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Razer Surround brings virtual 7.1 channel surround to stereo headphones

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Razer unveiled Razer Surround today, a technology that creates virtual 7.1 channel surround sound with any stereo headset.

The Razer Surround software integrates with the company's Razer Synapse 2.0 Configurator, and Polygon took the software for a test drive recently.

First-time setup allows users to fine-tune the Razer Surround audio engine through a graphical interface. The program sends signals to connected headphones and is virtualized to sound as if it's coming from one of several directions. As the software guided us through the process of configuring out virtual 3D audio space, we were able to adjust every direction to suit our tastes and to account for the particulars of our Etymotic headphones so that it sounded most like it was coming from any of the seven possible directions.

At the end of the setup process, the Razer Surround software played a simple demo meant to illustrate the 7.1 channel surround. We closed our eyes, and it did indeed sound as if we were being circled by an unseen virtual helicopter.

Because the software works on a system level, it processes all of your PC's audio for potential virtualization and doesn't require extra setup beyond that initial configuration. As long as the software's engaged, it will process surround audio.

We tested Razer Surround with two games: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition and Alan Wake, both of which performed well.

In Dark Souls, we were able to place unseen enemies spatially as they chucked fire bombs off screen and locate the position of crackling torches simply by listening. The level and relative position of each noise changed as we moved and responded as we would have expected with real-life speakers.

When we flipped on a radio in Alan Wake, walked about 15 feet away, closed our eyes and started rotating the camera around the unmoving protagonist, it was easy to tell when the radio was back to our left or directly to our right. With our eyes closed, it was sometimes difficult to tell whether we were staring straight at the radio or facing away from it, as the sound during both scenarios fills up both headset speakers. That's unlikely to be a problem during normal use, as we usually keep our eyes open when playing games.

Information about Razer Surround is available now from its official website. The software will be an add-on to the Razer Synapse software that manages the company's other products like gaming mice. It is compatible with Windows Vista, 7 and 8.

Razer is waiving the software's $19.99 price through Dec. 2013 in "recognition of the support that the gaming community gives Razer, and in solidarity with its trade partners in gaming." In lieu of payment, those who download the software will have the option to make a donation to the Child's Play charity, which aims to "improve the lives of children in hospitals around the world through the kindness and generosity of the video game industry and the power of play."