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DTS Sound Unbound and DTS Headphone:X make playing games with headphones so much more immersive
DTS Sound Unbound and DTS Headphone:X make playing games with headphones so much more immersive DTS

Who Is DTS Sound Unbound And DTS Headphone:X For?

  • DTS Sound Unbound, coupled with DTS Headphone:X, upgrade any Xbox headset via software
  • DTS Sound Unbound works with over 500 different headsets, making it ultra-compatible
  • Perhaps the best part, DTS Sound Unbound and DTS Headphone:X are pretty inexpensive

While I normally review tech products and gadgets here at International Business Times, this review is going to be a bit different. It is common to see reviews for things like headphones and gaming headsets here, but this time we're looking at software that improves on those gaming headsets. Audio giant DTS is known for their multichannel theatrical speaker and at-home surround sound setups, but has managed to cram much of that same aural experience into headphones. They're called DTS Sound Unbound and DTS Headphone:X, and they're awesome.

What Is DTS Sound Unbound And DTS Headphone:X?

First, let's start this review by explaining what is going on here. When gaming on an Xbox, the console outputs what it calls uncompressed stereo audio. This audio is fine, and there's nothing inherently bad about it. That said, companies like DTS, Dolby and even Microsoft themselves saw an opportunity to improve it with additional software.

So back to DTS Sound Unbound. This is a free program that can be downloaded on Xbox consoles as well as PCs. However, it gets a little weird here. While the Sound Unbound app is free, it doesn't actually do anything until a user purchases a license to DTS Headphone:X. Even after a license is purchased, the Sound Unbound app has no additional features. It feels a little unnecessary, but it at least doesn't take up much hard drive space.

What Does DTS Sound Unbound And DTS Headphone:X Do?

DTS Headphone:X is really where the magic starts. Once a license is purchased, Headphone:X can be selected from the Xbox settings menu. This changes the audio stream coming out of an Xbox controller's headphone jack. It should be noted that buying a license for Headphone:X will not have any impact on the audio that comes out of TV speakers or any stereo system hooked up to an Xbox. It only impacts headphone quality.

Once activated, Headphone:X creates an object-based soundstage as opposed to an audio-based one. To keep this very simple, it means the Xbox interprets sound as individual sources. These sources are located in different directions in relation to the player, which means the sounds will appear to be coming from those directions. It isn't full-on head tracking 3D audio like something from the Audeze Mobius, but it is spatial audio that allows gamers to use their ears as much as their eyes when playing.

How Does DTS Sound Unbound And DTS Headphone:X Sound?

It seems a little obvious to say things sound "better" with DTS Headphone:X turned on, but it's true. Audio sounds much more realistic, rounded, and for a lack of a better word, "fresh". Heck, even the little popping sounds the Xbox makes when jumping around on the home screen sound more punchy and full when compared to the standard uncompressed stereo option.

As far as specific games go, there are only a handful of games that have been optimized to take full advantage of DTS Headphone:X so far. Headphone:X uses Microsoft's spatial sound tech, hence why it is only available for Xbox consoles and Windows PCs. That also means the list of games specifically designed to be enhanced by Microsoft spatial sound, and therefore Headphone:X, is somewhat short. The full list of games as of this publication, as provided by DTS, is as follows:

  • Gears 5
  • Borderlands 3
  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • Assassin's Creed Origins
  • For Honor
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Resident Evil 2
  • Metro Exodus
  • The Division 2

While that's not many games, more are sure to be added to that list as time goes on. Additionally, some movies have also been tuned to take advantage of Headphone:X.

I mostly spent time testing out Modern Warfare with DTS Headphone:X, and the improvements were drastic. With Headphone:X turned off, my footsteps were still audible, and I could hear faraway gunfire in general directions, but everything sounded fairly flat and dull. Once I turned Headphone:X on, I could distinctly hear the different types of surfaces I was walking on, from dirt to sheet metal to pavement. Additionally, I could directly pinpoint where gunfire was coming from just based on my ears. It honestly did help me get a few extra kills, just because I could hear the direction my opponents were coming from and better prepare myself.

The goofy analogy I came up with while playing is that the standard uncompressed stereo audio is like pre-shredded cheese. It's fine for what it is, but it doesn't melt properly and has a slightly off taste. DTS Headphone:X is like cheese that was hand-shredded. You can just taste how much better it is, despite it being largely the same as the pre-shredded stuff. Hand shredded cheese melts naturally and is just an all-around better ingredient to work with. Similarly, Headphone:X just sounds more natural and has that extra "all natural" layer that makes audio sound more like it is coming from all around you.

Is DTS Sound Unbound And DTS Headphone:X Worth The Upgrade?

Here's what is maybe the best part about DTS Sound Unbound and DTS Headphone:X. There are a number of gaming headsets designed to support DTS Headphone:X, such as the Steelseries Arctis Pro. While these headsets are made to best utilize Headphone:X, the software has a deep database of over 500 different headsets to best optimize audio on any pair of headphones.

On top of being compatible with just about every headset out there, DTS Headphone:X licenses stick around. I can access Headphone:X on my Xbox across a number of different profiles (even when the profile I activated the license for is logged out), and can even get Headphone:X working across devices. After downloading DTS Sound Unbound on my PC, I was immediately given the green light to start using it with my headphones.

To sweeten the deal even more, buying a license for Headphone:X also grants a license for DTS:X Home Theater, which provides the same audio quality as Headphone:X, but for DTS-enabled home theater equipment. I don't have access to any at the moment, but it's still cool to see that as an option if I were to upgrade my system.

Users can get all of this for a one-time purchase of only $20. That's right, all these audio upgrades are available across accounts and devices for only $20.

Final Thoughts


DTS Sound Unbound and DTS Headphone:X offer some spectacular audio upgrades for every gaming headset. It makes audio sound more clear, natural and immersive thanks to its spatial audio techniques. When a Headphone:X-optimized pair of headphones and a Headphone:X optimized game pair up it's pure bliss, but even when things aren't optimized they still sound so much better.

Considering Headphone:X is available for one $20 purchase, it's a no-brainer. Using Headphone:X allowed me to perform better in online games and enjoy the sounds of lower-stakes games immensely more than the standard uncompressed stereo audio that is used by default. Add on that I can access Headphone:X across devices, and that makes it sound that much sweeter.


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