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Old 28-10-2018, 02:35 AM   #1
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Join Date: Dec 2001
Posts: 1,933
Virtual Surround, Dolby Headphones, HTRF, Binaural recordings

With the rage that is currently Super X-Fi, it's easy to think simulated surround processing in headphones was non-existent until Creative came along...especially when reading most of the current reviews.

I do not profess to have in-depth knowledge of the relevant tech, but I have used (and burnt cash on) enough devices to know that the out-of-the-head headphones audio experience has been around for the last 20 years. At least.

So to help provide proper perspective, here's a round-up of virtual surround technologies for headphones, based on what can be found by Google truly....(with some of my own opinions on things. This is not a wiki page)

Dolby Headphone / Dolby Atmos for Headphones

The overlord of headphone surround tech currently. Their technology is licensed on tonnes of devices (see link above for non-exhaustive list). But as far as I know, never on Creative products (Note: Dolby Digital is not Dolby Headphone). And I have been looking. Probably why Mr Sim said that he's been developing this tech for 20-ish years (which so happens to be around the time Dolby Headphone was commercially available)? He's been reluctant to license it from Dolby all this while. Kudos to him for finally finding some researcher to make one that he can patent.

Of course, other than Dolby and Creative, other companies are in this space. Although it can be confusing sometimes with the different marketing terms thrown around: Virtual surround, 3d audio, spatial audio, etc etc

And the origins and history of Dolby Headphone (developed by Lake Technology as Huron Simulation Tools from 93-96, started selling commercially in 97):

Also, from what I can hear, Dolby Headphone and Dolby Atmos for Headphones are 2 separate techs. The former takes in more general audio sources, while the latter is used to specifically support Dolby Atmos encoded tracks. But I do not know this for sure.

Creative Super X-Fi
Latest challenger to the Dolby Headphone throne. Currently the only headphone amp that offers headphone virtual surround processing for Windows/Mac/Android/iOS/PS4/Switch, and personalized settings for users.

Creative also acknowledges that

Why isn't Super X-Fi technology similar to standard 3D headphone audio?
3D sound has been around for years, it is nothing new. But whether these have gained any traction is clear.

3D sound has traditionally needed specifically supported content to give a reasonable experience. Attempting to use 3D audio processing on content not specifically made for 3D, such as standard stereo or mono tracks, often results in the audio becoming muddy and lacking clarity. 3D audio companies have traditionally taken an approach of a generic one-size-fits-all approach, resulting in there being no single optimal way for everyone to enjoy 3D audio.

Super X-Fi is different. Super X-Fi delivers....

...Except that the end result is the same, that everyone is trying to trick the listener into thinking that the audio is around them. Or speakers placed in front of them. Different terminology and methods, but everyone is after the same goal. And when the goal is the same, then we should judge all the tech in the same way.

Mic calibrated profile vs Ear shape image profile analysis by LiLAsN:

DTS Headphone X

TruSurround - SRS Labs (now absorbed into DTS)
Personally, I remember them for their TruSurround speakers / headphone surround tech in PowerDVD (still there). And that their headphone virtual surround effect always pales in comparison to Dolby Headphone (in Powerdvd).

Razer Surround

THX Spatial Audio

Windows Sonic for Headphones

Sony Surround (Wireless headphones and in Xperia handphones)

Sharp Aquos AM3D Zirene

Yamaha Silent Cinema

Realiser A16
Probably the company referred to by Creative that has a '$3000 product'.

nx from

Audeze Mobius

Spatial Sound Card (Free)

HeSuVi (Free, highly recommended if you're interested to try the various virtual surround implementations)

Equalizer APO (Free)

Out of Your Head (Free to try, US$149 for full version), which simulates existing speakers

The marketing jargon is so familiar, even down to saying that it's not / different from virtual surround...

Out Of Your Head is advanced audio software that replicates the experience of listening to high-end speakers using only headphones. The listener can listen to audio with the sound of different speakers and home theater systems with the affordability, privacy, and portability of just headphones. The sound is no longer inside your head, like conventional headphones—it comes from “out of your head,” as it does when you are listening to speakers and home theater systems.

Out Of Your Head is a breakthrough in audio processing software for headphones. It allows the listener to experience their music or movie as if they were actually sitting in the room with the speakers that were measured—but without having to actually be there. Think of it as audio “virtual reality.” If you close your eyes while listening to Out Of Your Head, you can “hear” the exact location of each of the 8 speakers in the room around you. You can even hear the sound reflecting off the walls. You can hear the difference between different models and brand of speakers.

Unlike traditional or existing “virtual surround-sound” processing and hardware that is currently available, Out Of Your Head does not simulate or create a virtual sound environment. Existing technologies do work to some extent in getting the sound sources out of your head, but they are far from accurate. Out Of Your Head plays back the sound exactly as you would hear it if you were actually sitting in the room with the speakers.

Defunct technologies:
Aureal A3D (sued to bankruptcy and bought by Creative)

Sensaura (bought by Creative)


My personal experience to get this headphone surround experience affordably has been via the PowerDVD software at ~S$100 (Dolby Headphone & TruSurround, Windows / MacOS only) and/or the Logitech audio adapter at ~S$35 (Dolby Headphone & DTS Headphone X, Windows / MacOS only), which I also mentioned here:

My experience with SXFi was limited to the testing at Creative HQ, both with my own in-ears and the Emu Teak. Against the Dolby Headphone and the Sony Xperia headphone surround, it did not significantly gave me a closer experience to real life speaker systems. But it does have a better amp for the higher impedance headphones and can support a lot more devices.


HTRF - Head-related transfer function
Essentially the algorithm(s) that process the audio to simulate the surround effect, and give people that out of the head effect. Dolby bought theirs from Lake Technology (or so wiki says), Creative rolled their own, and maybe sprinkled some machine learning on top to account for the ear shapes.


It is also important to distinguish the above post-processing technologies from Binaural Recording technology:

Explanation and examples of Binaural recordings:

Surrounded by sound: how 3D audio hacks your brain

Binaural Recording of a Musical Performance (feat. Peter and Kerry)

"Fly me to the moon" Cover- binaural recording

Virtual Barber Shop


Additional virtual surround information from Head-Fi forum:

The Nameless Guide To PC Gaming Audio (with binaural headphone surround sound)

A Comparison of different Virtual Surround Sound on the same Audio Track


Conclusion? By all means go forth and conquer the world if you can Creative. Let's hope in the coming days you can focus on improving the tech and actually be better than what Dolby has to offer, and convince the people who knows better.

Last edited by lxXXxl; 01-11-2018 at 12:12 PM..
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