Glossary:Surround sound

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Sound card
Surround sound

For a list of games, see games with surround sound support.

Key points

Surround sound is used to give an increased perception of the space around the listener compared to normal sound setups.

Related articles


More information

PC Gaming Surround Sound Round-up @
List of games that use DirectSound3D
List of games that use OpenAL or OpenAL Soft
List of games that use other methods for binaural audio[Note 1]


Discrete surround sound

Most modern games are capable of delivering discrete 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound to the listener's receiver without the need for any post processing.

Use an HDMI cable and HDMI compatible reciever
Use an S-PDIF cable and a lossy compression mixer, such as Dolby Digital Live

Surround-compatible stereo

Also referred to as Dolby Surround (not to be confused with Dolby Surround Upmixer), Dolby Pro Logic II-compatible, Dolby Stereo, or 4-channel surround sound (not to be confused with 4.0 quadraphonic sound). This was first used in theaters in the 1970s, and was introduced to the home alongside VHS and Betamax in 1982, predating discrete surround sound. It was used in many venues and mediums until discrete surround sound became viable. One notable benefit of surround-compatible stereo is that it can be played back on any stereo speakers and still sound normal.

Use a surround sound upmixer
Suggested upmixers include Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6.
If using an upmixer that also incorporates height speakers; such as DTS Neural:X, Dolby Surround Upmixer, or Dolby Pro Logic II Z; you may want to disable your height speakers to remain faithful to the original mix.
Some newer all-in-one receivers do not include a surround upmixer.
Use headphones

Content mixed in surround-compatible stereo will have a surround effect when listened to over earphones or headphones.

Dolby Atmos for Home Theater

Dolby Atmos adds overhead sound by utilizing 2 or more in-ceiling or upward-firing speakers.
The Dolby Access app does not require any purchase to enable the use of Dolby Atmos for Home Theater.

This requires a Dolby TrueHD capable sound card, a Dolby Atmos capable receiver and speaker setup (with at least 2 in-ceiling or upward-firing speakers), as well as Windows v1703 or later and the Dolby Access app.


Binaural sound: HRTF

HRTF (Head Related Transfer Functions) refers to the way that the curvature of one's ears are used to localize sound in 3D space. Algorithms exist that can simulate this action, allowing for full 3D surround sound with just a normal pair of earphones or headphones. The resulting audio is refered to as binaural. While some games, such as CS:GO and Quake Champions include built-in HRTF options, many other games do not; requires external wrappers to enable. As such, it is not recommended for online usage. Listed are methods for adding HRTF using various APIs.



A pre-configured version of DSOAL that includes compiled HRTF tables can be found on NexusMods and ModDB. Note that while listed as being for Fallout New Vegas, it can work with most DirectSound3D games.

Alternative downloads for DSOAL:, Source code git.


OpenAL Soft is a free, open-source replacement for OpenAL.
Use OpenAL Soft (Windows)
  1. Download OpenAL Soft.
  2. Paste the contents of the folder inside the zipfile of OpenAL Soft inside %APPDATA%\OpenAL. Do not paste it in %LOCALAPPDATA%.
  3. Use this video to determine your personal HRTF table. If your table is an IRC_10xx table, download it from here. If your table is CIAIR, download HRTF data (2) from here. If your table is KEMAR, skip to the configuration step (alsoft-config.exe) and use the built-in tables.
  4. If your table is IRC_10xx, extract the contents of the zipfile you downloaded to %APPDATA%\OpenAL\hrtf_defs\IRC. If your table is CIAIR extract the contents of the .tgz file you downloaded to %APPDATA%\OpenAL\hrtf_defs (you may need 7-Zip).
  5. Copy makehrtf.exe from %APPDATA%\OpenAL to %APPDATA%\OpenAL\hrtf_defs.
  6. If your table is IRC_10xx, open IRC_1005.def in Notepad and replace all instances of 1005 with the number of the table you downloaded. Save as IRC_10xx.def, replacing the x's your respective number.
  7. In command prompt, change the directory to the location of your .def file, makehrtf.exe, and the HRTF tables you downloaded.
  8. If using 1.19.0 or newer, type makehrtf.exe -r RATE -d sphere -i YOURDEF -o YOURMHR. If using 1.18.2 or older, type makehrtf.exe -m -r=RATE -d=sphere -i=YOURDEF -o=YOURMHR. Replace RATE with the desired sample rate (usually 44100, although sometimes you may want to use 48000). Replace YOURDEF with the .def file of your table. Replace YOURMHR with the desired name of the resulting .mhr file (usual nomenclature is TABLENAME_RATE.mhr).
  9. Move the .mhr file(s) from %APPDATA%\OpenAL\hrtf_defs to %APPDATA%\OpenAL\hrtf.
  10. Open alsoft-config.exe in %APPDATA%\OpenAL\alsoft-config. If SmartScreen pops up, click "Run anyway."
  11. Configure with these settings: Channels: Stereo; Sample Format: Autodetect; Sample rate: whatever your sound device is set to; Resampler Quality: either linear or cubic[1]; Enable Dithering: checkmark; HRTF Mode: Force on; Prefered HRTF: whatever .mhr file you created, or a built in mode (KEMAR).
  12. Click Apply, then close the window.
  13. Copy soft_oal.dll to the same location as the game executable. For 32-bit games this is found in %APPDATA%\OpenAL\bin\Win32, and for 64-bit games this is found in %APPDATA%\OpenAL\bin\Win64. It may be necessary to rename soft_oal.dll to OpenAL32.dll for some games.
  14. Launch the game to confirm it works.


The makehrtf.exe included OpenAL Soft 1.18.2 and earlier create 16-bit .mhr files, whereas 1.19.0 and later create 24-bit .mhr files. OpenAL Soft 1.19.0 and later can use the 16-bit .mhr files, but OpenAL Soft 1.18.2 and earlier cannot use the 24-bit .mhr files.[2]
Precompiled HRTF tables for OpenAL Soft 1.19.0 and later can be found here. Precompiled HRTF tables for OpenAL Soft 1.18.2 and earlier can be found here.
Use OpenAL Soft (Linux)
Pre-compiled binaries for OpenAL Soft 1.18.2 can be found here.


Use X3DAudio HRTF

X3DAudio HRTF is a third-party injector for games using X3DAudio that converts the original spatial sound of the game into binaural sound instead. The tool works for Arma 3, Skyrim, and Fallout 4, but should also potentially work for other titles, including ones based on Unreal Engine 4 or developed using the Unreal Development Kit (such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter).

Download X3DAudio HRTF
Must use the makehrtf.exe included with OpenAL Soft 1.18.2 or earlier.
If using custom HRTF tables, make sure to create .mhr files for 32000, 44100, 48000, and 96000 hertz.[2] Precompiled HRTF tables can be found here


Use Rapture3D

Custom quality wrapper for OpenAL games. Among various 3D techniques, provides also its own HRTF tables.

Free Game Edition bundled with Dirt 3 can be used with other games following these instructions or using extracted libraries near game exe (enabling OpenAL in game options may be required).

Virtual surround

Some games do not support true binaural audio mixing. For these games, it may be beneficial to use a virtual surround sound solution.

Windows Sonic for Headphones

Free and built-in Windows 10 v1703 and newer.
Works with any game on XAudio2 on any HD sound card
Does not work with games that auto-detect the speaker setup of the system.

Razer Surround

Free version available, with an optional purchasable Pro version adding additional features, including (but not limited to) bass boost, sound normalization, and equalizer.
Uses a virtual audio output device exposing 7.1 virtual speakers, allowing games which auto-detect the speaker setup of the system to work with Razer Surround as well.
Works with any stereo headset/headphone; not limited to Razer peripherals.
No longer officially supported.


Virtual surround application that mimics the effects of most popular (and obscure) virtual surround and HRTF implementations.
Requires a virtual audio device, such as VB-Cable, for virtualization.
Setup video tutorial

Dolby Atmos for Headphones

Successor to Dolby Headphone.
Requires Windows 10 v1703 or newer, and a purchase after the trial period have expired.
Dolby Atmos tries to emulate realistic sounds, causing some sound to be perceived as "muddy" in comparison with other virtual sound solutions.[citation needed]


Exclusively for Creative X-Fi sound cards.
Some manufacturers provide their users with Creative X-Fi MB software to use it without X-Fi sound cards.

DTS Headphone:X

Exclusive to some headphones.

SBX Surround Sound

Available in SBX Pro Studio Panel.
Exclusively for Creative sound cards having SB-Axx1 chipset as their main chipsets, such as Soundblaster Z, ZxR, Soundblaster X7, etc.
Some manufacturers provide various Creative softwares for their users to use this surround sound.
You can purchase X-Fi MB3 software to use it.

Pure Virtual 7.1/5.1 sound over driver with Windows for some cards

Work on Windows Vista and newer.
Configurable via the native Windows sound panel without dubious programs.
Works on Asus Xonar series and Creative Sound BlasterX series, etc.
It works only with the above cards and which have this support.

Scout Mode

Exclusive for Creative cards (Soundblaster Z and some above).

Sound Tracker

Included in MSI Nahamic 2. Exclusive for MSI motherboards

Issues fixed

Sounds not playing on rear speakers when listening to 5.1 content on a 7.1 or higher system

The standard 5.1 setup does not have rear speakers. The "surround" speakers are actually placed close to where the side speakers on a 7.1 setup go.
Use a surround sound upmixer that supports 6.1 or 7.1
Suggested upmixers include Dolby Pro Logic II X and DTS Neo:6.
If using an upmixer that also incorporates height speakers; such as DTS Neural:X, Dolby Surround Upmixer, or Dolby Pro Logic II Z; you may want to disable your height speakers to remain faithful to the original mix.

Older games not using surround sound on Windows Vista or newer

See DirectSound 3D restoration software.


  1. This includes games from multiple systems, not just PC


  1. [OpenAL Soft HRTF - Explanation of resampler (point, linear, cubic, bsinc12 & bsinc24) - YouTube]
  2. 2.0 2.1 X3DAudio HRTF: Fix for sounds playing at full volume at any distance - YouTube