DIY 5.1 Surround Sound Headphones!





Introduction: DIY 5.1 Surround Sound Headphones!

About: I've had many different jobs in my life, but I've discovered my passion: Mental Health Counseling. However, that doesn't keep me from still being a technogeek!

If you've got a PC with a soundcard that supports 5.1 surround sound via speaker jacks, then this is for you! An amazingly easy Instructable that gives amazing results.

Step 1: Get Ready...

I found a decent set of over the ears stereo heaphones with padding for $15 at a local outlet store. These will serve as the Subwoofer and Center Channel.

You'll also need two sets of cheap earbuds. One will serve as the Front Speakers, and the other as the Rear Speakers.

Now, before we go on, I will say that I fully realize that there is really no such thing as 5.1 Surround Headphones in the traditional sense of the word. This design does, however, closely match that of the high-end "5.1 Surround" headsets, such as the ones reviewed at .

Step 2: Get Set...

Now, take a pair of scissors and cut sits in the main headphones just below the center padding. Insert the left side of one set of earbuds through the left side slit, then do the same with the right side. Use a piece of colored tape to mark the plug of the earbuds for reference as the Rear Speakers. Now tuck the left earbud under the back side padding of the primary headphones. You can fix them in place later with a hot glue gun or other method, butyou might want to adjust the positioning for maximum effect before doing this. Now, repeat the process on the right side.

Now, do the same with the other set of earbuds, tucking them under the FRONT side of the padding. These will obviously be the Front speakers. Once you've placed these, you're ready to test them out!

Step 3: GO!

Now, pop in your favorite game or DVD and plug the seperate headphones into the proper front, center/subwoofer, and rear speaker jacks on your soundcard. You can either use a stereo to mono adapter on your main headset to combine the center channel and subwoofer into both speakers (otherwise, you'll hear the center on one side and the subwoofer on the other), or, just pull out the jack slightly until you hear them combined on both sides.

Now, open your sound control panel, and adjust the volume sliders until you get a nice, balanced sound. I was pretty amazed at how well this works, as I expected I would have to do a lot more testing of other speaker elements in order to achieve a good result. If your soundcard supports reverb settings, you can also set it on the basic "room" configuration and adjust the level to more closely simulate a true 5.1 surround experience!

Step 4: Notes

Although they appear as if they would be uncomfortable, they actually are quite the opposite. The earbuds do not come in contact with your ears, and I've enjoyed using these for hours at a time without any discomfort. The sound level is just right, as the speaker jacks do not put out the same levels as a headphone jack.

I'm sure that there are improvements that can be made, such as hard wiring these into a USB external soundcard, etc. Please feel free to ask questions, make suggestions, or comments.



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20 Discussions

While this is an innovative approach and will MIMIC 5.1.This is truly not 5.1 as the center speaker will only come out of one of the main headphones.A better approach would be to have the center channel in "phantom" mode( simulated between the left and right channels) and to have a small subwoofer under your seat at a low volume and only one set of mini headphones to handle the rears.Without testing this myself I wonder how realistic the spacial effects would be considering the fact that you are basically creating a bi amplified headphone.To get positional audio there has to be some seperation in the speakers or basically your brain thinks its one speaker.Either way this is a good effort and a step in the right direction.Props to babblin.

2 replies

Actually, there are many (okay, perhaps 'many' is relative - let's go with 'several') retail sets of surround sound headphones that use this same basic principle to create surround sound. Sennheiser is my favorite brand which does this - though I may be biased as I know people in the company. While you are correct that it isn't truly 5.1 audio, who cares? 5.1 is all but outdated anyway, with 7.1 and better systems coming cheap nowadays. The point (in my opinion - I'm not the author so maybe I am wrong) of this 'ible is not 5.1, but surround sound. You are both right and wrong about positional audio. Yes there needs to be some separation, you are correct. However this minuscule amount, when in nearly direct contact with the ear, is plenty. As mentioned previously, several companies market surround sound headphones, and if you haven't tried them... well you have no idea. The distinct quadrants (not really - it is much finer than just a quadrant separation) are amazing. At last year's (2008) CES, I tried a set (made by Sennheiser) which had a demo track in which the main speaker was pacing back and forth in front of you giving his sales pitch, in the middle of which a fly or other insect buzzed behind your head, and you could so distinctly tell where the fly was; above/below your ears, near/far, left/right... my (and everyone else I saw) reaction was to think there really was a fly buzzing around... and I looked for it. Then they went into gaming effects and movie soundtrack effects and it was just crazy. And this was a year and a half ago... these things are out there on the market now. So the moral of the story is, positional audio in a set of headphones is very doable, and I would believe (without having tried this 'ible out yet) that this method may not yield amazing quality as I encountered in those professional headphones, but a heck of a lot better than stereo!

I see what you mean, a subwoofer would be nice to have under the chair. However, I think that he was going for a system that would be entirely headphone mounted, so as not to wake anyone up. Definitely a nice instructable, although my computer only has 2 channels >:( I have a sweet speaker system though, so it's OK. Have you tested this system for low end range? My woofer goes to about 25Hz and still makes a reasonable amount of wall shaking.

Hi, I think I have the same laptop as you and I was wondering how you managed to plug all the jacks in as on the laptop there is only one headphone jack and one microphone jack. Did you use an external sound card?

Fantastic instructable, and I really want to make this! However, my problem is that my IMB laptop doesnt seem to have enough earphone jacks. So, unless I am mistaken, I cannot make it! :( But yea, great all the same!

I've been wanting to do something like this for awhile, never thought to use earbud headphones though. Thanks for the idea. :D

1 reply

Thank you all for the nice responses! I'm sure there's improvements that can be made, ut overall, I'm pretty happy with the end result =)

Well, this is a nice idea....but, why doesn't some one out there code a USB device/Hardware to accept the 3 outputs in it and then further plug that into the USB port of a computer?

3 replies

They do have USB soundcards that have 5.1 surround outputs, including multiple assignable stereo jacks and a digital line.

I might have to give these a try! Thanks!

for even clearer sound, try merging this idea with the jack-hammer headphones ive seen a few times on instructables. plenty of room in the headset casing for all the speakers, and lots of sound isolation

3 replies

That's a cool idea. I've seen these and you can get some pretty cheap ones at lumber yards/hardware stores. I bet the cheap non-powered speaker sets you can buy for MP3 players would be an idela primary element too.

cool :-), iv tryed something close to this, every once in a wile, ill wear ear-buds and over ear head phones at the same time. (i put the ear-buds at a lower volume, and headphones higher, so i can hear both, bass from the headphones, and more trebel from the ear-buds) .. ill try this