If you want to learn how to set up surround sound on a PC, then you’re in for a treat!
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about connecting a surround sound unit to your PC and how you’d have to configure them so you can hear every detail.
Obtaining surround sound from your PC is not a difficult task, in fact it’s so easy that you wouldn’t have to break your head over what goes where. It’s a preferred option especially for those who want to get the most out of their PC while watching movies or playing games.
If you’re looking to connect a surround sound speaker system to your PC then there’s literally only one thing that you would need – a sound card that has surround sound ports.
So, without any delay, here’s everything you need to know about how to set up surround sound on a PC.
A Summary: How To Set Up Surround Sound on a PC
In order to connect surround sound to your computer, you simply need surround sound ports on your device’s sound card. Depending on your specific surround sound setup, you will need either Analog RCA, or optical audio output ports. Next, configure your speaker set up using the Sound Properties setting on your PC to receive 5.1 or higher surround sound playback.
How To Set Up Surround Sound on a PC
Most of the PC’s of today come with surround sound capabilities, while some come only with stereo output which does not have the right amount of channels to deliver surround sound and all you will hear are your very basic left and right stereo sound.
Depending on the speaker system you have, you would either need an analog RCA sound port (traditional) or an optical audio port in your PC’s sound card.
There are several different methods for connecting an audio device to your computer. If set correctly, a decent 5.1 channel surround sound setup will definitely enhance the range of effects and improve the quality of your experience.
Today I’m going to show you how you can achieve surround sound on your PC.
Update your Sound Card Drivers
Updating your sound card drivers is easy and an optional step that you can follow before configuring surround sound on your PC. Outdated sound card drivers will not support the latest codecs and would be designed to carry out limited number of tasks. Updating your drivers will help keep your PC in check with the latest sound codecs and audio formats out there.
Here’s how you can update your sound card drivers.
- Press the Windows + R key to open the Run dialog box
- Key in Devmgmt.msc and click on OK to launch the Device Manager
- Select Sound, Video and Game controllers from the list of options
- Right click on the name of your sound card and select Update Driver from the list
- Tap on Search automatically for updated driver software
- The system will now begin to search for available driver software updates and install them on the PC
Once these updates have finished installing, restart your PC for the changes to take effect.
Configure Surround Sound On Your PC
The first thing you need to know is that not all in-built sound cards in modern PC’s are configured to 5.1 surround sound output. Newer motherboards would normally have it on the low-end, meaning that surround sound is attainable but you will not be able to experience true surround sound.
Point to Remember: Even though you might be running a 5.1 sound card, chances are the onboard card may not churn out true surround sound. In order to have true surround sound, you will need to upgrade your built-in sound card to a dedicated 5.1 surround sound card.
Before you get into configuring your PC, you must check if all the cords and wires are connected appropriately and your sound card drivers have been updated to the latest version.
- Start by pressing the Windows key + R combo on your keyboard to open the Run window. Here type out “mmsys.cpl” and hit Enter to open the sound properties window.
- Now you will have to head to the Playback section in the window and choose the appropriate playback device that supports 5.1 surround sound. The name of this device will vary depending on the make and model of your sound card. In our case it’s called “Speakers”.
- Click on the name of the device and then tap on Set Default. Now that you have set this device as your default sound card, hit the Configure button on the bottom left of the Sound Properties window.
- You will now be able to view the Speaker Setup window, select 5.1 Surround from the audio channels drop-box (make sure your speakers are arranged in the same manner as displayed in the box) and tap on Next.
- The following page will provide you with optional speakers that can be used, if you don’t have a subwoofer or any particular speaker, remove them from the list by unchecking the box next to their name. Disabling the missing speaker will reroute the audio to an active channel and not the inactive one.
- Once you click on Next, you will have to configure whether your speakers are full range. Most of the 5.1 sound systems don’t have full range speakers so if it’s applicable then check the boxes appropriately and tap on Next.
Note: If you are not sure whether your audio setup has full range speakers, you can perform an online search or you can simply go ahead and check both boxes – Front Left and Right and Surround Speakers. Doing so won’t limit your audio quality even if you’re not using a subwoofer.
- Now that you have successfully configured your Speakers, click on Finish at the bottom of the window to save the settings.
Test Surround Sound On Your PC
Once you have successfully configured your surround sound speakers on your PC, it’s time to test them out to see if you’re getting true surround sound output.
We’ll take you over the way you can test your surround sound via the built-in Sound settings.
However, if you’re looking to test your speakers to check their true potential then you can scroll down and choose a test from the list that’s featured below.
- Start by pressing the Windows + R keys on your keyboard to open the Run window. Once open, type out “mmsys.cpl” in the bar and then click on OK or hit Enter on your keyboard to access the sound properties.
- Under Playback, right click on the device you configured above and then tap on the second option labeled Test.
- The Test window will appear on the screen, choose the right audio channel you configured and then tap on the test button below.
- When you have finished the test and your setup sounds good, right-click on the speaker device and click on Stop Testing.
Note: There may be an error which will pop-up on your screen stating “Failed to play test tone”. If this happens then something might be wrong with your sound configuration, you can proceed to update the drivers from Device Manager.
Additional Surround Sound Tests for your PC
If you have your speakers configured correctly and the sound is coming out from the correct directions, you can try some alternate sound test methods. If you’re serious about what your PC is capable of outputting, then you should test the audio playback with 5.1 or surround sound sample files.
You can try one of the samples from these links to cross check if you’re receiving true surround sound and can hear all the channels.
Note: While downloading trailer samples to find out whether your PC is playing audio in surround sound, make sure to use a player that’s capable of decoding Dolby or DTS files. Normally, you will have to download the audio codecs if they are not available.
Types of Audio Connections Available for PC
Apart from configuring your PC to deliver surround sound, you must also invest in the right equipment so there’s no compromise in the audio quality.
For that, you will need to pay attention to the types of audio connection ports that are available and then decide on whether your surround sound speaker system supports those ports.
Normally, for a good surround sound output, I’d recommend using the old-school analog ports or your HDMI port. Anyway, here are the available audio ports and their benefits.
- Analog – This is considered to be the most compatible audio output method where you will have connected your speakers to the analog ports via the 3.5mm to RCA cable. Ideally, for surround sound with an analog connection, you would have to have an 8 channel port layout that drives your subwoofer, rear speakers, front speakers, side and center speakers.
- SPDIF – An SPDIF connection is typically a Coaxial or an Optical connection that is capable of outputting either stereo PCM or Dolby/DTS encoded 5.1 audio. This is not a commonly used method and would only be recommended if it was your final option.
- HDMI – HDMI is well known for its expanded audio processing capabilities. As a successor to SPDIF, HDMI is capable of carrying 7.1 PCM signals making even Dolby or DTS obsolete. The only issue here is that in order to receive surround sound, the device you’re connected to will have to be HDCP compliant.
- USB – USB is an older choice and is best suited for those playing games. With a good USB headset that supports 5.1/7.1 surround sound, there’s not much that you would have to worry about. Items like USB DAC’s are great to own and can really provide you with 5.1/7.1 surround sound.
How to I get surround sound on my computer?
The easiest way you can enable surround sound on your computer is by opening your PCs sound properties and changing the configuration from Stereo to Surround Sound.
Can I get 7.1 Surround Sound on my PC?
Technically, yes you can. However, you must first check if your sound card supports 7.1 surround sound or if it maxes out at 5.1. If it’s the latter then you will have to upgrade your sound card to one that supports 7.1 surround sound format.
Can I connect my home theater to my PC?
There are a couple of ways you can connect your home theater to your PC. The first involves using the 3.5mm audio jack, but with this the sound quality will be low. The second will be to use a HDMI-ARC cable, but this is possible only if your PC supports the port and finally you can try using Bluetooth or other wireless means to pair your PC with your home theater receiver.
See, I told you it wasn’t hard to set up surround sound on a PC. Though it’s significantly easy to set up and configure your system, you will have to remember that the drivers will need to be updated on a regular basis and that the configuration you saved shouldn’t be changed..
Apart from that, you’re all good to go.
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I've been specializing in audio equipment and accessories for a while and have a little something in store for every kind of hi-fi enthusiast.
Based in California, I keep attending special launch events across the globe. This has helped me understand the products better, and with a unique hands-on experience I'm able to provide you with easy to understand reviews about the best in audio tech from around the world.