DTS bulldozes through the usual virtual surround gimmickry with Headphone X

DTS bulldozes through the usual virtual surround gimmickry with Headphone X

DTS impressed us with what we think is a revolutionary new virtual surround technology for headphones. In our video, we learn how it is that DTS pulled this off, and where we can expect to see the technology in the future.

I hate virtual surround sound. Whether implemented in sound bars or headphones – no matter the manufacturer – it consistently disappoints me. I generally lambaste the technology as a gimmick; a routinely-underwhelming cloud of smoke and mirrors that attempts to recreate by way of technological wizardry what can only be truly accomplished by an array of space-hogging speakers placed strategically around a room.

But DTS just changed my mind.

I stopped by DTS’ booth at CES 2013 today to grab its latest surround sound demonstration disc, which I routinely use for home-theater system reviews. But the company insisted I needed to check out its Headphone X demonstration. Reluctantly, I agreed. And I’m glad I did, because I may have just experienced one of the most impressive feats of technology on the show floor – no exaggeration.

I was placed in a demonstration theater outfitted with an 11.1 surround sound system featuring some gorgeous Focal speakers. On the backs of the theater seats were an unassuming pair of open-backed Sennheiser headphones. I knew what was coming: DTS would play sounds out of each of the 11 speakers, then we were supposed to put on the cans and hear the headphones mimic the proper surround system. I braced for another disappointment. 

But when DTS engaged the second step of the demo, it seemed something was wrong. I was certain that the DTS team had forgotten to flip the switch that would route the sound through the headphones. It sounded as if the speakers were still active. I pulled off the headphones, and wouldn’t you know it, there was no sound. DTS had totally suckered me. I had unwittingly given the demo team exactly what they wanted: an expression of disbelief at what I was hearing. 

Headphone X differs from anything I’ve heard before in that it doesn’t merely attempt to make it sound as if something is coming from behind or above you using psycho-acoustics. Instead, it recreates the sound of a room filled with speakers, and it does it exceptionally well. The technology is planned first for mobile devices and hand-held gaming devices, but DTS explained that the technology is planned for televisions and A/V receivers at some point the future. 

We come to CES to see and hear what the future of consumer electronics holds for us, but are often disappointed with insignificant, incremental improvements on existing technology. Rarely does the term ‘revolutionary’ accurately apply, but in this case, DTS deserves to be recognized for coming up with something genuinely amazing. 

Check out our brief interview with Geir Skaaden, Senior Vice President of products and platforms with DTS, where we talk about how DTS has pulled this feat off.