Windows Sonic vs Dolby Atmos: Which Headphones Are Best for Xbox One?

The differences between these two spatial surround technologies

A teenager sits in front of a TV screen playing a game with headphones on

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Xbox One owners have been given the choice between two spatial surround technologies: Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos. Both aim to enhance sound quality and immersion when playing a game, but which is best for your situation? In the battle of Windows Sonic vs. Dolby Atmos, we compared features, pricing, sound quality, compatibility, and other key factors so you can decide what's best for you.

What is Windows Sonic for Headphones?

An animation of how spatial sound surrounds its users
 Xbox.com
What We Like
  • It's entirely free to use.

  • Very simple setup.

  • Some games sound better.

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly over the top sound.

  • Some crackling sounds when on the Xbox dashboard.

Windows Sonic for headphones is Microsoft's take on spatial sound. Introduced to Xbox One as well as Windows 10 devices, it's free to use with any up-to-date console. It's integrated with the system software for extra ease when using it, and you can use any Xbox One stereo headset in conjunction with it. 

It attempts to create a surround sound experience even if you have ordinary stereo headphones. By doing so, sound should appear to have extra depth and sound three-dimensional so you hear everything around you.

To use it, you simply activate it through a setting on your Xbox One. Once enabled, any applications or games capable of rendering to 7.1 channel formats will begin to treat your headphones as if they were a virtual 7.1 device. 

Windows Sonic is generally regarded to over-exaggerate sounds a little compared to Dolby Atmos, but it still makes a significant difference when playing first-person shooters such as Overwatch. You're able to hear enemies coming and can locate them faster than through other audio devices. 

What is Dolby Atmos?

A picture depicting the benefits of Dolby Atmos for headphones
Dolby Atmos 
What We Like
  • There's a free trial.

  • Some games sound better and more immersive.

  • Good excuse to buy dedicated headphones.

  • App provides support for other surround sound systems.

What We Don't Like
  • It costs $14.99 to purchase a license.

  • It involves more setup than Windows Sonic.

  • Only minimal improvements for the price.

Dolby Atmos is Dolby's spatial sound technology. The Xbox One supports Dolby Atmos technology when it comes to home theater setups and headphones. Unlike the integrated nature of Windows Sonic, Dolby Atmos requires you to purchase it from the Microsoft Store for $14.99. 

To use Dolby Atmos for Headphones, you need to download and install the app, which takes a little more time than Windows Sonic's setup. There's a 30-day free trial for the app, but you'll need to purchase it once the trial's over. 

Dolby Atmos focuses on placing sounds above, below, and around you like surround sound systems or Windows Sonic. Dolby Atmos delivers virtualized spatial sound like Windows Sonic, but there's also dedicated hardware and special Dolby Atmos headphones designed to work in conjunction with it to provide the best aural experience. 

Generally, Dolby Atmos is considered slightly superior to Windows Sonic. When playing games like Gears 5, or older titles like Grand Theft Auto V and Rise of the Tomb Raider, Dolby Atmos headphones tend to sound crisper, richer, and more like you're actually there. 

Windows Sonic vs Dolby Atmos Feature Comparison

Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos both have positive and negative qualities. While they both offer similar services, there are certain things about both that make them appealing to different people and different financial considerations.

Here's a brief look at some of the most important features of Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos:

Windows Sonic vs Dolby Atmos comparison
  Windows Sonic Dolby Atmos
Price Free $14.99 after a free trial
Dedicated Hardware No need Optional
Setup Minimal/built-in App download required

Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos are very similar products which is why we didn't include identical categories in our comparisons, such as the games that are compatible with them. Roughly, there's the same number of games out there that are at their best with either sound format. 

Should You Go With Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos?

Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos are both very similar forms of spatial sound technology. Dolby Atmos has the edge in terms of sound quality and making you feel like you're actually there when playing a game, but it comes at a price. 

Much of your decision making process should stem from if you want to pay $15 for the Dolby Atmos app or if you're fine sticking with the plug and play style of Windows Sonic. 

For many users, the differences are relatively subtle, but it's definitely worth trying the Dolby Atmos 30-day trial to see if your ears are able to spot the nuances between the two technologies. If you're not on a budget, it makes sense to go with Dolby Atmos for the extra advantage when gaming.