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If you’re lucky enough to have the space for a surround sound speaker setup you’ll know how much more immersive they can make your experience of games and movies. For those who don’t, or who just don’t want to wake the neighbours, surround headphones are an increasingly popular and affordable way to experience surround without the hassle.
Although “true” surround headphones with multiple drivers in each ear cup do exist, they can be cumbersome and more expensive due to the extra hardware required to physically fire sound at your ears from different directions. Most developers have put their efforts instead into “virtual” surround models which have only two drivers but use binaural algorithms and digital signal processing to interpret surround audio signal and place it in a virtual space, achieving the same effect.
The virtual approach has a number of benefits. The headphones can be smaller, lighter and more comfortable and although the audio processing requires power, they are either Bluetooth models that have batteries or wired models that draw power over USB. Although there are various official formats like Dolby Atmos For Headphones and DTS Headphone:X, these headphones can generally take any surround format and interpret it appropriately.
Some also have a stereo option which switches them into regular two-channel mode, for non-surround sources like music from your library. It’s worth noting that the focus some models put on gaming means their full feature sets can be Windows-only, but others provide surround across all your devices.
At a glance
- M&D MG20
- JBL Quantum One
- EKSA Air Joy Plus
- SteelSeries Arctis 7+
- Logitech Pro X
- Sennheiser HDR175
- HyperX Cloud Revolver S
- Razer Blackshark
Master & Dynamic MG20
Hi-fi specialist M&D’s first foray into wireless surround has produced a pair of headphones that are very much at the premium end of the market. With gorgeous build quality, they work over Bluetooth and come with a USB dongle for use where zero-lag performance is essential, like with gaming consoles. They also work in wired mode via the 3.5mm cable.
The smartphone app allows some customisation of EQ and there’s virtual 7.1 surround as well as a stereo button for more conventional listening. A stereo boom mic with level control lets you converse with other gamers or make calls. They sound amazing, but then for this price, they should.
- Price: £429 / $449
- Virtual 7.1 surround sound
- Wired or wireless operation and included USB dongle
- 22 hour battery life
- Multiple microphones including a detachable boom mic
- Buy: Master & Dynamic
JBL Quantum One
JBL’s Quantum One features head-tracking, enhanced JBL QuantumSPHERE 360 spatial surround sound, DTS Headphone 2 and Active Noise Cancelling tuned for gaming. An included, detachable microphone for talkback is provided as well as a special separate mic to calibrate the headphones to your individual preferences. The Quantum Engine software (for Windows only) lets you customize the sound and create user profiles.
You get a USB-C to USB-A cable with a game / chat balance dial for tweaking playback as well as a regular 3.5mm cable for using with devices other than PC / Playstation. Other members of the Quantum family offer wireless operation via a dongle, if that’s something you want.
- Price: £229
- USB cable with game / chat balance dial
- Multiple surround formats supported
- Tweak settings using PC app
- Talkback and calibration microphones included
- Buy: JBL
EKSA Air Joy Plus
These insanely affordable headphones are very lightweight and connect to your USB-C device like a Mac, PC, iPad Pro or console over USB-C with a handy 12ft cable. They have a gooseneck mic for talkback and also feature noise cancelling to help keep you immersed in your game or movie world. There’s an app to let you tweak EQ and other settings though this only runs on Windows.
They’re surprisingly good, especially for the crazy low price, providing accurate 7.1 surround sound in their two cups, with a solid amount of volume and bass as well as a good overall balanced soundstage. They aren’t wireless and you can’t switch them into stereo mode, plus their light build means you’ll have to look after them. Nonetheless it’s a very affordable way to get wired surround sound.
- Price: £38.30
- Wired 7.1 surround sound over USB-C
- Gooseneck mic with noise cancelling
- 12 foot cable
- Volume control and mic mute button
- Buy: EKSA
SteelSeries Arctis 7+
A little pricier than some in this list, the Arctis 7+ offers USB-C fast charging and a 30 hour battery life as well as spatial 7.1 surround and a companion Sonar app (Windows only) for making EQ and other settings. Unusually its mic is retractable into the body and is bidirectional, with voice clarity mode and background noise cancellation.
They are wireless and use the 2.4GHz band via a bundled USB adaptor, which means you can plug into your Mac, PC, tablet or console and enjoy lag-free sound with the freedom to move around.
- Price: £174.99
- Work with any USB-C device
- Sonar configurator app for Windows only
- Retractable microphone with noise cancelling
- 30 hour battery life
- Buy: SteelSeries
Logitech Pro X
With official support for the DTS Headphone 2 protocol, these take virtual 7.1 surround rendering to another level. There’s a detachable mic for voice feedback using Blue Voice technology with realtime voice filtering via the companion app, a bundled hardware USB DAC for better overall fidelity and a Y splitter for separate mic and headphone ports.
Built of steel, plastic and leather, they are comfortable for long periods of wear and use Logitech’s G Hub software which comes for the Mac as well as for Windows, to let you create and store profiles, change settings and more.
- Price: $129.99
- DTS Headphone 2 support
- Detachable mic with Blue Voice technology
- G Hub app for Mac and Windows
- Bundled USB DAC / sound card
- Buy: Logitech
A serious system, these come with a large transmitter module which also works as a charging station and supports up to two pairs of headphones at once. You can use dynamic bass and virtual surround modes to suit the material you’re listening to, and they also support analog as well as digital audio inputs for maximum flexibility. Their frequency response of 17Hz – 22KHz is greater than many comparable headphones and they have a range of up to 100M which is ideal for use in larger spaces. The perfect system for gaming with a friend.
- Price: £229
- Dedicated transmitter / charger module
- Use two pairs of headphones at once
- 100M line-of-sight range
- Digital and analogue inputs
- Buy: Sennheiser
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HyperX Cloud Revolver S
The Cloud Revolver S uses a dedicated USB audio breakout box with signal processing onboard to achieve high performance. It lets you toggle 7.1 surround sound, switch between three EQ presets and set microphone and output levels. This approach of hardware power means no software or setup is required. The detachable gooseneck mic features noise cancelling and the 50mm drivers have an unusually wide frequency response of 10Hz – 23.2KHz for even more precise reproduction. They can be switched into stereo mode too for when you are listening to music or video conferencing online, for greater flexibility. Surround works on PC, PS4 and PS5 only.
- Price: £139.99
- HyperX virtual 7.1 surround sound on specific platforms
- USB audio breakout box with DSP processing
- Detachable noise cancelling microphone
- Analog input for use on other devices
- Buy: HyperX
Razer Blackshark V2 X
Targeted very much towards gamers, the Blackshark has 7.1 virtual surround though it’s only supported on Windows 10 64-bit. There’s a bendable on-body microphone with advanced passive noise cancellation and all in a package weighing just 240g. For use on non-Windows systems there’s a regular 3.5mm input but this doesn’t support surround sound. Frequency response from the 50mm drivers is an impressive 12Hz – 28kHz and they are available in black or in a very striking green finish. Razer offers a range of other gaming headsets both wired and wireless, some with surround, if you need a different combination of features and don’t mind spending a little more.
- Price: $59.99
- 7.1 virtual surround on Windows only
- 3.5mm input for general stereo audio use
- Gooseneck mic with passive noise cancellation
- Wide frequency response
- Buy: Razer
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