Surround sound headphones are a cheaper, more compact solution to life-like audio requirements. When we think of surround sound, the first thing that often comes to mind is an elaborate setup with expensive speakers. But with the evolution of audio technology, the effect can now cross over to new medium headphones. If you are on the hunt for a new pair of headphones, you may want to consider a surround sound pair. Let’s take a look at the best surround sound headphones out there and how they work.
What is Surround Sound?
Surround sound is the term commonly used to describe a sound system that produces sounds from different directions. This, in turn, gives off realistic sound effects that seem to “surround” the listener. The surround sound effect is achieved by placing multiple speakers across a room at an equal distance. Each speaker serves as an audio channel and the sounds are directed to the speakers to mimic the actual location. For example, audio that is recorded to the right of the room will be played on the right speaker; when recorded from the left, will be played on the left speaker.
The distribution of signals helps to provide a live-quality effect to the sounds. For example, let’s say you are attending a live concert by an orchestra. In that case, you should be able to hear the instrument groups play from different parts of the stage. If you listen to a recording of the same performance in surround sound, the directional effect of the audio is reflected. In other words, you can hear the instruments from the direction in which they were recorded. Many headphones also offer wireless listening. Check out this list of the best wireless headphones to learn more.
8 Best Surround Sound Headphones for Audiophiles
Every gamer, music enthusiast, or movie buff wants a great pair of headphones. A high-quality pair of headphones can always uplift your gaming, listening, or movie-watching experience. And if you’re on the lookout for a new pair, you might as well get a pair of headphones with the latest technology. For that, we recommend surround sound headphones. Here are some of the best surround sound headphones for you to choose from:
Kingston HyperX Cloud II
The HyperX Cloud II is one of the absolute best true surround sound options available today. The most notable aspects of Cloud II are its durable design and optional virtual surround sound feature.
The HyperX Cloud II has a very stylish and modern pair of earphones with a user-friendly design. Nothing really stands out about its physical design and the materials that it’s made out of. It has an aluminum skeleton in between two padded ear cups and a braided cable that dangles to the side. The ear cups themselves have a soft memory foam cover with extra padding on the inside. There are two color options for the headphones: black-and-grey (Gunmetal) and black-and-red (Red).
Even more impressive is its sound card. The earphones are intended for wireless use and come with their own USB adaptor that you can use to plug into the PC and PS4. The microphone is also equipped with DSP processing, which reduces external noise when you speak. When used in actual games, you’ll notice that the sounds are bigger and very loud. Explosions and fight sequences are emphasized, and auditory cues are easier to detect. The headphone setup also includes a detachable cardioid microphone. It cancels out noise from the back of the microphone, so you can be heard clearly.
Disconnecting the USB module from the headset gives you a standard stereo mode. This is why you will also get a free 3.5mm jack that you can use to plug into an external device. You can plug it in almost anything—from phones and tablets to a gaming console. The microphones are detachable so it doesn’t get in the way when you don’t need it.
The HyperX Cloud II connects to most PCs via a USB adapter. It’s also compatible with the stereo base of consoles, including PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One S. Its 3.5mm ports also allow it to work with mobile devices and VR systems.
Steel Series Arctis 7
Steel Series is a brand known for its gaming headsets, and they’ve done it again with the Arctis 7. The main selling point for the Arctis 7 is its wireless connectivity and bi-directional microphones.
It’s not just the microphone that makes this headset stand out. It also stands out for its minimalistic and sleek design. Like other gaming headsets, it features an aluminum frame, but unlike headphones, this one has an elasticated fabric band to keep the metal frame off your head. This keeps the metal skeleton of the headband away from your head, for a more comfortable fit. The ear cups are lined with breathable pads that allow some air to circulate next to your ears. The headphones are available in two colors: white and black.
The Arctics 7 also offers great sound quality and ergonomics. It’s Bluetooth-based, so you can connect it to your PC or console without a cord. It runs on the standard Bluetooth frequency between 20Hz to 20kHz. It also promises lossless sound quality without any latency. The term “lossless” simply means the original sound quality is preserved despite undergoing a process that compacts the data. By all indications, you can expect clear and crisp audio inside a wireless package.
Besides Bluetooth accessibility and lossless audio, you can also switch between listening modes. You can switch from stereo sound to 7.1 surround sound. You can also adjust the output levels to different frequencies or set the dynamic audio range.
The SteelSeries Arctis 7 is compatible with most operating systems for PC. It’s also compatible with gaming consoles and VR systems. Unfortunately, the 7.1 surround sound only works if you are using Windows 7-10.
Turtle Beach Stealth 700
The Turtle Beach Stealth 700 is a dynamic headset that pairs up with almost any device that you can think of. It’s practically a one-stop shop for your listening, viewing, and gaming needs. This is done with the help of a mobile app that lets you chat with friends, answer calls, and even play music while gaming.
One of the first things you need to know about Stealth 700 is that it is wireless. You will need to plug in the wireless adapter and then download the Ear Force Audio app before you can fully use it.
The microphone on Stealth 700 is pretty strong and can pick up sound from all angles. The mic is also retractable and pulls up and out of sight. Pulling up the microphone automatically mutes it, which is very practical. Users also get to enjoy a long battery life, and for each charge, you can expect a charge-free run of about ten hours.
The Stealth 700 also features a great design. Its ear cushions are wrapped with synthetic leather, with a special ProSpecs design. This provides extra comfort for long gaming sessions and for people wearing glasses. The headband also features a strap on the side that you can use to adjust it so that it fits better.
The Stealth 700 features a variety of audio presets, including a bass boost. It also features virtual surround sound and active noise cancellation. On top of that, it has Superhuman Hearing technology which is what Turtle Beach calls its “sound boost.” The latter is a setting that lets you hear subtle sounds. It’s great for games where you need to rely on sound cues to stay alive.
The Stealth 700 is compatible with Windows, Mac, and iOS/Android devices. As we’ve mentioned, it’s completely wireless; it also comes with an optical jack that you can plug in to enjoy a dynamic chat boost.
Hyper X Cloud Alpha S
When the original Hyper X Cloud Alpha was released, it was widely considered one of the best gaming headsets ever. Basically, no other headset could match it in terms of price, comfort, and sound quality. However, the original version only offered a standard microphone and practically nothing else. The Cloud Alpha S is supposed to be the predecessor to the Cloud Alpha.
The Cloud Alpha S has a very similar design to the original Cloud Alpha. In fact, they may not have changed much except maybe for the color of the device. It makes use of the standard metal headband and padded ear cups attached to the side. The ear cups are made out of the same padded material that we have seen before. While it would have been more comfortable with velour-type material, you should still get a pretty solid deal with all the fabric included.
The main difference is that the Cloud Alpha S is more PC-focused than the original. The Alpha S is mostly wireless and comes with a USB adapter to facilitate a Bluetooth connection. It also comes with additional features like bass adjustment, which you can find at the bottom of each headphone. You can also replace the headphones with another pair of ear cups, individually or at the same time.
Another key feature is the Advanced Audio Control Mixer. This feature activates 7.1 surround sound and lets you adjust the game audio and chat balance without using a menu. Unfortunately, this feature is limited to PCs and PS4s. It doesn’t work on other consoles, where you can only get stereo sound. But like the original Cloud Alpha, it also features a control unit for chat audio and speaker volume. However, in this case, the control unit is attached to the USB adapter and not to the cord.
The HyperX Cloud Alpha S surround sound earphones are compatible with PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, and Android devices. The package also gives you an extension cord for when you need to plug the device at the front of the PC.
THX Razer Kraken Tournament Edition
Razer is a well-known staple in the gaming headsets industry, and its Kraken line was made especially for e-sports fans. The Kraken Tournament Edition is the latest addition to the Kraken line. This particular version features a new Spatial Audio capability. It’s relatively affordable and is also able to pair with a wide variety of devices.
Kraken Tournament takes on the appearance of classic earmuffs. It’s a pretty bulky headset with an aluminum headband and rounded earcups. Each earcup houses a 50mm driver that delivers stereo and surround sound. The headphone frame is made up of aluminum, with plastic earcups that are padded on both sides. The earcups, at least, stay on the side of your ears for longer without causing any discomfort.
The headset is attached to a waterproof, braided cable. Somewhere along the cable, you’ll find a toggle for speaker volume and a button to mute the microphone. This is pretty standard for most headphones. It also features a retractable microphone, which you can pull in and out as needed. When it comes to the color of the headset, users have two options: black and neon green.
Kraken Tournament has a bunch of new features, starting with a USB amplifier. The amplifier contains controls for volume, mic mute, balance controls, and THX spatial audio. Spatial audio is just a fancier term for surround sound. It offers 360-degree sound coverage for your music or video games. Not only can it reflect sounds from the front, center, and sides, but also from above and below you. Balance controls adjust in-game audio to accommodate chat audio. The headset also features a 3.5mm jack for when you want to connect it directly to a non-USB device.
The Kraken Tournament surround sound earphones are compatible with PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and even with your mobile devices. A second cable is included in the headset package, plus a sound card. Through the sound card, you can get access to add-on features from the Razer Synapse and THX Spatial Audio software.
The Logitech G430 is an affordable gaming headset that combines smart product design, great audio quality, and a reliable microphone. The headphones have a distinctive black and blue color scheme, with an expandable headband and padded earcups.
The Logitech G430 has a colorful yet comfortable design. The device is mostly wireless and comes with its own USB adapter. It also features two 3.5-mm connectors to attach the microphone and headphones. The headphones also feature a high-quality microphone that features noise-canceling technology. The microphone retracts whenever you don’t need it. They’ve also placed in-line controls on the headphone cord for controlling microphone mute and volume.
The Logitech G430 headband is pretty standard with aluminum material coated in plastic. It also features earcups that are padded on the sides to protect your ears from discomfort. The padding is covered with sports-grade, washable cloth that you can remove when you need to wash it. The ear cups themselves are lightweight and detachable.
The Logitech G430 offers excellent audio quality. It uses a virtual 7.1 surround sound format that lets you pinpoint the direction of the sound. However, this feature only works with games and audio that support surround sound. If your game is in stereo format by default, surround sound won’t have an effect. Luckily, you can easily switch between stereo and surround sound modes.
In addition, the earplugs are designed to encourage passive noise cancellation. It reduces interference and ambient noises by insulating sound.
The Logitech G40 surround sound earphones work with Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows 8, Windows 10 computers, and PS4.
SteelSeries Siberia 650
Steel Series is a well-respected brand in the gaming world. The company produces a variety of gaming products, but they are known for their gaming headsets. The Siberia 650 is their latest installment, and it is a follow-up to the excellent Siberia Elite. This version boasts surround sound features and noise cancellation.
The headset has a bulky appearance, with an aluminum headband and padded ear cups. The headband is lined with padded material to protect your head from getting into contact with the metal headband. The ear cups are padded with a rubber-type material that makes the ear cups a little harder than we’d like. Unfortunately, the headphone cable is permanently attached to the right side of the headset. It also features a unidirectional microphone with noise-canceling capabilities.
The Siberia 650 is a PC-based headset, which means that its surround sound features are also limited to PCs. It makes use of different Dolby technologies. The first is Dolby Headphones which offers very crisp and rich audio. The other is Dolby ProLogic IIX which uses virtual surround sound techniques to turn 5.1-channel content to full-range 7.1 channel audio.
Siberia has also recently come up with the third version of their app called Engine 3. Access to Engine 3 would allow users access to a 10-band equalizer as well as stored presets to control audio. Access to the software also allows you to control LED lighting, DSP, noise reduction, compression, and reverb. You can create customized settings, and the app will save them for you for auto-retrieval.
The Siberia 650 headset is compatible with your PC, PS4, Mac, iOS, and Android devices. Its dual function for wired and wireless gaming makes it the ideal headset for multiple use cases.
The Logitech G933 is the follow-up to the Logitech G930. It has a lot of visible similarities with its predecessor, starting with the design. It has the same bulky appearance, metal headbands, and square-shaped ear cups. The earcups are padded with a thick, pillow-like material on the inside. These not only feel comfortable to wear, but they also block out ambient noises. You might also notice a padded band underneath the headband. This is to protect your head from coming into contact with the metal headband. This headband is giving us serious flashbacks to the very first Logitech headphones.
The design similarities stop there, though. Logitech clearly took the effort to make this version far more aesthetically pleasing than its predecessor. This version has the flashy RGB lighting that Discord users have been raving about. This feature offers a color spectrum of about 16.8 million different colors and color variations. The colors are visible through the rims of each ear cup and through the lit-up logos on the side of the earcups. Granted, this may seem like a waste of electricity, but it’s an entirely gorgeous and unique concept.
The controls for most of the headphone functions are located at the back of the left earcup. From there, you can control the power via a switch, toggle between EQ modes, or turn surround sound on or off. You can also pick a cycle for the lighting, adjust the volume, and mute the microphone.
Logitech G930 is a solid setup not only in terms of physical design but also sound quality. Running the default stereo setting gives you a light, punchy sound. You also get a pretty good implementation of surround sound. The sounds give an impression that they come from different directions, and there are no audible lags and interference. So far, this pair of headphones is one of the best in terms of replicating the surround sound effect.
The Logitech G930 surround sound headset is exclusively compatible with PCs and PS4. That means you cannot bring it to an outdoor gaming trip or in the car.
How Does Surround Sound Work?
To better understand how surround sound works, we need to introduce two concepts: monoaural and stereo sounds. Monaural is single-channel audio that produces sound from a single speaker. The earliest speakers started out with monaural sounds. Then came the stereo systems, which made use of two channels. Each channel was routed through the left and right speakers, and most audio devices (TVs, computers, mp3 players, headphones, etc.) use stereo.
Surround sound technology soon changed how audio is consumed. Surround sound requires multiple audio channels, a total of four, originally. These channels are distributed across the listening space in equal measure. The original setup had four points of articulation: front, center, left, and right. Each channel would reproduce signals independently of one another. Besides the standard channels, another component is required—a subwoofer. It’s a type of receiver that delivers lower frequencies that standard speakers can’t. We are also starting to see an increasing prevalence of smart speakers in households. While these speakers were not designed with sound quality in mind, they can be installed as part of a home theater system that mimics surround sound. Here is the ultimate buying guide for smart speakers.
While the four-channel system remains popular, other systems have come to light. Nowadays, you can find systems with six or even eight channels. These systems usually combine standard channels with at least one subwoofer. There are 5.1 systems with six audio channels (five standard channels and one subwoofer). This standard is common amongst movie theaters, Blu-ray DVD players, and PC games. On the other hand, you also have a 7.1 system with eight audio channels (seven standard channels, one subwoofer). This standard is ideal for larger venues that need sophisticated sound systems.
Surround Sound Earphones
Surround sound systems are known for the immersive and life-like experiences that they offer. They can be found almost everywhere, from movie theaters to media rooms. The only problem with these systems is that they are often expensive and take up a lot of physical space. This is where surround sound earphones come in.
Surround sound earphones are a cheaper alternative to elaborate surround sound speakers. They can be used for any activity where sound quality matters, such as listening to music, answering video calls, or watching movies. But the highest benefit goes to gamers, who can now fully enjoy the combined benefits of realistic visual imaging and surround sound.
Surround Sound Earphones: How they Work
Not all surround sound headphones are the same. Some headphones are able to replicate the true surround sound setup in a miniature version. But there are also others that can only retain two speakers and the rest of the surround sound effect is mimicked with the help of audio techniques. True surround sound headphones follow the same concept as a full-blown surround sound speaker system. Virtual surround sound headphones, on the other hand, rely on algorithms to copy the effect without actually implementing it. If you are an audiophile on the lookout for a great pair of headphones that isn’t necessarily for gaming, we’ve got recommendations for you. Check out this list of the best audiophile headphones for music enthusiasts.
True Surround Sound
True surround sound earphones carry multiple channels for sound to pass through, just like with the real setup. They feature a number of tiny speakers placed in different spots within a headphone cup to handle different channels of sound. The original models featured just four channels, but new models feature 5.1 or 7.1 standards. These headphones present a solution to the problem of flat, physically detached sound. The sound enters the ear canal from multiple angles, which gives off the impression that the sounds are coming from different locations. The audio appears to have a sense of location, whereas standard earphones do not give any sense of this.
Surround sound earphones offer a distinct advantage over the typical system that uses large speakers. The fact that they clap directly to your ears makes for a better-controlled sound field. They also offer a major advantage over speakers-less interference; there are no background noises to clutter up or dilute the sounds.
Rationally speaking, true surround sound headphones should offer better sound quality. They feature multiple speakers, which means they’re more capable of producing rich, dynamic sound. However, this fact also makes it more expensive than virtual surround sound speakers. In some cases, manufacturers try to offset the price by picking cheaper materials to dress up the headphones.
Virtual Surround Sound
Virtual surround sound systems try to accomplish the same effect, but this is done using sound processing techniques. This technology relies on sound chips, pre-amps, or mixed amps to recreate the effect of surround sound. These sound chips and amps rely on a variety of algorithms that alter the way the human ears perceive sound.
Audio engineers can add sound effects like automatic delays, volume adjustments, and aural cues using algorithms. These adjustments essentially trick the human brain into believing that the sounds come from multiple channels instead of just two. Depending on the quality of programming, the illusion can be akin to a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system.
The technology also takes into account things like psychoacoustics or the way that people perceive sound. It takes into account the way sound is reflected and filtered through your head and ears. The scientific concept behind the movement of sound waves through the human head or ear is called the head-related transfer function (HRTF). In addition, it also takes into account individual differences in head and ear structure and how this affects the perception of sound.
Virtual surround sound headphones are much lighter than true surround speakers. Each headphone only carries a single speaker, compared to the true version that carries at least double that. This also makes virtual surround sound headphones generally cheaper than the true version.
Final Thoughts on the Best Surround Sound Headphones
This concludes our brief review of some of the most loved surround sound headphones in the market. With this guide, you should find a pair that fits your budget and listening needs. Whether you are an avid gamer, a movie enthusiast, or a simple audiophile, a great pair of surround sound headphones is always an advantage.
Most of the options that we’ve presented are middle range. There are other more expensive and less expensive surround sound headsets out there. However, it’s always wise to look at a product from a holistic perspective rather than gauge its quality based on price alone. Research your options and if possible, demo the product before making a decision.
Best to look at your headphones as a long-term investment, something that you plan to use and enjoy over the next few years. If you enjoyed this article and want to look for more excellent audio products, check out this list of the best noise-canceling earphones.