Under Windows, as of Windows 7's launch a decade ago, DACs no longer require their own software or virtual surround. The device is presented to any application by the OS and the addition of any third party processing is usually* detrimental to the desired result of the original content creators.
No, you mean Vista for the software mode, unless DACs are specifically driverless under 7, and even XP had plugnplay with software HRTF that was more prevalent since it was standardized.
I inject DSP equalisation into my driverless DAC chain to compensate for the room my studio monitors are in. I use Equaliser APO but I think miniDSP is more popular these days. I specifically avoid any pseudo-surround software or effects processing since all the games I play have their own version of HRTF positional emulation and doubling up on HRTF is horrendous! The application is expecting to do the HRTF positioning and expects to output to headphones/speakers that don't have additional positional processing.
Yeah, if you're lucky enough to be playing a game that does that. Regardless, virtual surround is an option that can be disabled when it isn't needed. The problem stems from when it is needed, and which option actually works at an acceptable level. The default audio is also terrible 90% of the time, with most games not having any sort of decent HRTF, or are configured improperly. Old games that used things like Miles are way better, although there are a *few* games that do have decent audio. Keyword *few*. One of the biggest problems with windows audio is that HRTF is optional, there are multiple versions of xaudio, and it has been portrayed by developers as complicated to implement and not worth the effort and budget. Therefore, a lot of developers choose not to do it right. You then have problems like HRTF not working very well vertically, which works tolerably for basic fps, but not for anything complex. This is one of the reasons Valve made their own audio API that mimics A3d's wavetracing, but there aren't many games that use it. Last I heard it was just CS:GO. Other problems with HRTF involve headsize, which outside of OpenAL and a few others cannot be easily adjusted by the user.
Also if anyone here wants some proof developers are not properly implementing HRTF, I would implore you to look at this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJPpqssMPl0https://github.com/kosumosu/x3daudio1_7_hrtf
Works great for what games are supported, but not everything is. All this software really does is better configure xaudio, which just shows developers aren't doing their job, and people who are saying that it works fine OOTB are lying. Unlike XP which was pretty standard across the board, xaudio games are all different, and every game that isn't done right needs some sort of manual fix.
* - Potentially you'd want a 2.0-to-surround emulator for movies that lack 2.0 mastered audio; I haven't used it but I assume this is what the $14.99 Dolby Access bundled with Windows 10 lets you do? Certainly any DAC with 'drivers' that inject HRTF positional audio aren't doing anything that driverless DACs with 3rd-party software don't also do. They're just branded by the DAC vendor and likely still have to pay royalty/licensing fees to Dolby and DTS.
Windows sonic has been reviewed more favorably than the Dolby option in games, and everyone else has been reviewed more favorably than windows sonic. I've heard some good things about razer, but if my soundcard does it better, I don't need to use it. The software only crowd likes to point out that such software exists, but if you are going to pay money for a device, getting a better implementation free with your hardware is a pro, and not getting it is a con. Creative in particular offers real backwards compatibility with older games that can't be found anywhere else, and even if you buy their xfi-mb, that is money spent only on software, and software that is older than what they include in their drivers. I've done it for my laptop, and it works better with less cpu load than the laptop implementation, but I wouldn't buy it for a PC. Either way, using a driverless DAC specifically for gaming is nothing but a hassle, considering how poor windows games actually work. The only way to fix this is to have software that databases every pc game and fixes them on an individual level, or for developers to use a different API like OpenAL. Soundcard drivers are a kludgy workaround, but it still works better than nothing or manually fixing every game yourself.