5.1 channel audio through ordinary headphones using MPC-HC

Blown-Away Man

Though I have owned a surround sound system before, I don’t currently have the space for one. I was recently considering buying gaming headphones with support for Dolby Digital 5.1 channel audio which I could also use for watching films. With some more reading I discovered that these hardware solutions will only work with a Dolby Digital source (AC-3). The problem is that I have a lot of content with DTS audio which the chips in these products don’t support, not to mention MP4 files with multichannel AAC audio.

Reading the specs of these headphones, I discovered that they license a technology called Dolby Headphone – some clever signal processing developed by Lake DSP in Sydney. Early 5.1 channel headphones actually contained multiple tweeters mounted at different positions inside each ‘can’ which apparently weren’t very convincing, but this better approach is more of an emulation – one that relies on the fact that you only have two ears. It’s able to model the audio delays and reflections of a room containing a 5.1 setup, plus it seems to boost up the low frequencies so you’re really aware of the LFE channel. I don’t really understand why there isn’t much awareness of Dolby Headphone. It’s not at all new – look at this 1998 press release!

What’s also not very widely known is that Dolby Headphone can be encoded in software, through the likes of PowerDVD’s audio decoder, regardless of whether your sound chip is Dolby Headphone certified (as some now are). It’s also not particularly processor intensive – my Sony Vaio P can play H.264 movies and process DH with its Intel GMA 500 GPU and meagre 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU.

 

What does Dolby Headphone sound like?

Listen for yourself – plug in some headphones and try these DH encoded samples. The choice of movie trailer isn’t exactly showcasing the 360 degree soundstage, but it was quite tricky to encode so I didn’t want the hassle of sampling a scene from an actual film. I can assure you that the action sequences in District 9 for instance sound a whole lot better with Dolby Headphone enabled.

5.1 channel test Dolby Headphone DH1

I Am Legend trailer 2ch downmix by FAAD decoder normalized (no DH)

I Am Legend trailer 5.1ch Dolby Headphone DH1

These samples are 192Kbps MP3 files for size reasons. The slight metallic high-end ringing to the deep bass is an encoder artifact from the conversion to MP3 using the LAME encoder, and it was still present when I tried 320Kbps. The channel test clip was taken from http://www.lynnemusic.com/surround.html and the I Am Legend trailer was from http://www.h264info.com/clips.html.

 

How to get it working for AC-3, AAC, and DTS multichannel sources

In a previous post I explained how to setup Media Player Classic Home Cinema to use a third party h.264 decoder with DXVA support. MPC-HC has several key advantages as a media player – it’s open source, it’s lean, it’s extremely configurable, and it plays pretty much any format. I use it for my Sony Vaio P to keep CPU use as low as possible on its rather limited Intel Atom processor. Many people use MPC-HC for their Home Theatre PCs, hence this article.

A guide for configuring Dolby Headphone using PowerDVD’s CyberLink Audio Decoder already exists (with files):
http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/405417/guide-dolby-headphone-in-mpc-zoom-player

However that information isn’t sufficient. The complication is that when this decoder is used outside the PowerDVD software, it only works with DTS audio streams even though it should also support AC-3. Reading around, it seems that the AC-3 support works in Windows XP but not in Vista nor in Windows 7.

The next piece of the puzzle can be found here on the forum for Zoom Player, a commercial media player:
http://forum.inmatrix.com/index.php?showtopic=7224

The important point is that the CyberLink decoder can accept a multichannel LPCM input, so you can use another decoder (ffdshow tryouts in this case) to convert the source bitstream into LPCM first, then feed that to the CyberLink decoder. This means that multichannel AAC audio found in MP4 containers could have Dolby Headphone applied too. The above post describes how to do this for Zoom Player, but we’re interested in MPC-HC. The next obstacle is figuring out how to link multiple decoders together in MPC-HC – something I couldn’t find any info about despite spending hours searching online.

The key to understanding this is knowing how the modular Windows DirectShow media layer works. If you’ve already played with MPC-HC you will be familiar with adding and removing filters, as well as the concepts of ones that are built into MPC-HC and those that are external. All these DirectShow filters have ‘pins’ which are their inputs and outputs – their connection points in other words. Each pin has a defined list of media types it will and won’t accept. As long as you comply with this, they can be threaded together to create a ‘graph’. The simplest way to illustrate this is with a screenshot of the aptly named GraphStudio, and this example shows the combination of filters I used to make one of the sample audio clips earlier in this post:

So how can we construct a similar sequence in MPC-HC? In the end I finally found the crucial bit of information in a single sentence of the excellent self-explanatory and unofficial All the things you may want to know about Media Player Classic – HomeCinema:

When a video file is loaded in MPC-HC, MPC-HC will run through this list from top to bottom and load the relevant filter(s), create a graph from them and play the file.

Bingo! All you need to do is explicitly list them in the right order in MPC-HC’s External Filters window and MPC-HC should thread them together, compatible pins permitting. Sure enough, it works.

Would you believe it, there is yet another hitch – the CyberLink Audio Decoder expects LPCM input channels to be in a certain order, one that differs from the default order in ffdshow. This is trivial to fix, though it will mess things up if you rely on ffdshow to decode other media formats.

 

The guide

You’ll need MPC-HC obviously, the CyberLink Audio Decoder will need to be installed (from PowerDVD), and you’ll need ffdshow tryouts installed (I used the SVN release, since the beta is years old).

Once ffdshow is installed, open up its Audio Decoder configuration utility from the Start Menu. In the Output section select 16bit LPCM and apply.

Disable the Mixer and configure the Swap Channels menu as follows. Note the different order:

Open MPC-HC and hit O to bring up the options menu. In the Internal Filters section de-select AAC, AC3 and DTS from Transform Filters on the right.

UPDATE – Contrary to what I had originally written here, do not disable the built-in audio switcher! I hadn’t understood that this is needed for when you have a video file with multiple audio tracks. If it’s not enabled then all audio tracks play simultaneously. You could consider disabling Regain volume if you want to minimize the amount of additional processing.

Audio switcher settings

In the External Filters section make sure that ffdshow is set to prefer, and is listed above CyberLink Audio Decoder (also set to prefer). Use Add Filter… to set Microsoft DTV-DVD Audio Decoder to Block.

Remember that DTS audio bitstreams don’t require the ffdshow treatment. To avoid having to reconfigure this for different movie formats we can customize the recognized media types for the ffdshow filter. As per the screenshot above, select ffdshow Audio Decoder then scroll down until you find MEDIASUBTYPE_DTS and delete it. DTS files will now skip ffdshow and will be entirely handled by CyberLink Audio Decoder. If you ever need to revert this change click Reset List.

Open a movie file in MPC-HC, then select Play -> Filters -> CyberLink Audio Decoder and you will be able to select Dolby Headphone like so:

On the next tab you can choose between three DH modes. I found a nice succinct guide to the three modes here:
http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/444681/headphones-with-good-sound-stage-better-with-dolby-headphone-or-no-need-for-it#post_6003214

Sadly it seems that every time you load a new file into MPC-HC you need to re-enable Dolby Headphone (the setting doesn’t stick for some reason). Also, owing to the channel order swapping in ffdshow you’ll find that in ordinary stereo mode you’re only getting the Front Left and Front Center channels. As a result you’ll probably want to de-select the Swap Channels setting in the ffdshow Audio decoder tool when you’re not using headphones. A small price to pay though… Enjoy!

 

Further reading

There is a guide to using Dolby Headphone for listening to two channel music in the audio player foobar2000 here:
http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/447089/5-1-headphone-experience-foobar-configuration-for-all-stereo-music-files

I’ve given it a try and I don’t really think it’s worth it. When I had a actual surround system I used to play all my music on Dolby Pro Logic IIx and it sounded very good using all the speakers. It meant you could be sitting anywhere in the room and still get nice separation and so on. However, creating those additional channels only to merge them back down to two channels often doesn’t seem to add much since they were virtual to start with. In side by side listening comparisons I often preferred the original stereo mix, but admittedly it does seem to vary with the way they’ve been mastered (remember, to hear the original stereo you have to remove all selected DSPs, not just DH).

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64 thoughts on “5.1 channel audio through ordinary headphones using MPC-HC

  1. Pingback: Dolby Headphone possible? (with powerdvd audio codec or Windvd?) - MediaPortal Forum

  2. ghest

    Thanks a lot, I looked everywhere for an explanation on how to do this. Also, checking “Dolby decoder” and “Volume” (set to 50% or -6dB) in ffdshow audio properties, in combination with Dolby Headphone, can have a pretty awesome effect with stereo sources. I do recommend setting the “Miscellaneous” tab of the Cyberlink filter to “Quiet Environment” with “Enable” LFE checked for the best sound quality.

    Reply
  3. Proutis

    Thk for the tutorial very helpful.

    (Sadly it seems that every time you load a new file into MPC-HC you need to re-enable Dolby Headphone (the setting doesn’t stick for some reason). )

    Someone have find a wait to correct this thing ?

    Reply
  4. anonymouse

    CyberLink Audio Decoder from PDVD7 does retain Headphone between uses. Version 11 behaves same as 10. I do not know about 8 & 9.

    Reply
  5. stuck

    I’m stuck at the external filters section. I can’t seem to find the cyberlink audio decoder whenever I try to add a filter. I have powerdvd11 installed by the way. Please help, thanks

    Reply
    1. patters Post author

      I’m not sure, but I think in newer versions Cyberlink may have specifically prevented the filters being used outside the PowerDVD application.

      Reply
  6. gambit

    For some reason there’s no option for Dolby Headphone, just stereo. Is there a way to download that plugin for powerdvd 10?

    Reply
  7. boffo

    This might be obvious, but I didn’t realize it right away: I had to stick with the 32-bit version of MPC-HC so that it could see the 32-bit “CyberLink Audio Decoder (PDVD7)” filter. The filter wouldn’t show up in the 64-bit MPC-HC.

    Do newer versions of PowerDVD come with a 64-bit filter?

    Reply
  8. boffo

    While playing a file in MPC-HC, viewing filters shows that “MPC Audio Decoder” is used, but never “CyberLink Audio Decoder.” Testing using GraphEdit (and GraphStudio), I can’t connect the audio out pin of “CyberLink Audio Decoder (PDVD7)” to anything at all. I assume it should connect to “Default DirectSound Device.”

    Any ideas?

    Reply
    1. patters Post author

      Not sure, but I think that a lot of the PDVD codecs floating around ‘out there’ have been hacked to permit use external to PDVD.

      Reply
      1. boffo

        Thanks, I managed to find a version that works. FYI to others, according to GraphStudio (actually GraphStudioNext), I’m using filter named “CyberLink Audio Decoder” version 6.1.0.4420 that’s supposedly part of PowerDVD Ultra 7.3.3304.

  9. Hakuromatsu

    patters, do you still have the RAR from http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/405417/guide-dolby-headphone-in-mpc-zoom-player? I have no idea how to install the CyberLink Audio Decoder properly (I installed PowerDVD 12 and tried registering claud.ax, but I think I’m doing something wrong because “CyberLink Audio Decoder” isn’t showing up in the “Play > Filters” menu). I don’t think the issue is Power DVD 12 itself, because someone in that head-fi thread evidently got it working.

    Thanks for the guide!

    Reply
    1. Hakuromatsu

      I got it working with the version boffo used! Thanks for the guide!

      One question, is it possible to get Dolby Headphone working with multichannel FLAC? It’s weird, because 2-channel FLAC passes through CyberLink perfectly (not that Dolby Headphone sounds any good with stereo sources), but anything higher than that and the video just won’t play.

      Reply
      1. AidanSonoda

        You seem to have gotten this setup working quite recently. Since you and I are both working in the same environment: long after the guide was written – with all the dead links, etc. which that entails – perhaps you can help me. I’ve proven not to be smart enough to “find” version 6.1.0.4420 or PowerDVD 7.3.3304 for that matter. Even if I were interested in paying for software I don’t want to use just to get at a codec within it, Cyberlink only offers the current version (obviously) which the above comments lead me to believe does not work for this. I’m certain the issue is my own stupidity and/or lack of savvy, but any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

      2. Hakuromatsu

        I don’t remember where I got PowerDVD 7.3.3304. Nothing really “smart” about it, just Google around and you’ll find it eventually.

        By the way, I recommend looking for a sound card with Dolby Headphone — you can get the Xonar DG (for example) for less than $30. That’s highly preferable to jury-rigging software solutions like this. I’m just using this solution temporarily until I get a discrete card of my own.

  10. boffo

    I just happened to check back here to see if anything new has come up. It seems other people are having trouble finding working files, same as I originally did. So, for anyone else that comes across this post, here’s a copy of the files I’m using:

    http://www.slingfile.com/file/tRyBVfO20p

    I hope I’m not violating any rules by posting that. AFAIK, like AidanSonoda pointed out, there’s no easy way of obtaining these older files through purchasing PowerDVD today.

    Reply
    1. AidanSonoda

      Fantastic… got everything up and working in a flash with your files, thanks for the share.

      As an aside, I just can’t believe there isn’t more demand for this – spatialization as good as (maybe better than) my local theater’s gigantic surround system. On par with my (very expensive) setup downstairs – with the fidelity of the headphones I already own for listening to music. Truly excellent.

      Reply
  11. Loginer

    Great guide. Just one problem with the settings described above: The side channels are missing in 7.1 tracks. To resolve this, simply re-enable Mixer in the ffdshow config, place it above the Swap channels filter, and set the speaker configuration to 3/0/2 with LFE checked.

    Also, I had some issues with the DTS thing (no audio playback), so I recommend skipping that modification.

    Reply
  12. Zeb

    FFDSHOW already has an audio decoder called “HRTF” or Head related transfer function that will emulate surround sound to headphones very nicely.

    Reply
  13. James

    Can any of you answer this question: If I am currently using PowerDVD in dolby headphone mode, is there any additional benefit to using the method described here? Because the sample that the author linked to sounds way more impressive than what I’m currently hearing with PowerDVD, which just sounds like normal audio with some reverb thrown in ….

    Reply
    1. patters Post author

      It’s using the same method (and DLL), so it should sound the same. Dolby Headphone has three modes though for different room sizes, and IIRC I used the middle option which seemed to sound markedly better than the default.

      Reply
  14. James

    No matter what I do, I can’t get “CyberLink Audio Decoder” to show up as an option under Play/ Filters in MPC. I actually have the full version of CyberLink installed and I downloaded the files linked above …

    Could I get a little advice on how to install those three files? Claud.ax, Claud.sim, and dolbyhph.dll? Maybe I’m installing them wrong …

    Reply
    1. LimePrism

      Hey, have you made sure it’s below ffdshow audio on the list, and that both are set to Prefer?

      Reply
  15. LimePrism

    Thank you for the guide :) I’ll watch few movies with that setup, see how well it will do :)

    Reply
  16. gubobo

    After some tribulations I got this working on Windows 8 x64. The audio filters from powerdvd13 don’t appear in mpc-hc, so you need to locate the file Claud.ax manually. You might want to copy this whole folder somewhere else in case you decide to uninstall p-dvd.
    Make sure there is a file called CLAud.sim (letter case matters) in this same folder, otherwise the filters won’t work properly. I believe there is a torrent of this only file.
    Finally, to get the filter to remember its settings, you need to add the cyberlink audio effect (CLAudFx.ax) filter to the queue. Weird but it works for me.

    Reply
  17. Exercitus

    Hello,

    very good guide! I really tried getting this to work but I am not able to. Could someone please advise?

    I am on Windows 8 x64 and I have tried every possible combination of MPC-HC (1.7.6, x86 and x64), ffdshow (1.3.4531, x86 and x64), and copying and registering PowerDVD files (from version 7, 10, 13, 14) in C:\Windows\SysWOW64 (and C:\Windows\System32, but there claud.ax can’t be registered). I can see the CyberLink Audio Codec in Options->External Filters but not in Play-> Filters!

    Reply
  18. Exercitus

    @boffo: Could you please re-upload your version again? I would like to try it with that version. slingfile.com is not accessible right now.

    Reply
    1. dan

      I do not need to install power dvd right?
      can you tell me the directory where to copy the 3 files please? thx a lot!

      Reply
  19. AidanSonoda

    Some industrious fellow PMd me on another forum to ask about this setup and got me thinking about it again (it has been years since I set this up for myself). From my, admittedly fuzzy, recollection:
    1.) you do not need to install PowerDVD you just need the three files packaged above. The files I have (I saved them locally years ago, in case I would want them in the future) are: CLAud.ax | CLAud.sim | dolbyhph.dll

    2.) it does not matter what directory you choose to store these files in (at least it did not matter for me) – you simply need to pick them out from within MPC’s “Add Filter” dialogue.

    3.) Before leaving windows all together, I had stopped using PowerDVD’s Dolby Headphone implementation in favor of ffdshow’s built in HRTF because it was less fiddly about channel arrangement and just generally easier to use with wider compatibility. This can be found in ffdshow’s “Audio decoder configuration” app (check the start menu folder) under the “Mixer” tab.

    Hope that helps …

    Reply
  20. Rocket

    Hi,

    anyone managed to register the CLAUD.ax file of the latest Powerdvd 15? Somehow the audio in Version 15 is even better than from the previous versions.

    I can register the codecs in Filtermanger but the settings are all greyed out.

    It would be awsome to be able to use CLAUD.ax in MPC.

    Could someone please up working filters from PDVD15? Including TruSurround would be awsome.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  21. Nicholas

    Thanks,
    I’m using 32-bit version of MPC-BE with:
    MadVR video renderer
    LAV video decoder with no hardware acceleration (10-bit)
    ffdshow raw video filter for SVP (60fps)
    Reclock audio renderer
    Cyberlink Audio Decoder (Installed, the filters just appear)

    When I used ffdshow audio decoder, I had to swap center and right.
    I’m also using Izotope Ozone 5 through VSTHost to equalize my headphones, had to adjust audio delay.

    Reply
  22. Pingback: 环绕声与虚拟环绕声技术的小简介 | Ultrastage 超级舞台

  23. yavoyavo

    FFDShow now has hrtf included, it can be found in the audio configurator, mixer settings tab.
    Not sure how it compares with dolby, but its a lot easier to use.

    Reply
  24. ivano stenta

    I’ve been using this for some time now, and it’s worked great until recently it started to be greatly unbalanced: the background noises are fine, but the voices are much, much stronger on one channel than on the other one.

    Reply
  25. Michael

    Thanks for the compilation of information! Works great for multichannel sources. However I’m still confused as to how DH processes the inputs. I wanted to use DH with stereo as well but neither upmixing nor direct output works. By default the sound would shift to the left and if “expand to center” in the mixing tab of ffdshow is checked, the sound shifts to the right. Lowering the center volume too much also produces weird effects.

    For those interested in a temporary fix, I came across the DH website and it says that it’s actually using Dolby Pro Logic II (virtual surround) to upmix. I never thought of this since PowerDVD just works the same for multichannel and stereo. So next, I used ffdshow to enable PLII and mix to 5.1 and pass on to DH. PLII can be entirely handled within ffdshow which is super convenient and if you test with volume control you can hear that it’s actually producing virtual surround. As expected, with channel swap this worked perfectly just like native multichannel.

    The effect is much better than native stereo at least for movies. For music I would stick to native stereo. Hope this helps and thanks again for this post!

    Reply
    1. iv

      Hello, I suspect you might have the solution for my problem: the voice is completely unbalanced (see previous comment). Can you give me a step by step guide on how to solve this? I had been using OP’s trick for a while and it was working perfectly until some time ago.
      Thanks :)

      Reply
  26. Flavio Wolff

    All the comments are pretty old, so I’m giving the needed files as of 2017. I tried many Powerdvd versions, and the files that work are from PowerDVD 10. You should hit play-filters and sleect powerdvd audio EFFECTS, not decoder, and then select Headphones and turn on Dolby Headphones. Its quite amazing! Files: https://mega.nz/#F!REMShZIT!dSkDBJn8uDdUoTZVF9i_kw

    Reply
    1. patters Post author

      Fixed now. It seems Dropbox broke this by significantly changing stuff, and then WordPress has limited its own audio embedding to encourage users to upgrade to one of the paid hosting plans. Used a separate web host.

      Reply
  27. Michael

    Tested a few more virtual surround filters in HeSuVi after realizing that the Dolby Headphone beats Dolby Atmos for Headphones by far. It seems that with DTS/TrueHD(Atmos) content, Dolby Headphone from Cyberlink is still the best in terms of depth and clarity, plus the 3 levels of depth/reverb. Dolby Headphone from HeSuVi sounds much too forward. Lots of depth in front, but hardly anything in the back. DTS:X headphone sounds good, but not as clear/wide as PowerDVD filter. Other filters in HeSuVi are inferior in my experience with HD800+good DAC/amp.

    2 things that might be useful:
    – Cyberlink filter only works with LPCM and not PCM input, which means ffdshow is necessary. However, the old ffdshow cannot process TrueHD+Atmos input properly, meaning that it can’t ignore the atmos metadata as LAV filter does. In order for us to use the Cyberlink filter with all input types, we need an extra decoder before ffdshow. The solution I found is to use LAV filter first, output PCM (let LAV choose type), and use ffdshow processor (not decoder, which for some reason does not take uncompressed input as it should) with the right channel mappings (and Dolby Decoder stereo upmix in case of 2 channel input). The ffdshow will convert PCM to LPCM with the channel swapping and Cyberlink filter will show up in the graph again. I probably spent a lot of time on this three years ago to get 5.1FLAC tracks to work and gave up after a while, thankfully I got it this time round…
    – Another thing is that the newer version Cyberlink filters seem to reset the Stereo/Headphone setting every time it loads, as this blog post mentions, but the older version found online works just fine across files. Cyberlink 12/13/15 (anything newer won’t work at all) auto resets. But the version I downloaded earlier (plugin version 6.01.xxxx, as opposed to 8.x/9.1/9.2) seems to work. Probably not a big deal since they seem to sound the same (and they should if Dolby is to brand them the same…).

    Hope this helps, and thanks again for the useful info patters!

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Tried Dolby Atmos for Headphones again (Windows built-in) with John Wick 3 Atmos track. Gunshots are much crisper and have more punch (probably due to good LFE mixing) with Cyberlink filter, with the “atmos” filter, shots are dull and blurred, even with detailed eq. Furthermore, the Cyberlink filter has much better spatial extension and depth as far as I can tell. I’m honestly disappointed that Dolby managed to only make things worse in their new product after almost 10 years. Maybe it depends on the system, but it’s pretty unambiguous on my end…

      Reply
    2. Michael

      One more thing, as someone else mentioned above, side channels in 7.1 need to be mixed into 5.1 otherwise the channels are lost. It seems that Dolby Headphones rear channels are more forward than Dolby Atmos Headphones (which is reasonable given that it’s designed to be 5.1), so a 0.6 front + 0.4 back mix seems to provide better separation for me.

      I gave the atmos demo tracks another try with Windows Movies & TV. It’s possible that the atmos data is actually processed through this app which enhances 5.1/7.1 further. Unfortunately MPC doesn’t seem to be able to pass through the atmos data, and Movies & TV doesn’t work on lots of MKV files. Even if it did, PowerDVD Dolby Headphone still sounds much more spacious to me. Regrettable given that Atmos is supposed to be the replacement… For now, atmos cannot compare with good’ol dolby headphone on 5.1/7.1. If atmos can be enabled on common MKV containers either through Movies & TV or MPC, maybe there can be a debate on which is more preferable. Alas, neither would be downright superior it seems.

      Reply
      1. patters Post author

        Thanks for posting. It’s interesting to get an updated view of this topic. I have been meaning to kick back and watch a film via my trusty gaming headphone processor, but the days of using a PC for the decode are long gone for me.

      2. Michael

        Np. Home theatre is ultimately better, but headphones can be useful sometimes.

        It seems that Movies & TV only works with Atmos data in DD5.1, but not TrueHD. Might have to do with the fact that Dolby kept a lot of things proprietary or that Windows store doesn’t sell TrueHD content… In my experience, DD5.1+atmos provides much better height cues and sound saturation than without Atmos using Dolby Atmos for Headphones; clarity also improved dramatically, possibly due to the fact that some signals are moved from surround to Atmos data. But Dolby Headphone still has better soundstage (all three DH modes) and the voices sound more natural and less hollow.

        In conclusion, I would definitely use Dolby Headphone for regular AC3/DTS masters. If Atmos masters are available, Dolby Headphone still provides superior soundstage and at least on par in terms of clarity/details, but some data (including all height signals) will be lost. For those releases, Dolby Atmos for Headphones will be much more competitive due to the better height cues and overall immersion, even though the soundstage is pathetic. Tbh I’m not even sure if Dolby Atmos for Headphones benefits the soundstage at all on a pair of HD800. One more thing to note is that TrueHD Atmos tracks are currently unplayable on PC, only DD5.1 Atmos tracks work through Movies & TV app. But the situation is likely to improve in the future if Dolby releases their standards.

  28. Michael

    One more update. I downloaded an Amazon rip for john wick 3 which has DD5.1+Atmos soundtrack to compare Dolby Atmos for Headphone[DAH] (with Atmos content) and Dolby Headphone[DH] (without Atmos) side-by-side. I was hoping that the DAH would impress since the Atmos mix on John wick 3 is very well-regarded. To my disappointment, DH actually outperforms on a few very important aspects imo. (1) Very little or no compression. Action scenes deliver a much greater punch and sense of power even without the Atmos data. DAH on the other hand is obviously compressed. Action scenes do sound crisp and very accurate but it just lacks the extra power that DH delivers with ease. I don’t understand why compression is ever considered in serious/hi-end audio applications. (2) Tonal balance. All my observations are based on my experience with an HD800 setup. I use a custom EqualizerAPO setting to balance out the headphone’s signature brightness and add extra bass. Personally I consider it very neutral and accurate based on comparisons with live concert etc. To my surprise, DAH (with no built-in equalizer activated) produces a terribly bright and hollow voice, and a slightly edgy sound especially noticeable in the lively gunfight scenes. If a warm or balanced built-in EQ profile is applied, the sound becomes mushy (much like DAH without Atmos content), even though the voice would sound more natural. It’s funny that DH delivers both natural vocals and crisp sound effects. (3) Soundstage. DAH slightly redeems itself in this regard with Atmos content enabled. Sound effects that are presumably embedded in atmos data have a respectable soundstage. But if Atmos content is turned off, things basically go to shit. DH is very consistent in this aspect.

    For these reasons, I might actually just go with DH for everything, and maybe try to get dual DTS-HDMA/Atmos track releases so that I don’t lose audio data with DH now and can still use Dolby Atmos if it is fixed in the future. The merits of DAH that I mentioned in the previous post still stand. It’s pretty cool how it is able to produce an excellent separation between BGM and sound effects. With DH, everything sounds equally distant and less separable. BGM is more enveloping and intimate with DAH while Atmos sound objects have good depth. But for me, this is not enough to make up for the shortcomings listed above. Let’s just hope that Dolby realizes their mistake soon and do things right this time with the next version of Dolby Atmos for Headphone.

    Reply

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