Sound is an absolutely massive part of the gaming landscape these days. In regular games, it immerses players more deeply in the mood of the title while in esports, being able to hear and pinpoint the direction of a combatant before you see them can be crucial to a win. DTS Sound Unbound and particularly Headphone:X are applications that aim to boost the quality of surround sound on supported headphone devices for PC and Xbox consoles. While the list of games specifically optimized by these applications is a little limited, the quality for cost that they bring to the table is pretty dang good.
Breaking down the DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X programs
DTS has been in the audio scene for quite some time, delivering high-quality home theater and surround sound experiences. With both cinema and gaming expanding so much on console and PC platforms, as well as the sound designs for both, DTS took the opportunity to address that market in a way that specifically focuses on headphone users. DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X are available to Xbox and PC users and aim to boost the quality of surround sound on movies and a limited number of games, supported on around 500 styles of headphones.
DTS Sound Unbound is downloadable for free, which offers DTS:X Home Theater and DTS rendering options on Xbox and Windows 11 devices on DTS sound bars and AVRs. However, once you make a $19.99 purchase of a license (or try it for a 14-day trial), you can use Headphone:X, which is kind of the jewel of the program. In terms of gaming, the way in which Headphone:X works is that instead of creating an audio-based soundstage, it creates an object-based one, attaching sound sources to various objects at different distances and ranges from the player.
Taking DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X through their paces
DTS Sound Unbond and Heaphone:X are meant to work on any headset and game that supports Microsoft Spatial. I tested a few different optimized games on Headphone:X via a Logitech G Pro X Wireless headset. The standout experiments included Resident Evil 2 Remake and Halo Infinite. In terms of Resident Evil 2, Headphone:X did serve to create a bit more of an immersive environment. Wandering around the Raccoon City Police Station, hearing windows breaking, zombies creeping up on me, and Mr. X wandering the halls with his loud steps was quite a boosted experience compared to my usual Astro A40s (which are not currently optimized through the apps). Being able to pinpoint where a zombie was coming from by their sound was also enhanced with Headphone:X, which helped me to more quickly detect attacks from my sides or behind before they happened.
In terms of Halo Infinite, Headphone:X did similar things for the campaign, helping me to keep track of enemies I wasn’t looking at more easily. It also more deeply immersed me in Halo Infinite’s already stellar sound design. However, it might be pretty obvious that Headphone:X really shines in Infinite’s multiplayer. While my A40’s do a serviceable job of making sure I generally know when an enemy is coming, Headphone:X helped me to more easily determine where they were coming from and respond accordingly faster. I’m not going to say this program makes your gameplay or reflexes better, but it does create an upgraded sound environment that helps to make your ears just as useful as your eyes in determining the whereabouts of targets and enemies.
Are DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X worth it?
When it comes down to it, DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X’s overall value will be determined by the headphones you use and the games you play. Again, the program optimizes use of over 500 different styles of headsets from various brands. However, there are a few it doesn’t feature custom tuning for, such as my aforementioned Astro A40s at this time of writing. The list of optimized games is far more limited, but at least with the inclusion of the recently released Halo Infinite and the upcoming Hellblade 2, we know that list is expanding. It’s also worth mentioning that DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X support is currently confined to Xbox and PC platforms and games and hardware that utilize Microsoft Spatial. There’s no support for PlayStation or Switch platforms at this time.
Even still, if you are playing on Xbox or PC and have a headset optimized by Sound Unbound and Headphone:X or are in the market for one, an extra $20 is a pretty easy-to-swallow one-time cost for what DTS offers on some popular games. The promise of further optimized games coming to this program is also something to consider as the value of these applications increases.
Overall, for the time being, if you don’t plan on playing on Xbox or PC, then there's little reason to shell out the money for DTS Sound Unbound just yet. That said, players will find quite a solid upgrade experience in Headphone:X for the price in Halo Infinite, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Resident Evil 2, and further games. It offers the value of good surround sound on immersive and cinematic games, as well as competitive ones, and at a very reasonable price at that. That makes DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X well worth consideration when playing some of Xbox and PC’s more popular games.
These impressions are based on a supplied license for DTS Sound Unbound and Headphone:X on PC tested via a Logitech G PRO X Wireless Headset. The DTS Sound Unbound application can be downloaded via Xbox or PC through the Microsoft Store.