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How to get better audio with the Windows Sonic For Headphones Spatial Sound format

Hidden within the depths of the Windows 10 Creators Update is an audio enhancement designed to dramatically bring out the spatial sound in games and movies. Here's how to take advantage of it.

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The Creators Update brought a host of new features to the Windows 10 operating system. And as I have said before, while a lot of these new features are noteworthy, many others are less well known and unfortunately remain in the shadows. Such is the case with the new Windows Sonic For Headphones Spatial Sound format feature, which is essentially a surround sound emulator for headphones.

The new Spatial Sound format in the Creators Update is primarily intended to augment the HRTF (head related transfer function) sound capabilities built into Microsoft HoloLens. However, it works great with a set of good quality headphones.

I recently began exploring this new feature on my laptop while watching some great Sci-Fi movies on Netflix. I plugged in my Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3D Rage Wireless Gaming Headset, enabled the Windows Sonic For Headphones Spatial Sound format, cranked up the volume, and was blown away by the dramatic sound of the special effects and music embedded in the movies I was watching. The Windows Sonic Spatial Sound format is really awesome for games as well as movies. It even works to some extent with your digital music. Let's take a closer look.

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What is spatial sound?

At its most basic description, spatial sound is essentially a form of virtual surround sound, and Windows Sonic For Headphones is Microsoft's latest incarnation of the technology. However, it's better. I found a detailed definition on the Windows Dev Center. The description is aimed at developers, but it provides a nice explanation of the technology.

Dolby Atmos for Headphones

The Windows Dev Center description explains that the Spatial Sound feature in the Creators Update also provides support for Dolby Atmos for Headphones. However, this is a third-party app from Dolby that you must download from the Windows Store. You can download it for a 30-day free trial, but to keep using it you must purchase it for $14.99. The audio/video demos that come with the Dolby Access trial app, shown in Figure A, are awesome, so I recommend that you try it out. But I'm not going to cover it in any more detail in this article.

Figure A

The audio/video demos on the Dolby Access trial app sound way cool.

Headphones

As I mentioned, you will need to have a pair of good quality headphones for the Spatial Sound feature to function. The main headphones I used were the Tactic3D Rage headset; however, I also used a Logitech USB Headset H390. In addition, I tried to use several pairs of earbuds plugged into audio jack and they did NOT work.

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Set up Windows Sonic For Headphones

Setting up the Windows Sonic For Headphones Spatial Sound format is easy. Of course, you have to be running the Creators Update version of Windows 10.

To begin, connect a set of quality headphones to your computer. If you don't connect the headphones first, you won't have access to Spatial Sound format.

Once you have your headphones connected, right-click on the Speakers icon on the system tray. From the context menu, click Spatial Sound (None), as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You have to connect your headphones before the Spatial Sound feature will appear on the context menu.

When you select Spatial Sound, you'll see the Speakers Properties dialog with the Spatial Sound tab selected, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

The Speakers Properties dialog will have a tab titled Spatial Sound.

To continue, click the dropdown arrow and select Windows Sonic For Headphones, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Select Windows Sonic For Headphones Spatial sound format.

When you do, you'll see that the Turn On 7.1 Virtual Surround Sound check box is automatically selected, as shown in Figure E. This setting allows the proper multi-channel processing such that the audio you hear in your headset is perceived to be moving in a three-dimensional space.

Figure E

The Turn On 7.1 Virtual Surround Sound check box is selected automatically.

To complete the procedure, click OK.

Check out the enhanced audio

To see the difference Windows Sonic Spatial Sound format makes, launch Windows 10's Movies & TV app, shown in Figure F, and choose a couple of movie trailers. Watch and listen with the Windows Sonic Spatial Sound format enable. Then, disable the feature and listen again. You'll be sure to notice a difference.

Figure F

Check out some movie trailers in the Movies & TV app.

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What's your take?

Have you experimented with the Windows Sonic For Headphones Spatial Sound format? Could you tell a difference? What headphones worked best for you? Share your thoughts with fellow TechRepublic members.

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