Many people seem to believe that surround sound in headphones is more or less a marketing term. And while that’s “mostly” true, if you’ve ever tried switching back and forth from virtual or real surround to stereo, then you know that there is a very noticeable difference.
The thing is that finding the best surround sound headphones can be a challenging task, to say the last. But that’s why we’re here to help you out with it! So, without any further ado, let us check some of the best picks that you can get!
Things to Keep in Mind
When buying headphones, keeping some things in mind for each type can help you with the decision process. After all, there is no such thing as the ultimate pair. It’s all about weighing pros and cons.
Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind when buying surround sound headphones:
- Software VS hardware surround: Most headphones use virtual surround to create the surround effect. However, there are also headphones that use real, numerous drivers to push sound from different directions. Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily make them better
- Virtual surround type: Some headphones use proprietary software to create surround sound. Others rely on software that you can use everywhere – such as Dolby Atmos. They all reproduce sound differently so pick whatever you prefer
- Enclosure: Open-back headphones are naturally airier and come with a wider soundstage. This can theoretically improve the surround experience – but don’t forget that both open-backs and closed-backs have their own pros and cons
- Wired VS Wireless: Pretty self-explanatory. Wireless headphones are more convenient but they usually also ask for a much higher price tag to deliver the same level of quality
- Sound signature and audio quality: You don’t just want your sound to be 5.1 or 7.1. It also has to sound good and in your preference. Some headphones are naturally more bassy than others while there are also neutral-sounding picks
- Audio channels: Surround sound can typically be found in 5.1 and 7.1 configurations. 7.1 offers more “directions”. But, again, more channels aren’t better if they don’t sound as good
- Comfort: Such headphones are commonly used for movies and gaming sessions and not just for 20 minutes of music listening. So make sure whatever you pick feels comfortable on your ears and head
Our 5 Best Surround Sound Headphones
These are some of the most important things that you need to keep in mind while checking out surround sound headphones. There are also a few other technical details such as imaging, build quality, waterproofing, soundstage, microphones, and more. But, for the most part, the aforementioned details above are the ones that you should keep in mind for now.
So, with all that out of the way, let us check out our top 5 picks!
Best for Easy Access to Surround Sound
If there’s one thing we don’t like about surround sound, then that’s that it often needs to be activated and de-activated through the use of software. That can be quite a bummer when you’re just trying to enjoy a movie or play a game and you notice that you have to ALT + TAB your way out of it for a minute.
That’s one of the main reasons that we like the Cloud Alpha S. It comes with a dedicated sound card that allows you to switch between 7.1 audio and stereo with the press of a button!
- Enclosure: Closed back
- Surround Sound: Proprietary solution with a dedicated sound card (7.1)
- Features: Microphone, bass slider, and removable cables
We’ve been using this headset for quite some time now and just like with any other virtual solution, the surround sound is a bit hit or miss. For example, it makes the overall sound much “fuller” in Assetto Corsa but very weird with some other titles, such as CS: GO.
But, again, that applies to pretty much every virtual surround solution. And don’t even think about music unless you’re in stereo mode. Though with that said, the 7.1 surround button makes it very easy to switch from stereo to surround which makes life so much easier.
Speaking of sound, we’d say that the overall sound signature is a bit bassy and sharp. But keep in mind that you can roll off a bit of the base with the physical bass slider or by using velour ear-pads as well.
As far as comfort is concerned, many people think that the Cloud series is the most comfortable we’ve ever seen with gaming headsets – and that may be true. These are very comfortable with lots of padding and relatively low clamping force.
- Very sturdy
- Bass slider is a welcome addition
- Removable cables
- Decent value
- Very easy to switch between 7.1 and stereo sound
- The clamping force can get a bit uncomfortable for bigger heads at long periods of usage
Accurate 7.1 Sound
Some of you may be annoyed by the fact that at least half of our picks are gaming headsets. But, it’s no secret that surround sound is usually something that the gaming and movie industry are going after for obvious reasons.
- Enclosure: Closed back
- Surround Sound: DTS Headphone:X 2.0
- Features: Microphone, wireless, lightsync, RGB, and macro buttons
Let us start by saying that the G935 is quite possibly the most “complicated” pick on this list. It has everything from software that you can use to tune the surround sound to RGB and even macro buttons.
If you’re not familiar with them, macro keys allow you to set a certain action or even a series of actions into one key. You can use these buttons to launch programs, execute certain tasks, and more.
As for the surround sound, one thing we particularly liked about it is that it’s noticeable more accurate compared to what most surround headphones offer. So, apart from getting the 3D audio effect, you also get to pinpoint more accurately where others are in games and where sounds come from in movies. Though with that said, keep in mind that stereo is arguably still the ultimate choice for competitive gaming.
Speaking of sound, as good as the G935 sounds, we’ll have to say that it’s a bit boomy. And that can be both good or bad depending on who you ask.
If there’s one downside, then that’s probably comfort. We’re not saying that these are totally uncomfortable. But, their clamping force is a bit strong which can make them tiresome over long periods of usage – especially if you have a rather large head.
- One of the few surround sound options where you can pinpoint direction
- Strong bass (If you’re a bass lover)
- RGB is a welcome addition
- Macros as well
- A bit pricey
Best Open Back Surround Headphones
Most open-back headphones are generally targeted towards audiophiles with the HD600s not being an exception. In fact, the particular pair is known as one of the best, if not the best mid-range audiophile headphones you can get!
- Enclosure: Open back
- Surround Sound: Only with 3rd party software
- Features: Removable cable
Keep in mind that this pair doesn’t come with any included surround sound software. So, you’ll either have to use Windows’ spatial sound, Dolby Atmos, or proprietary software from your game or video player.
The good thing about open-back headphones is that even without any software, they naturally give you a sort of surround sound. That’s thanks to the fact that air passes freely in and out from the headphones which gives them this airy feeling.
However, the downside with an open design is that you absolutely can’t use these on the road. Not only they won’t be able to block any noises at all, but others around you will also be able to hear whatever you’re listening to very loudly and clearly.
Other than that, even mid-range audiophile headphones are a bit expensive. So, alternatively, you may want to check a couple of cheaper options.
Last, but not least, the HD600 has a 300ohm impedance which means that you’ll definitely need a dedicated amp to properly drive them. They are still usable with portable devices – just don’t expect them to be loud without an amp.
- Unmatched sound quality for the price (If you like neutral sound)
- Wide soundstage even without virtual surround
- Great build quality
- Pretty comfortable
- Sounds very interesting with Dolby Atmos
- No extra features
- Relatively pricey
- Bad noise isolation by design
- Doesn’t come with any virtual surround software (But you can still use 3rd party solutions)
Best True Surround Sound Headphones
All of the headphones that we’ve checked out so far are using virtual surround. This means that they only have two drivers and the only way to achieve the 3D sound effect is by processing the audio and “tricking” you into thinking that it’s actually coming through multiple directions.
- Enclosure: Closed back
- Surround Sound: True surround with 10 discrete drivers
- Features: Audio control unit and microphone
Many people are saying that true 7.1 in headphones is more or less a gimmick – and maybe that’s true – maybe it’s not. At the end of the day, you still get 10 drivers and whether or not you’ll like the result of that is a matter of personal preference.
In fact, all the people that tried this headset are either very into it or not at all. It’s interesting how there is almost no middle ground.
Admittedly, the overall sound quality isn’t as good as some of the other headphones at the same price point. But, that’s the price you pay for having multiple drivers in a single headset.
The weight is also not the best. These are noticeably heavier compared to most of our other picks. For a point of reference, the HD600s weigh 260 grams while the Tiamat 7.1 is almost 400 grams!
As far as features are concerned, the microphone is a given for a gaming headset. Other than that, you also get a dedicated audio control unit which you can use not only for volume control but also as a splitter to quickly switch between speakers and headphones.
- True surround with multiple drivers
- The audio controller is a welcome addition
- The microphone and premium build are welcome additions
- Heavier than the competition
- Raw sound quality isn’t the best at this price point (Which is to be expected when you use multiple small drivers)
5: Astro A40
One would expect that Sennheiser would take the crown as far as soundstage is concerned. And on the more premium sector, they definitely do. But, as far as mid-range headphones and headsets are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better in terms of soundstage than the Astro A40!
- Enclosure: Open back
- Surround Sound: Dolby Atmos
- Features: Amp (optional), microphone, and removable cable
One of the main reasons that the soundstage is so wide is thanks to the open-back design of the headset. We assume that it also contributes a lot to creating one of the most pleasant surround sound experiences we ever had on headphones yet. Otherwise, the virtual surround software that the Astro A40 uses, Dolby Atmos, is something that you can use with pretty much any other headset out there.
The sound is generally balanced and bassy without being overwhelming. However, the treble can be a bit too sharp sometimes which is something to keep in mind.
Comfort levels are generally pretty high with comfy and spacious earpads. Clamping force can be a bit tight for some but generally not the point where you can easily get fatigued.
As far as downsides are concerned, you can expect to see the usual problems that are present on open-backs (See HD600). But, other than that, there’s nothing major to report. We’d say the MixAmp is rather expensive and that’s about it.
- Relatively balanced sound
- Superb soundstage
- Pretty comfortable
- Microphone and extra controls are always a welcome addition
- Very good build quality
- Zero noise isolation by design
- A bit bulky
These are our top 5 picks. If that’s too much information to process, here is everything you need to know about these headphones/headsets as quickly as possible:
- HyperX Cloud Alpha S: Offers one of the best value for money and it’s extremely easy to use. The closed-back design limits the soundstage quite a lot, though
- Logitech G935: This has quite possibly the most accurate surround audio we’ve heard yet and it also offers a ton of features. The only downside is that it’s a bit expensive
- Sennheiser HD600: Great option for audiophiles who are after not just great surround sound but also superb audio in general. Just keep in mind that you’ll need a dedicated amp along with 3rd party virtual surround software to use them effectively and they are also a bit expensive
- Razer Tiamat 7.1 V2: The only option in this list that offers true surround with 10 drivers. The only downside to that is that the audio is generally not the best and all the drivers make the headset a bit heavier and bulkier than the competitors
- Astro A40: All-around one of the best headsets for virtual surround. It comes with all the downsides of open-back headphones, though, and its amp is also a bit pricey
That’s about it for now. If you have any questions or if you want to make another recommendation that you think is worth a place on this list, feel free to let us know about it in the comments!