How to Set Up Surround Sound for a Soundbar or Home Theater System
The Xbox Series X and S support multiple surround formats, whether you’re using an AV receiver with dedicated speakers or a sound bar system with rear satellites. Which settings you choose here will depend heavily on your setup—what formats your TV and sound system support, how they’re hooked up, and so on. While we can’t delve into every combination of gear, we can point you in the right direction.
Head to Settings > General > Volume & Audio Output and look for the options under Speaker Audio. Here, you’ll want to select the options that fits your system best. Here are a few common setups:
- If you have a 5.1 or 7.1 system with your Xbox plugged directly into the receiver or soundbar, choose 5.1 or 7.1 uncompressed.
- If you have a 5.1 or 7.1 system with your Xbox plugged into your TV, with audio routed to your speakers over Optical or HDMI ARC, uncompressed may require too much bandwidth for your connection. In that case, you can choose Bitstream Out and select DTS Digital Surround or Dolby Digital as your bitstream format to get proper surround audio. (Some systems may only support one or the other, but many will support both.)
- If you have a Dolby Atmos system, skip to the section below.
No matter which of these you choose, audio from Blu-ray discs will be bitstreamed in its default format, provided you leave the default settings under Settings > Devices & Connections > Blu-ray. This HDMI audio setting applies to surround sound-compatible games as well as apps like Netflix. If you choose 5.1 or 7.1 uncompressed, you’ll get higher quality audio, but you might not be able to use certain features on your receiver (like Dolby’s “Night Mode,” which requires bitstreaming Dolby audio). So each approach has its own pros and cons.
How to Set Up Dolby Atmos with a Soundbar or Home Theater System
If you have a system with in-ceiling speakers or up-firing drivers in a soundbar, you can enable Dolby Atmos on your Xbox for immersive, overhead sound effects. It will also allow for Atmos audio in apps like Netflix that support it. You will likely need your Xbox plugged directly into your receiver or soundbar for this to work properly, unless you have a new TV that supports sending Dolby Atmos over eARC.
To enable Atmos, you’ll need to download the Dolby Access app from the Microsoft Store. After launching the app, it will offer you a $15 license—you don’t need to buy this unless you want Atmos for Headphones, as described in the next section.
For home theater use on a speaker system, Atmos support is free. Just scroll to the Products tab, select the Dolby Atmos for Home Theater icon in the middle, and click the Setup button to turn it on.
Once you’ve done that, head to Settings > General > Volume & Audio Output. Under Speaker Audio, select Bitstream Out as your HDMI Audio format, and then select Dolby Atmos for Home Theater as your Bitstream Format. From then on, you should get Atmos audio in supported games and apps.
How to Set Up Virtual Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos on Headphones
If you’re using headphones or a gaming headset, there are a few ways to get virtual “surround” effects when playing.
If your headset offers its own virtual surround feature built-in, you can enable that on-the-fly when gaming or watching movies. You’ll just need to flip the switch on your headset or USB adapter, depending on the model. Note however that the quality of this virtual surround effect can vary from headset to headset, though, and may not be as good as the virtual surround features offered on the Xbox itself.
To use your Xbox’s spatial audio feature, head to Settings > General > Volume & Audio Output, and look at the options under Headset Audio. For Headset Format, you can choose Windows Sonic for Headphones, Dolby Atmos for Headphones, or DTS Headphone:X.
Windows Sonic for Headphones is free and already installed on your Xbox. Choosing Dolby Atmos for Headphones or DTS Headphone:X, however, will prompt you to download the Dolby Access or DTS Sound Unbound app from the Microsoft Store.
Both Dolby and DTS offer free trials of their headphone surround processing, though you’ll need to purchase a license in order to continue using it after the trial period—Dolby Atmos costs $15 while DTS Headphone:X costs $20. Once you’ve downloaded your app of choice and opted for the free trial, you can select the headphone icon in the app and press Setup to enable the feature.
The app will take you to the Xbox’s audio settings page to enable it from the Headset Audio dropdown menu. If your headset or headphones are plugged into the Xbox or Xbox controller, leave Using HDMI Audio Headset unchecked. If your headphones are plugged into your TV, soundbar, or receiver, you’ll want to check the HDMI Audio Headset box to make sure those surround effects are sent over HDMI.
Once your surround format is enabled, you can head back to the Dolby or DTS app and navigate to its own settings to find some extra equalizer options.
Which surround format you choose, and the equalizer settings you apply, is personal preference. I find Windows Sonic to be a bit overbearing, while DTS Headphone:X offers a more subtle approach, and Atmos for Headphones somewhere in the middle. As for the equalizer, I prefer it off in Dolby Atmos, but DTS has some equalizer presets for many common headphone models that are worth trying.
Play with the different surround formats and their settings to find what you like best. At any time, you can switch between surround formats by going back to Settings > General > Volume & Audio Output.