At A Glance: Headphone:X

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For content creators and producers, the ability to bring theatrical-quality sound to almost any platform—especially mobile content through headphones—opens up new potential markets for high-quality soundtracks in any playback medium. DTS, Inc., based in Southern California, recently invited me to experience a new technology called Headphone:X. The company’s website promises that the technology is "capable of recreating the home theater surround sound experience using only a pair of headphones."

At DTS headquarters, I was led into a demonstration room about 35 feet long by 25 feet wide that literally was covered with speakers. The engineer who demonstrated the system explained that the room was set up in a 28.2 surround-sound array, with a total of 30 speakers surrounding us at the center console where we were listening and watching playback.

The demo began with a simple speaker location video. While seated, a voice moved around the room and announced at various heights as its location moved to the front-left, center, front-right, sides and rear of the demonstration room. This was followed by a music video of musicians in a studio creating an experimental soundscape with combinations of cymbals, percussion, tools, even flaming torches. The sound was dazzlingly realistic and musical—as one would expect with a high-end Pro Tools system played back through 30 state-of-the-art speakers in a finely tuned acoustic space.

Kevin Doohan, DTS Chief Marketing Officer, asked me to slip on a pair of Sennheiser headphones that were sitting on the console, a seemingly average mid-range set of consumer headphones. The engineer began playback of the same round of video clips I had listened to on the 30 speakers. Incredibly, the sound quality was almost identical! I was sure that at least some of the speakers in the room were still on, but repeatedly lifting one ear of the headphones revealed that no sound was coming from the speakers in the room. It was all coming through the headphones.

The sound was rich, clear, dynamic, smooth and far more detailed than I thought possible from a pair of headphones. The sound quality I experienced with Headphone:X was, frankly, amazing.

"Headphone:X achieves high-quality surround sound with headphones through two functions," explains Doohan on the technology. "The first is to acoustically model environments with all of their secondary and tertiary room reflections. These reflections create the reverb signature that makes each room sound unique from another. The second function is how Headphone:X models Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF), a response that characterizes how an ear receives a sound from a point in space. This is what allows us to differentiate when something is located in front of us versus behind us, as well as defining its height and differentiation between left, right or center."

To hear a Headphone:X demonstration and learn how the technology applies to content creators, visit the DTS website at