Surround sound can make any video game better, but getting the right setup requires expensive speakers or a high-end gaming headset — or at least, it used to. A new Windows 10 app from Razer can add THX Spatial Surround Sound to any pair of wired or wireless gaming headphones you’re using with your PC — including the crappy ones you haven’t replaced since 2013.
Razer’s Spatial Audio app creates a virtual soundcard on your PC that captures a game or app’s audio, applies any enhancements you’ve enabled, then pumps the boosted audio out to your headphones. This allows you to run games with virtual THX 7.1 surround sound, customise your EQ and even apply post-processing enhancements like bass boost or voice clarity to your games, movies or music without needing an external DAC or soundcard. Best of all, the app does all of this for just $30 — and you can even try it out free for 15 days to see how it sounds.
How to try Razer’s THX Spatial Audio app for free
- Go to https://www.razer.com/thx-spatial-audio
- Click “Download trial.”
- Run the installer and follow the on-screen instructions
- Launch the app after its done installing.
- The first time you run the app, it’ll ask you to login with a Razer, Google, Facebook or Twitch account. There’s also a guest option, but ignore it; it just gives you an overview of THX Spatial Surround Sound and a video demoing what it sounds like.
- Next, right-click the Window audio icon in the system icon tray and select “Open Sound Settings.” Make sure the output device is set to “THX Spatial.”
- Back in the Razer THX Spatial Audio app, go to Settings and make sure your audio output device is set to your headset’s 3.5mm or USB port.
The app has four tabs, each with its own set of options to try out:
Audio tab: Toggle between stereo or THX Virtual surround sound. You can toggle this on and off for all apps, or on a per-app basis in the App Mixer window.
EQ tab: Adjust the audio mix. You can select between four EQ presets (Default, Game, Music and Movie) or use the full 10-band mixing controls to adjust the audio on the fly or create your own custom EQs. This screen also includes Bass Boost, Sound Normalization and Vocal Clarity post-processing options.
Config tab: Adjust the spacing of each virtual surround channel.
Demo: Plays a video mixed with THX Surround Sound.
Despite the name, the demo tab doesn’t let you demo any of the other options or presets aside from the included pre-mixed video, and that’s indicative of the app’s only major flaw: There are lots of options, but you can’t live-test all of them within the app. You’ll only be able to hear all your changes once you’re playing your game. The app also defaults to the stereo mix instead of Spatial Surround for each new game you play, which means lots of swapping in and out of games/apps to get everything sounding right.
How well does Razer’s Spatial Audio app work for gaming?
That back and forth is worth it, though. While using the THX Spatial Surround Sound won’t make the actual audio quality better on cheaper headphones — and I certainly can’t speak to Razer’s claims that using spatial audio “improves focus and reduces mental fatigue” — the virtual surround sound makes a big difference. You get a sense of the boost from the demo video linked above, but it’s even more apparent when actually used in-game.
I tried Razer’s app with both an old pair of 3.5mm wired Apple earbuds and an Arctis Pro gaming headset. I used both the Arctis Pro’s basic 3.5mm connection and connected it through its external USB DAC mixer, and tried each connection with and without SteelSeries’ mixer software enabled. I played a bit of Phantasy Star Online 2, some Warframe and a couple rounds of Fortnite. All three games sounded more accurate with the surround sound turned on, but the benefits varied depending on which pair of headphones I was using.
I noticed the biggest difference with the Arctis Pro headset over 3.5mm, but even the comparatively flimsy Apple earbuds sounded a bit better (though they lacked the clarity of the Arctis Pro). I didn’t get quite as much of a boost when using the Arctis Pro’s DAC or its mixing software, but that makes sense — both already do most of what Razer’s app is intended to. Even so, fiddling with THX virtual surround sound setup and post-processing options had a noticeable effect, even with those other components running.
Skip Razer’s Spatial Audio app for movie night
I also gave the Razer app’s Music and Movie presets a try, but came away less impressed.
The Movie preset makes video and movies more immersive, but virtual surround can’t fully replicate a true surround sound speaker setup. There are some slight inconsistencies with the front and rear surround channels that I found more noticeable in non-gaming uses a dedicated speaker setup or pair of headphones specifically designed for music and/or movies if you want the best experience.
Razer’s app does come pretty close to creating a faux-surround gaming experience though. At $30, it’s a great buy for anyone who uses a non-surround gaming headset or plain old headphones. Not only is it cheaper than buying an expensive surround headset or external DAC, it works over 3.5mm, USB, Bluetooth and wireless USB. It’s redundant for high-end headsets with their own virtual surround sound options and software, but otherwise, this is money well spent.