The same with Dolby?

M.S.C.E. (M.Sc. Computer Engineering), Senior IT advisor in a hospital, 30 years of gaming, 20 years of computer enthusiasm, Geek, Trekkie, anime fan

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Just to clear one thing, the SBX Surround is just spreader, not virtual surround. As in, SBX surround is an effect that spreads whatever sound sounding like it would be surround, it has zero idea about spatial audio or anything relating to position of the sound. It's same as some old stereo spreaders that took 1 audio channel in, used some high and low pass filters to create 2 a bit different audio streams and gave 2 channels out, it made mono mix sound a bit more like stereo mix but in no case turned mono mix into stereo mix.

 

DTS and Atmos, at least when it comes to their Windows encoders, are more down mixers, they take in the actual surround mix of the audio and down mix it to stereo retaining the positional "information" (as in adding delays and stuff to trick your brain to think sound comes from certain direction, as in sound that is coming from the back right channel gets tiny bit lower volume and is played 0.something milliseconds earlier on right channel than on left channel with even more lowered volume, and yes, our hearing is that stupid in reality).  They're basicly turning surround sound into the ages old virtual barber demo.

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7 hours ago, 191x7 said:

Did you use Dolby Atmos for headphones with games that support it (call of duty) or random games?

The same with Dolby?

Yes

PM or DM me if you have any questions about audio.

My PC specs & audio gear

CPU > Intel core i7 14700K, GPU > RTX 4070 ProArt, RAM > Corsair Vengeance DDR5 2x16gb 5600mhz, Motherboard > Asus ROG Strix B760-F, Storage > 1TB M.2  & 500GB M.2 Kingston, Cooling > H150i Elite, PSU > MSI A850GL

🎧Current Audio Setup🎧

Beyerdynamic Tygr 300 R as daily driver

Soundblaster AE-9 Soundcard

AKG P420 Mic

Other peripherals

Keyboard > SteelSeries Apex Pro

Mouse > Steelseries Aerox 3 wired

Mousepad > Pulsar ParaSpeed XXL

VR > Valve index kit

Read this post if you want a "gaming" headset ;)

 

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1 hour ago, Thaldor said:

Just to clear one thing, the SBX Surround is just spreader, not virtual surround. As in, SBX surround is an effect that spreads whatever sound sounding like it would be surround, it has zero idea about spatial audio or anything relating to position of the sound

I did not know that. Never actually read up on how the tech works because I've only read through their website and it said this: Immerse yourself in audio! The Sound Blaster AE-9 supports discrete 5.1 surround channels, and up to 7.1 virtual surround channels. The sound card also comes with Sound Blaster's Surround virtualization technology that can be fully customized, or switched off completely.

PM or DM me if you have any questions about audio.

My PC specs & audio gear

CPU > Intel core i7 14700K, GPU > RTX 4070 ProArt, RAM > Corsair Vengeance DDR5 2x16gb 5600mhz, Motherboard > Asus ROG Strix B760-F, Storage > 1TB M.2  & 500GB M.2 Kingston, Cooling > H150i Elite, PSU > MSI A850GL

🎧Current Audio Setup🎧

Beyerdynamic Tygr 300 R as daily driver

Soundblaster AE-9 Soundcard

AKG P420 Mic

Other peripherals

Keyboard > SteelSeries Apex Pro

Mouse > Steelseries Aerox 3 wired

Mousepad > Pulsar ParaSpeed XXL

VR > Valve index kit

Read this post if you want a "gaming" headset ;)

 

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1 hour ago, Tigerleon said:

I did not know that. Never actually read up on how the tech works because I've only read through their website and it said this: Immerse yourself in audio! The Sound Blaster AE-9 supports discrete 5.1 surround channels, and up to 7.1 virtual surround channels. The sound card also comes with Sound Blaster's Surround virtualization technology that can be fully customized, or switched off completely.

There's a ton of Creative marketing speech. The SBX (Pro Studio) Surround is just effect, just like the Crystalizer, Bass and all that under theere in the software, the slider controls how strong the effect is which would be kind of stupid if you had actual surround sound (like slider to turn your 5/7.1 system into 2.1 system).

 

The Surround Virtualization works for headphones and still does the same as it's earlier iterations have done. If you activate it and check Windows audio settings, you will see it has changed your settings to 7.1 speakers (if you already didn't have) and basicly takes that 7.1 sound and does the same as the DTS/Dolby Atmos does and mixes it to 2 channel audio. It's basicly the same but further down the signal path so it doesn't receive the spatial audio data (the sound source position compared to the listener) but just the speaker output and down mixes that for headphones.

I say "basicly" because it's a bit more complicated, like level of simulating human head in a room with the audio source and calculating the differences between volume and timing ears hearing the sound and all that. Big difference here is that spatial systems calculate what listener HEARS while old surround system plays the sound from the SOURCE (more/less clearly; Surround system tries to play the gunshot where the gun is and your hearing can then deal with the rest while the spatial system calculates how the character you play would hear the gunshot). When it comes to games and softwares and those Windows spatial sound options it's more of that if games support actual spatial audio, they send the DTS/Atmos/whatever the object positional data (where the sound source is) and the software does the processing, while with games that don't support them they fall down to the line with that Creative Surround Virtualization and just take the surround sound that the game gives out.

 

TL;DR: The Surround Virtualization is working system for headphones but just know that if you put DTS/Dolby Atmos/whatever spatial audio system on, you may have two similar systems on top of each other and both work a bit differently that may cause problems.

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