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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
hi all!

it is my understanding that this forum is one the premier audio forums and so i hope i'm in the right place

i'm currently researching positional audio in headphones for gaming (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) and have questions in this regard

i understand that when "gaming" is in the product title, it's probably garbage, but i'm only running test and so i am far more concerned with determining the position of a sound (footsteps, gunfire) in an FPS than i am with audio quality, and this is where i'm in need of some help...

1) 5.1/7.1 verses stereo: i have 3 phones i'm testing - 1 stereo, 1 multi-driver 7.1, 1, duel driver virtual surround -- the multi-driver surround (Turtle Beach Ear Force AK-R8) has 8 physical drivers and offers the best positional experience, at least for left/right, however there is a possible caveat with front vs rear; although a sound in front of the player sounds quite different than the same sound, at the same distance, coming from the rear, i am unsure whether it just sounds different, or whether the sound is actually positioned differently in the virtual soundscape???

in CS:GO, sounds coming from the rear are possibly lower in volume, higher in bass and lower in the mid ("muddier" is how this non-audiophile would describe it) than those coming from the front, but is there really any difference in the perceived direction of the sound?

2) stereo surround: this is related to my 1st Q -- is it truly possible to accurately determine the position of a sound within the soundscape with stereo with regard to front/rear?

3) cs:go specific: the newest iteration of counter-strike is supposed to have a decently tuned sound system, especially for headphones (it offers an option for 5.1 also), though IMO it can't remotely compare to the old A3D/Aureal option offered in cs 1.5/1.6 - that being said, i still expected to be able to determine front/rear position of sounds. i'm on an older laptop (Clevo/Sager W870CU) with a Realtek on-board chip. my Q is; is my inability to determine the origin of front/rear sounds when using stereo phones because of the fact that they're stereo phones or the sound card or the game sound system what? would an external DAC help?

4) if a listening device is plugged into USB, is the internal sound card completely bypassed?

  • DVDdoug
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #1
"Your mileage may vary"...

You only have 2 ears and one of the main  ways we locate a sound in 3D space is by moving our heads to get another "triangulation".  Of course when you move your head, the headphones move with you so this doesn't work.

With a game, the visual cues may help to enhance any psychoacoustic "tricks" they're using.

Head Tracking Headphones seem like the best solution.  When you turn your head, the sound hitting your ears changes appropriately.  But, I've never tried them.

Quote
1) 5.1/7.1 verses stereo: i have 3 phones i'm testing - 1 stereo, 1 multi-driver 7.1, 1, duel driver virtual surround -- the multi-driver surround
I've never tried 5 or 7 channel headphones with separate drivers for each channel  either, but logically they don't make sense to me.  (I don't think any headphones have the "point one" subwoofer.  )

Quote
2) stereo surround: this is related to my 1st Q -- is it truly possible to accurately determine the position of a sound within the soundscape with stereo with regard to front/rear?
Generally no.  Some people seem to get good surround-results with regular headphones and Dolby Headphone.  It doesn't work with me...  It "does something", but I don't perceive the sound as coming from behind  me.  As far as I know, Dolby doesn't claim they can make sounds from the rear...  They claim Dolby Headphone "creates the sensation of multiple speakers". 

...Personally, I don't get a good regular-stereo "soundstage" illusion with headphones either.    I can hear hard-panned left & right sounds coming from the headphone drivers right next to my ear...  Centered sounds seem to come from somewhere near my forehead...  With headphones, everything seems to come from very-near my head.    (With Dolby Headphone I do loose the "sound injected directly into my ear" effect for hard-panned sounds, but the sound still seems to come from somewhere vaguely near my forehead.)

Quote
4) if a listening device is plugged into USB, is the internal sound card completely bypassed?
Correct.
  • Last Edit: 21 July, 2015, 05:22:56 PM by DVDdoug

  • andy o
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #2
I have been a proponent for Dolby Headphone for years (given there's no better standard that's gained any traction). For me it does work, I can distinguish clearly the sounds coming from 4 of the 5 main speakers in a 5.1 channel config as coming from the outside. The center channel is trickier, but it is pretty acceptable. You can tell the effect more clearly by AB'ing with a card like the Xonars which just let you flip a switch, and running a 5.1 (or even 7.1) test, the easiest one to use is Windows' own channel test.

Given how impressive binaural recordings are, I think DH and DTS Surround Sensation (and others like it, but the ones I've tried like Creative's and SRS's sucked) are as close as you can get to real-time virtual processing.

I haven't tried multidriver headphones, but I'm very suspicious of them.

surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #3
thanks for the replies guys

it looks to me like the game would have to be coded with Dolby support in order to gain any benefit from Dolby cans, correct?

the old A3D/Aureal sound processing was the ticket as anyone who's used it in CS with a compatible sound card would probably agree - accurate positional audio (and i do mean *accurate*) was fantastic with A3D - now, over a decade later, i'm wanting to bring back that experience - for anyone that's interested, there's a cat in RU that's actively working on this with his A3D-Live! project...

A3D-Live!
http://www.worknd.ru/

Your old PC games might sound the same again; there's an A3D (Aureal) wrapper
http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=881030

surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #4
When I was started gaming all my mates insisted I needed a high quality surround sound type headset. So I bought a, really fairly expensive at the time, pair of SteelSeries 5HV2.

5HV2 review.

I very quickly decided they were rubbish and went back to using my regular stereo headphones (Senn HD25-! II) and a stand mount mic. I must add most of my gaming mates disagree and love their special processing and custom 'for gamers' stuff. I do have an advantage in that having studied biology and a bit of medicine I know that we only have 2 ears. We make them work pretty well to obtain positional cues too. here's a decent demo showing how effective simple stereo on it's own can be.

Virtual Barber shop.

surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #5
yeah, that virtual barber shop demo is pretty cool

regarding the 'only 2 ears' thing, i've found that allot of audiophiles have the same opinion, however, absent meaningful evidence, i might tend to disagree that you can't discern the diff between front/rear position (and i do mean actual physical position vs just processing the same sound differently) with multi-driver surround sound headphones - it seems to me that you can, just not in Counter-Strike since, apparently, it lacks a true capability for positional audio in the front/rear regard

that said, i may be very wrong, however when the audiophiles speak of surround sound cans, it often isn't clear whether they are referring to the virtual type (2 drivers) or the multi-driver type and i suspect it is most often the former which of course isn't true surround

  • andy o
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #6
If you have a Dolby Headphone sound card any game that supports 5.1 or 7.1 audio will work. I have a Xonar U1 on my HT/game PC and a U3 on my laptop. I think you can still buy the U3 and check it out. Assuming you have Windows 7+, you just set the Xonar control panel to 6-8 channels input and "analog out" to headphones, and the DH option will appear. Make sure not to set the control panel to fewer than 6 channels, cause that's the number that it will virtualize (DH can also virtualize stereo, putting the sound in front of you only, not surround).

The reason many people don't trust those multi-driver headphones is that they only make "sense" in a very superficial way. The drivers are too close to discern position inside the ear cup, plus as far as I understand, in a real room you also get positional cues from reflecting sound and delays, all of which binaural recording, and processing like DH, does try to emulate.

Edit: There's a $10 rebate running until the end of July, if you're in the US, you can get the U3 very cheap: http://www.amazon.com/ASUS-Xonar-Sound-Car...3/dp/B0054L8GVK

Dolby Headphone test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYGHpceA1Us (use normal stereo headphones).
  • Last Edit: 22 July, 2015, 11:39:14 AM by andy o

surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #7
@andy - thanks for that info! - nice to know that Dolby is, or at least is more dependent upon the DAC/card than the game!

i also have to say [brag] that i just now received my QPAD QH-85 headset (with mic - the 85s are the open-back type) and they are amazing - everything from the excellent build quality and comfort to the 53mm drivers is really quite good! being aluminum construction, they are heavy, so i don't know how comfortable they will be long-term, but that is something i'll gladly sacrifice for superior build quality compared to, for example, the $100 range Sennheiser stuff or "gaming" headsets

and the price for that DAC is awful cheap!

is there a consensus among you guys as to whether it's a good quality unit for the average joe who games and listens to decent quality mp3s?

the Fiio E10K is another one i was considering
http://www.amazon.com/FiiO-E10K-Headphone-.../dp/B00LP3AMC2/

as well as the Behringer UCA202
http://www.amazon.com/Behringer-UCA202-Aud.../dp/B000KW2YEI/

i'd have to do more research, but i'd want a DAC that allows switching from the speaker output to the laptop speakers via a hardware switch
  • Last Edit: 22 July, 2015, 12:11:43 PM by hydro.driver

  • andy o
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #8
Those don't have Dolby Headphone processing though. There are some motherboards and laptops that come with DH, but over the years Dolby has rebranded their processing. I think DH nowadays falls under the umbrella of Dolby Home Theater v3 or some such. If you want a hardware switch from USB audio to laptop speakers, the only thing that occurs to me is a USB hub or extension that connects/disconnects the USB at the press of a button, so when it turns off, the audio falls back to the laptop speakers. You'd have to set the USB audio as default when it is connected.

surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #9
just wanted to let you guys know that i really appreciate the advice given - thanks

based on the tips given here i started doing more research before buying a DAC and, as i already pretty much knew, the whole computer audio scene is one convoluted cludter-fk - Dolby Headphone, Dolby Live Theater, CMSS 3D, surround sound, optical, digital, internal, external, OHMs, SNR, etc., etc., etc. - all these things make it difficult for a non-audiophile like myself to make an intelligent decision

in the end, i bought an Asus Xonar U5 - i almost bought the U3, but i read 1 review where the guy said Asus was running the chipset out of spec and had concerns about the longevity, and another reviewer said his U3 lasted 3 weeks before it gave up the ghost - another reason i chose the U5 was the ability to easily switch between the outputs without having to plug/unplug connectors

i'm sure there's a lot of happy U3 owners, so those 2 reviews didn't mean that much to me, but i opted for the U5 and it [hopefully] better sound quality

i also read a few reviews of the U5 by those that play CS:GO and they seem to be extremely pleased for the most part

no Dolby, i know, but i listened to a few Dolby processed sound clips and found that the ability to detect sound originating in the front/rear of the listener in the virtual soundscape was not as good as with other surround technologies - so, we'll see

still, i expect no miracles with the U5, or any other unit regarding front/rear detection in GS:GO as the :GO sound engine seems to me to be a grand disappointment compared to what us CS players had in the 1.5/1.6 days with Aureals' A3D

i also considered the Astro Mixamp but people seem to be having allot of trouble with theirs in regards to game crashes and mic problems in CS:GO

again, thanks
  • Last Edit: 24 July, 2015, 10:08:29 AM by hydro.driver

  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #10
What works for one person may fail terribly for another, despite both having good hearing. Also good localization for a broadband signal like a helicopter may work reasonably well for one scenario yet a human voice may fail miserably with the same product for the same individual. The only way to tell is for an individual to try it. Reading reviews which say "I works great!" doesn't mean it will for you, and here's why.

What these companies don't explain well is that the sound processing they have applied, largely different EQs used to invoke HRTF directionality, is based on generalized averages and in truth it is actually all over the map from one person to the next due to differences in the size, length, and shape of our individual ear canals, pinnae, and heads.

I can't find the exact graphic I wanted but this one will help me to illustrate my point. It shows how when you measure 400 or so test subjects they all fall within a very broad window of over 10 dB variability, the shaded area:



They test dozens of people to generate these gray areas [pun intended] and then draw a line through the middle of it all as an average, keep their fingers crossed it will cover the largest number of listeners, and then send the product to market. Thing is, it only works for some people for some sounds.

The best way to do this accurately is to instead measure each individual with a probe microphone in their ear and then sell them a specific set of EQ patterns tailored just to them, representing L, R, Center, right rear, and left rear. The next best is to give them a sampling of dozens of different EQ curves and have them listen to all of them, but it is laborious. For example: "In the following test section pick whichever curve makes Cindy's voice sound most like it is coming from the right rear and then select that curve number whenever you are the user of the product".

I've used (and sold) some discontinued Sennheiser processors which worked this way.
  • Last Edit: 24 July, 2015, 01:32:07 PM by mzil

  • andy o
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #11

How do you know these technologies only use EQ for the HRTF effects, though?

surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #12
Anyone tried the very odd-looking Sennheiser Surrounder?

Yes, it will make you look like the villain's chief henchman from a cheap Sci-Fi movie, but does it work well?


  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #13
How do you know these technologies only use EQ for the HRTF effects, though?


Some of the dumb companies, Dolby would be an example, instead of just altering the EQ they add silly reverberation patterns to mimic how sound echoes in a reverberant chamber, such as a room. But how exactly do they know what kind of room, or its size, the music or movie scene was recorded in? They don't.

In the Star Wars scene when C3PO turns to converse with R2D2, as they walk across the dessert of Tatooine, why exactly should there be any reverberation pattern applied to his voice!? Deserts have no echoes/reverberation and any system which artificially inserts some arbitrary echoes/reverb is just plain dumb, as far as I'm concerned. The goal is to reproduce the sound as if one were there in the desert, live, listening directly to C3PO speak (virtual reality they call it), not what he would sound like if recorded and then later played back through speakers in a tiled bathroom, an auditorium, or any other room for that matter.
  • Last Edit: 25 July, 2015, 02:17:27 PM by mzil

  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #14
Of course in other scenes where the movie makers intend us to hear some sort of reverberation, they'll include that for us in the recording itself.

  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #15
Anyone tried the very odd-looking Sennheiser Surrounder?  Yes, it will make you look like the villain's chief henchman from a cheap Sci-Fi movie, but does it work well?


I owned (and was a dealer for) their better package which used the exact same HRTF processor box, but instead of being limited to the anemic bass a little clock radio sized speaker you wear on your neck can reproduce, instead it came with one of the best headphones they made at the time, the HD-580:

http://www.amazon.com/Sennheiser-HD580DSP-...amp;*entries*=0

This processor box is the type I described earlier where you listen to a bunch of preselected EQ curves stored internally and then you pick whichever one seems to most closely match your particular HRTF curve.
  • Last Edit: 25 July, 2015, 03:29:02 PM by mzil

  • andy o
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #16
Some of the dumb companies, Dolby would be an example, instead of just altering the EQ they add silly reverberation patterns to mimic how sound echoes in a reverberant chamber, such as a room. But how exactly do they know what kind of room, or its size, the music or movie scene was recorded in? They don't.

In the Star Wars scene when C3PO turns to converse with R2D2, as they walk across the dessert of Tatooine, why exactly should there be any reverberation pattern applied to his voice!? Deserts have no echoes/reverberation and any system which artificially inserts some arbitrary echoes/reverb is just plain dumb, as far as I'm concerned. The goal is to reproduce the sound as if one were there in the desert, live, listening directly to C3PO speak (virtual reality they call it), not what he would sound like if recorded and then later played back through speakers in a tiled bathroom, an auditorium, or any other room for that matter.

I'm perfectly fine with the goal being to reproduce 5 speakers in a particular type of room, not the sound of the desert itself. Why is that so bad? I have always assumed that's about the best you can do with pre-recorded content anyway, and the next-best thing to actually having a 5.1 system.

  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #17
It depends on one's goals. My goal is high fidelity to the original artist's intent. Lucas didn't intend for me to hear what C3PO sounds like in a cathedral, a gymnasium, or any other reverberant enclosed space for that matter for that scene. Artificially injecting a secondary acoustic fingerprint of a venue completely dissimilar to the actual one the original artists are trying to convey to me, an open desert in this case, by adding reverb to that scene is like colorizing a black and white film against the original artist's wishes. You don't mess with another person's art.
  • Last Edit: 25 July, 2015, 09:04:31 PM by mzil

surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #18
Lucas didn't intend for me to hear what C3PO sounds like in a cathedral, a gymnasium, or any other reverberant enclosed space for that matter for that scene.



Well, aren't movie theatres reverberent closed spaces?  Last time I saw it wasn't at an outdoor theatre.
Ed Seedhouse
VA7SDH

  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #19
For some people the reverberation of the movie theater room itself is desirable, but for others, such as myself, and the professional movie theater sound certification group THX, it is not. THX theaters go to great lengths to deaden and minimize all reverberations. The audio engineers want to be in full control of the three dimensional sound field we are presented with via the surround channels alone (not the room surface bounced sound reflections which are considered interference) using the abundant extra speakers placed in the theater meant specifically to convey just that, and should they want the recording to have a certain reverberation pattern to mimic a particular environment they indeed insert that for us. [Dolby Atmos theaters can even have up to 128 speakers for reproducing the intended sound field.]

As THX explains:
"Reverberation is the presence of sound after its source has stopped – much like an echo. In a movie theater, reverberation often builds as sound reflects off surfaces such as walls, floors and ceilings.

For example, in an action film, such Iron Man, there are several instances where the movie's hero (Tony Stark) is being chased through the sky by two fighter jets, followed immediately by quiet, more dialogue-driven moments. In a THX Certified Cinema with tightly controlled reverberation, the sound of jet engines and explosions ends immediately, never bleeding over into the next scene.

Among the methods THX uses to control reverberation is covering the rear wall of the auditorium with thick, absorptive material. This prevents the direct sound of the screen speakers from reflecting into the seating area. THX also requires the placement of absorptive materials on the sidewalls, down to the audience's ear level. This reduces the amount of sidewall reflections." [emphasis mine]


"With acoustic paneling

Acoustic paneling controls reverberation, or echo effect, in a THX Certified  Cinema




Without acoustic paneling

Sound bounces off the walls without acoustic paneling, interfering with the  movie's soundtrack."




- THX Certified Cinema Reverberation Control
  • Last Edit: 25 July, 2015, 10:49:55 PM by mzil

  • andy o
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #20
But what you are proposing cannot be achieved in the vast majority of non THX theaters, let alone in people's regular rooms, with a multichannel speaker system, so this criticism doesn't apply exclusively to Dolby's and others' methods of headphone virtualization. (Dolby can also virtualize drier rooms.) It's a separate issue.

Since gaming is real-time, it can provide better positional audio, but it then would depend on the game itself to provide that functionality, which many games don't (in fact I don't know of any, but I'm only a very casual gamer). For general usage, including games with 5.1/7.1 audio and movies, DH is a perfectly serviceable option. I can play something like Batman Arkham Asylum, and hear the sounds coming from a point where any of the 7 speakers would be. That's good enough.
  • Last Edit: 26 July, 2015, 04:33:37 AM by andy o

  • Speedskater
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #21
In a modern digital multichannel speaker room, you want a drier less reverberant room. Where a two channel stereo system needs a more reverberant room to create the stereo allusion.  A digital multichannel system has many speakers, so it doesn't need wall reflections.

This is something Siegfried Linkwitz often writes about:
http://www.linkwitzlab.com/Recording/AS_creation.htm
http://www.linkwitzlab.com/links.htm
Kevin Graf :: aka Speedskater

  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #22
But what you are proposing cannot be achieved in the vast majority of non THX theaters, let alone in people's regular rooms, with a multichannel speaker system, so this criticism doesn't apply exclusively to Dolby's and others' methods of headphone virtualization. (Dolby can also virtualize drier rooms.) It's a separate issue.


Headphone listening is a mixed bag, but unlike loudspeakers in a living room they are lucky to be in the unique position that they don't suffer from a secondary pattern of wall bounced reflections adding an artificial, secondary signature of a specific size room, the one you are in, which may or may not have anything to do with the recording's actual venue size.  [For my taste in music it pretty much never does.] I like to preserve that advantage headphones have because my goal is high fidelity to the original recording and the sonic signature of the hall, or other environment, the recording was truly recorded in. Superimposing a secondary, usually dissimilar sonic fingerprint on top of the one in the recording is objectionable from my perspective, but I do realize with living room loudspeakers we have to put up with it and manipulating it as Linkwitz suggests makes some sense. Since artificially injecting a secondary sonic signature into the recording on top of the first one in the recording, intentionally, is objectionable to me so I leave Dolby Headphone processing turned off, without exception, when I listen to headphones on my unit. It doesn't add realism to the experience of being in the original concert hall or other venue, it subtracts realism.

Besides THX certified cinemas, every single binaural headphone playback system I have ever evaluated similarly (and correctly) considers any secondary acoustic venue signature superimposed over the original one meant to be in the recording from the actual reverberations of the true original environment to be nothing more than interference and noise.
  • Last Edit: 26 July, 2015, 02:13:39 PM by mzil

  • saratoga
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #23
But what you are proposing cannot be achieved in the vast majority of non THX theaters, let alone in people's regular rooms,


Plenty of people try to have good room acoustics with their home theater.  Things like carpeting, drapes and furniture to damp echos.

How do you know these technologies only use EQ for the HRTF effects, though?


What else would they use?  Sound localization is mostly about intensity and phase, therefore, you'd use an EQ.
  • Last Edit: 26 July, 2015, 02:06:09 PM by saratoga

  • mzil
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surround sound headphones, gaming (CS:GO) - general questions
Reply #24
In other forum discussions with Dolby Lab's Roger Dressler [He was their Director of Technology Strategy when DH was released, who worked there for 26 years, or so, but I believe is now retired or at least no longer there] he told me that beyond just simple HRTF EQ:

Quote
DH uses room modeling to provide the out-of-head effect. It affects not only the sense of depth but also the angular directions particularly for the L/R channels. If you have a DH product, you may have seen the options for DH1, 2, and 3 (not all products offer them, though). Those are different room models.


This room modeling is exactly the part of it that I find to be objectionable. We shouldn't be adding any secondary, arbitrary room reverb pattern on top of the one in the recording itself, if you ask me. [HRTF EQ makes sense and I am not objecting to that.]

Upon playing the original prototype system for Ray Dolby he had this to say, which helps document that adding specific reverb patterns, to simulate a secondary arbitrary room, is indeed part of how DH manipulates the sound:

Quote
Upon first hearing a prototype of the headphone system, Ray Dolby said it sounded like a bathroom. Needless to say, the reverb was toned down.

I would describe the sound of DH on my surround sound preamp/processor as "boxy". I don't have three options, only on and off.
  • Last Edit: 26 July, 2015, 03:19:51 PM by mzil