Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos are two technologies designed to handle spatial audio rendering. They both use different technologies to deliver the desired results. Most people looking for enhanced audio have to choose between the two solutions, and in many cases, they don’t understand how each one works.
Below is a table summarizing the major highlights of Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos for headphones.
|Windows Sonic for Headphones||Dolby Atmos for Headphones|
|It is free to use||A license costs $14.99, but there’s a free trial|
|The setup process is easy||It works best with supported headphones|
|Sound can be over the top||Justifying the price might be difficult|
Do you want to have a better understanding of how Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos work? The rest of the article will cover all you need to know. Watch out for tips on the best Dolby Atmos headphones to buy today.
How Do We Perceive Sound?
To understand the differences between the Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos technologies, you need to first grasp the principles of how we perceive sound. When sound is generated, it goes through your body first before reaching your ears.
Your brain will interpret the difference between when the sound hits each ear, and also how your head and earlobes modify it. This is how you are able to know where a sound originated from. The process of how sound changes while passing through the body is referred to as head-related transfer functions (HRTF).
Now, when using your headphone, the sound is not processed by the brain in the same way it would when you are listening to media from loudspeakers or listening to a live performance. Technologies like Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos are designed to replicate HRTF, making your brain to think that the sound you hear over your headphones is coming from multiple directions instead of just the headphones sitting directly over your ear.
These technologies rely on a virtualized approach to ensure that users are enjoying high-quality spatial sound when using stereo headphones. With spatial surround sound, you get a more immersive experience that makes you feel like you are one of the characters in a game or movie.
You’ll also be able to hear sounds specifically as the characters hear them. For example, in a scene with an airplane flying overhead, you’ll hear the plane all around you with a normal sound system, but a spatial sound system like Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos will give you the feeling that it is flying directly above you.
What Is Windows Sonic for Headphones?
Windows Sonic is Microsoft’s unique spatial sound creation designed to work on a system-level for Xbox One and other Windows 10 devices. It was introduced with the Creator’s Update of early 2017. You can enjoy Windows Sonic for headphones on any device that is fully updated, free of charge. By default, this feature is disabled, so you have to turn it on.
One major advantage of Windows Sonic is that it works well with any decent headphones. Once you’ve got your headphone plugged in, toggle the Windows Sonic option on for the device you’re using, and you’re on to spatial sound. Of course, you can also switch as easily if you are not impressed with the sound you hear.
You’ll find Windows Sonic more engrossing while playing video games. Microsoft’s entrance into the 3D audio world means that many game makers now ensure their game soundtracks are compatible with 3D sound solutions like Windows Sonic. This means you’ll be able to hear more immersive sounds on your headphones, as well as external speakers.
How Windows Sonic for Headphones Works
As you’ve seen above, the technology is largely virtualized. This means that the bulk of the work required to produce the sound is done by software and not by the physical hardware you are using. This means you don’t need any special Windows sonic headphones to make it work.
You should keep in mind the fact that Windows Sonic for headphones will only work when you are playing sound from games, movies, or applications that have been designed to render to 7.1 channel formats. This means that there are games and video sounds that won’t change even after you’ve activated it.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Windows Sonic for Headphones?
There are a few pros and cons of using Windows Sonic for headphones. They include the following:
- You don’t have to worry about getting external hardware to enjoy the spatial sound produced.
- Windows Sonic for Headphones is free to use.
- The setup process is as simple as flicking a switch.
- The sound can be slightly over the top in some instances.
- It doesn’t work well with external speakers.
How Can You Activate Windows Sonic for Headphones in Windows 10?
If you didn’t know your Windows 10 device has the spatial audio feature, you’re not alone. Microsoft has barely promoted the technology since it launched, so some people are not aware it exists. To activate it, right-click the volume icon on your taskbar, and you’ll find the “Spatial Sound” menu. Click on Windows Sonic for headphones to turn it on, and you are good to go.
What Is Dolby Atmos for Headphones?
Dolby Atmos is a spatial sound technology developed by Dolby Laboratories. Many devices from various ecosystems support it. Dolby Atmos for headphones also works with home theater setups. To use it, you need to pay a $14.99 fee for the license.
How Dolby Atmos for Headphones Work
Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic work in a very similar manner. However, some people see Dolby Atmos as an improvement on the typical surround sound because it comes with added height to the spatial sound, which ensures a smoother and more realistic surround experience when you are playing a movie or game.
To enjoy the full Dolby Atmos for headphones experience, however, you’ll need to buy a headphone that supports the technology. This is also true for loudspeakers. Windows 10 devices that have the Creators Update can also support Dolby Atmos.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Dolby Atmos for Headphones?
Here are the pros and cons of using Dolby Atmos for headphones. They include the following:
- There’s a free 30-day trial for you to test the technology.
- Most games sound more immersive with Dolby Atmos.
- The Dolby Atmos app supports other surround systems outside of headphones.
- At the end of the free-trial, you’ll need to pay $14.99 to get a license.
- The extra hardware required to deliver the sound can make the setup process difficult and costly.
- The license fee isn’t justified by the level of sound improvement you’ll get.
How Can You Activate Dolby Atmos for Headphones in Windows 10?
Activating Dolby Atmos on a Windows 10 device is straightforward. In the menu, you’ll find after right-clicking on your volume icon, simply select Dolby Atmos. However, it won’t start working until you have registered for a free trial or acquired the license. To do any of those, you’ll need to get the Dolby Access app from the Windows Store. Once installed, launch it and follow the prompts to set it up.
You’ll have two options to choose from once you’ve activated Dolby Atmos: headphones or home theater. If you choose the latter, you’ll need to confirm that your home theatre hardware supports spatial audio tech. The speaker on newer PCs will support this feature, but older ones could have some problems.
How Does Spatial Surround Affect Music, Gaming, and Movies?
You’ve already seen how spatial sound provided by Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos for headphones can improve the gaming experience with the helicopter example above, but that’s not all. You’ll also be able to hear the direction of footsteps and gunshots. In many games, being able to use your ear alongside your other skills can improve your results.
The two technologies create an immersive sphere of sound around the listener. This ensures you’ll be able to hear positional sounds in some sort of 3D arc above you. This effect is more pronounced in combat games where your enemies are spread out across different directions. Since you can hear the direction of footsteps, you won’t have to randomly scout the area to find the enemy.
You can find games that are Dolby-Atmos compatible on this page.
Watching movies may not require as much use of your sensory function as playing a game, but hearing spatial sound can improve your viewing experience a great deal. You’ll be able to pick up subtle nuances you’d ordinarily miss with some sound technologies. Movies that are Dolby Atmos compatible can be found on this page.
When it comes to listening to music, spatial surround doesn’t negatively affect your music listening experience. If you are listening to a typical stereo music file, it won’t matter if you’ve got Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos activated as there’ll be no difference. If you are listening to music encoded in 5.1 or 7.1, however, you’ll feel the spatial surround immediately.
Dolby Atmos or Windows Sonic for Headphones: Which Should You Choose?
In terms of quality, there’s very little difference between Windows Sonic for Headphones and Dolby Atmos, so it often comes down to personal preferences. This is why the price difference is the main differentiating factor for many people. While the former is free to use, the latter requires paying for a license.
Both of them provide noticeable improvements to audio in compatible games, music, and movies, but it’s hard to say that one is better than the other. Some people might find Windows Sonic sounds exaggerated, while others will consider Dolby Atmos a bit shallow.
If you are listening to specific proprietary audio, however, Dolby Atmos may be the better solution. If you are thinking of the better technology for more general-purpose usage, then Windows Sonic might provide the best overall experience.
Movies and video games provide the best test of the spatial sound quality between both technologies. The technologies make it easy for game developers to give players a new layer of depth and immersion.
Both technologies allow game developers and moviemakers to offer an extra layer of engagement to players and viewers in terms of depth and immersion. Since they allow gamers and movie lovers to enjoy more nuances with sound, you won’t be limited to horizontal sound. Additionally, both technologies can seamlessly adapt to your headphones, speakers, or special home theatres.
When choosing between Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic for headphones, don’t forget that some games and movies are optimized for one of the technologies only. Therefore, games or movies that have been optimized for one side of the divide will sound better there compared to the other side.
Again, keep in mind that the differences between them are rarely very noticeable, so it shouldn’t be a problem for most people. If you are an audiophile, however, you’ll need to spend more time going over each one to choose what works for you. Remember, you can only test Dolby Atmos with a free trial and a headphone that is supported. After the test, you’ll have to decide if the gains are enough value for a license fee.
Best Dolby Atmos Headsets to Choose From
As you’ve seen above, Dolby Atmos for headphones works best when you are using a compatible headphone. Here’s a look at some of the best you can find in the market today:
Razer Tiamat 7.1 v2
The Razer Tiamat was built with a focus on gaming, but it is also a good option for watching movies. It comes with an external control unit for levels, and you can seamlessly switch from stereo to 7.1 sounds and back. Muting and unmuting, as well as transferring the audio to external speakers, is straightforward too.
The ear cushion on the headset ensures you can wear the headphone for hours with very little discomfort. It comes with 1 x 40mm driver, 2 x 30mm drivers, 2 x 20mm drivers.
RIG 800LX Wireless
Designed by Plantronics, the RIG 800LX Wireless is another powerful Dolby-Atmos compatible headset designed for gaming. The audio quality is great, and it fits more comfortably over the head when compared to some of its predecessors, like the RIG 500 Pro. To use this headphone, however, you’ll need to unlock Dolby on Xbox One and Windows 10 using the code provided in the package.
RIG 800LX comes with 40mm drivers, which allows it to deliver a wide soundscape. It is light and promises a 24-hour battery life.
Sony MDR-HW700DS Surround Sound Headphones
The Sony HW700DS is a powerful surround sound headphone that comes with a sound upmixing decoder which provides crisp Dolby Atmos sounds. It can reproduce 5.1 and 9.1 surround sounds, as well as a 2-channel stereo sound. It is a wireless headphone that comes with preset modes for movies, gaming, and audio. However, it has a 12-hour battery life. So you’ll need to charge it a bit more frequently.
Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro
If you are an audiophile looking to go big on a Dolby Atmos optimized headphone, you should seriously consider the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro. It is more expensive than others on this list, but with the quality jump, it isn’t a surprise. This is a powerful headphone with punchy mids and natural bass.
The 5Hz to 40kHz frequency response and the 45mm dynamic Tesla neodymium drivers are just some of the features that make this headphone stand out. It is very comfortable to wear for long periods as well. However, it is a 250-Ohm unit, so you’ll need a headphone amp to get the best out of it.
If the price on this model is too high for you, you can consider getting the cheaper DT 770 Pro (amazon), which is an 80-Ohm unit that packs a sizable punch as well.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is a light and comfortable wireless headphone that delivers very good audio quality. Its ear cups are designed to create a spacious sound stage, which makes the headphone a perfect example of virtual soundscaping.
It has excellent battery life, and you can use it for hours without worrying about overheating or discomfort from wearing it. It is also a bit costly, but there is a reason why thousands of people love it!
When it comes to choosing between Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos for headphones, it is difficult to draw a line. Both of them deliver crisp spatial sound experiences, but their final outputs are still reliant on a myriad of factors, including the source material, and your headphone model. This is especially true for Dolby Atmos.
Windows Sonic is less reliant on hardware, but you still need a quality headphone to get the full immersive experience. The $14.99 license fee for Dolby Atmos may be a deal-breaker for some people, but if you already have a healthy catalog of Dolby-optimized games, movies, and music, it may be worth the investment.
Also read: Is Dolby Atmos Actually Worth It?
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.