I'd like to share my experience in building a virtual surround sound system. There's constantly questions about what headphones to use for movies, and everything save for one expensive device that isn't out yet seems rather lackluster. I've used lots of software and equipment and the end result of being able to put on a pair of headphones and have such natural sounding high fidelity external virtualization of a 7.1 loudspeaker system is truly marvelous. A front soundstage anchored to the display, clearly rendered and discrete side and rear surround channels, long resolved pans, every bit of the most complex surround movie mixes(looking at you Ready Player One race scene) rendered in full detail over 2 tiny headphone drivers. With the added benefit of providing a virtual 2 channel loudspeaker system for music listening, as well as being able to change the room you're in with the push of the button, no phoney reverb effect, this is the real deal, treated studios, untreated listening rooms, home theaters, huge movie theaters.
Research and development of room impulse responses and binaural synthesis has been done for decades, and is finally cultivating in consumer products. So if you see anyone claiming headphone surround sound is a gimmick based soley on a budget gaming headset, point them to the plethora of scholarly articles over the past 20 years on the subject.
The following are all modeled and not using measurements:
Dolby Headphone / Atmos for Headphones
Creative CMSS 3D / SBX
DTS Headphone X
Waves NX and the Audeze Mobius
1) Darin Fong's Out of Your Head is the only product aside from the Smyth Realisers which uses measured room impulse response applied to the binaural processing. The measurements of movie theaters, home theaters, recording studios, or hifi listening rooms were made using the Smyth Realiser A8.
Since the program is a stand alone piece of software, parts of the Realiser aren't used, like headphone correction. So this must be done manually using something like Equalizer APO, to equalize the headphones to have a flat response. This is very important and something I don't think alot of people do when they try OOYH or other HRTF based virtualization, and ends up sounding very bright/grating/noisy in the 2-6khz region due to double HRTF, but after the EQ, sounds very natural. Of course something with a relatively flat uncompensated response could be used without EQ, but anything that follows the Harman curve you'll want to bring 2-6khz down ~5-10db.
2) When using these programs, I've found headphones with more responsive drivers render the virtual rooms better. Planar magnetic and electrostatic drivers being the best. Anything with a fast response, little to no treble ringing(good imaging), and low distortion. Soundstage ability is important as well for better externalization of the virtual speakers. Open headphones are great, deep angled pads, etc. e.g. the Sennheiser HD800. I use a pair of Audeze EL-8s, MrSpeakers Alpha Primes, Stax SR-207, Hifiman HE-400i, Sennheiser HD650, and I also have a pair of Audeze Mobius. The EL8s work best for me with a pad mod(I use the Dekoni LCD Velour pads, they reduce a bit of treble ringing and push the drivers out further), the Alpha Primes muster a nice room size despite being closed, the Stax have scary realism but sound very close(less soundstage / small room size).
3) Lossless movie audio bitrate is 10-15mb/s, doubled for the binaural rendering, tripled for the room impulse response, bitrates over 30+ mb/s per channel. Due to the large amount of data, the digital to analog conversion makes a huge difference in rendering the measurements of rooms. I have several devices I've tried, ranging from the standard motherboard Realtek chip, the dac and headphone out in a Denon X4200W, a JDS Labs ODAC/O2, an Audio-GD NFB-11, and an Audio-GD NFB-7. Using the computer motherboards headphone output results in a neat surround sound effect with little fidelity, scaling up to the NFB-7, which renders the virtual loudspeakers with incredible realism and accuracy, especially with the more reverberant rooms.
4) Digital and power conditioning improves realism further, improves fidelity substantially, and reduces listener fatigue. I use a device from Uptone Audio called the ISO regen, which isolates from the PC, regenerates and clocks the data, with ultra low noise voltage regulation, an Uptone Ultracap LPS powers the iso regen and the usb to i2s conversion board in the dac, as well as isolating both from the ac mains, and a Topaz Ultra-Isolator Line Noise Supressor, used to isolate the dac and amp from the ac mains, these were primarily used for scientific measuring equipment in labs. There are posts from the early 2000s on this forum of people using the isolation transformers as affordable power conditioning.
5) Add a bass shaker system, a small 20w shaker carefully attached to a chair frame really helps with immersion for special effects. I duplicate the audio with Voicemeter so the shaker system is separate from the headphone system. When properly dialed in sometimes between the shaker and headphones that can play low(20hz) I'll get shocking sub bass hits that feel suprisingly natural like actual subwoofers, chest hits and all.
So to some it up, I feel OOYH is the best headphone surround program out there at the moment, except of course for the Realiser. The measurements of rooms(PRIR, personal room impulse response) makes the biggest difference when compared to other options. The program scales very well with better equipment, but isn't necessary, just make sure the headphones you're using play flat(HPEQ, headphone equalization to avoid a double HRTF and harshness in the 2-6khz range). Using open headphones with fast responsive, low distortion drivers and good imaging as well as using hifi DACs, amps with ample power supplies to render all the data, and conditioning devices to greatly improve the realism of the virtual room presets, if that's what you're after.
The program is free to try, a "gaming" preset without room measurements has an unlimited demo for a week and costs $25 by itself, the remaining presets can be demod in 2 minute intervals(after 2 minutes you only need to select a different preset and go back to the same one). The license includes 1 preset for $150, and presets are $25, and often goes on sale twice a year for half off.
Unfortunately using a PC is necessary to get the best surround sound except for the Smyth Realiser A16.
The Dspeaker Headspeaker is no longer available, but you still may be able to find demo units or used units. This was the next best option to the Realiser for non pc use. It has an optical input so only lossy(dolby digital ac3 or dts) decoding though. It used modeled algorithms instead of measurements but included a head tracking device and was able to have much better externalization.
-Sony MDR-HW700DS, is a wireless device with hdmi input and can decode lossless audio but is limited to a single pair of headphones and has hdmi 1.4 ports so no full 4k passthrough, however, you can use something like the AVR Key to pass the audio separately to the 700ds' base. The surround sound is good but the externalization not as much. Theres also the optical based DS6500 which performs similar but with less fidelity due to the lossy audio.
-Some gaming sets and dac/amp units have an optical input, can accept dd/dts lossy 5.1, and built in surround processing, like SBX, dts headphone x, etc. With some of these you can at least use a better pair of headphones, however, they won't have the most external of virtual speakers but it will have more surround than a stereo headset.
-Creative is developing the SXFI TV and wireless headphones which should be a better option than what's available for non pc users. https://www.hardwarezone.com.sg/feat...eative-sxfi-tv
If youre more interested in headtracking and anchoring the virtual speakers than measured room imupulse, options include.
or the Audeze Mobius
Full system for reference:
Transport: Supra USB, Uptone ISO Regen, Uptone Ultracap LPS 1.2
DAC: Audio GD NFB 7, amanero usb to i2s board with isolator on i2s output.
Amp: Audio GD NFB-1AMP
Power: Topaz 91092-31 Ultra Line noise Isolator
Shaker system: duplicated signal with voicemeter, usb to dac, equalizer, crossover, amplifier, 2 shakers
Headphones: Mrspeakers Alpha Prime, Audeze EL-8, Sennheiser HD650, Hifiman HE-400i, Stax SR-207(with SRM252S energizer)
Additional commentary on equipment at post #100