If you have a 5.1 audio system, you may be wondering why Google Chrome and Spotify’s desktop client only use two speakers.
These prominent applications fail to provide an option for upmixing stereo sound to output to multiple speakers (like a 5.1 setup). Worse, they may “crush” multi-stream audio and only send it to two of your speakers as stereo.
Fortunately, both programs’ problems are “fixable,” and the solutions are very similar. So, let’s see how to re-enable 5.1 audio output in Google Chrome and Spotify’s desktop client on Windows.
What Is a 5.1 Audio Channel?
Almost all movies and television shows now include at least 5.1 audio channels, if not more, in order to provide a “true surround audio” experience. The audio we play should ideally include a separate sound channel for each of our speakers. For more info on how multi-channel audio works, check out our article on how to understand surround sound systems for beginners.
However, it is easier to produce audio for only two channels, and any surround effect is diminished when listening to audio through headphones. As a result, music has remained stereo and in two channels.
By default, if you purchase a multi-speaker system to enjoy positional audio in movies and series, you will only utilize two of those speakers when listening to music. Thankfully, most audio equipment today, particularly PC audio systems, can upmix stereo audio and output to multiple channels.
Despite this, Google Chrome and Spotify’s desktop app can only handle stereo sound for two speakers. Worse, even if the original audio has multiple channels, they may still only produce sound from the front left and front right speakers. And, as the cherry on top, they offer zero options for changing that behavior.
Thankfully, some “hidden switches” can fix this little annoyance.
It’s worth noting that Spotify and Google Chrome aren’t the only apps that offer a less-than-optimal experience when trying to output multi-channel audio. That’s why we also have a guide on how to enable 5.1 surround sound on YouTube TV on Google TV, Android TV, and Roku.
An Example of Performing Stereo Upmixing
After the following adjustments, audio with more than two channels should play from all speakers. Stereo audio, on the other hand, must be upmixed separately.
Most onboard and external audio systems offer stereo upmixing. However, because it is dependent on the accompanying software, we cannot provide specific instructions on how to enable that feature on every single audio system.
Let’s use Creative’s old but popular X-Fi sound card as our example.
After launching the sound card’s software control panel, select the first icon to access Speakers Configuration. Make sure you’ve chosen the right number of speakers.
Click the fourth icon on the sound control panel’s main display to upmix stereo audio using CMSS-3D. Click the little speaker icon to check the results.
You can use the slider under Stereo Envelopment to “move” the sound towards the front or back speakers.
CMSS-3D offers two stereo upmixing modes. Click the Surround button in the CMSS-3D panel to choose between them.
- Expand keeps the sound primarily stereo, but has it “spill” to the rear speakers for a richer sound.
- Surround attempts to create a virtual audio “sphere” around you.
If you want to play Spotify’s stereo music through all of your surround sound speakers, make sure to enable any similar functionality on your PC’s audio system.
To further clarify: the tweaks we’ll see next enable multi-channel audio output in Chrome and Spotify, but they don’t upmix stereo.
If your audio system isn’t set up to upmix stereo audio, you’ll only hear sound from your two front speakers.
A Simple Solution for Multi-Speaker Mode on Spotify and Google Chrome
Spotify’s desktop app and Google Chrome can’t be used in the terminal. And yet, it’s a command line switch that can force either to output audio to a multi-speaker audio setup.
However, typing the same command every time you want to launch Google Chrome or Spotify in multi-speaker mode can quickly become tedious. So, let’s look at how you can make a shortcut for each app that includes the command line switch for launching it in multi-speaker mode.
Note that whenever you want each app to output audio to all of your speakers, you’ll have to launch it from this custom shortcut.
How to Activate Multi-Speaker Mode for Spotify
Right-click on an empty spot on your desktop and select New > Shortcut from the menu that pops up. Windows’ Create Shortcut wizard will appear on your screen.
Click in the text field under Type the location of the item and enter the following:
Then, as suggested, click Next to continue.
Click in the text field under Type a name for this shortcut and do as instructed. Although you can type anything, it would be best if you named your shortcut appropriately. A plain “Spotify” will do.
How to Activate Multi-Speaker Mode for Chrome
The solution for having Chrome output audio to all of the speakers in your multi-speaker setup is nearly identical to Spotify.
Chrome does not register a global handle for launching it by name alone. Thus, you must enter its full path in Windows’ Create Shortcut wizard. Instead of manually looking for its executable, you can do the following:
- Use the Start menu or Search to locate Google’s browser. When found, don’t launch it.
- Right-click on its icon and pick Open File Location from the context menu.
- Your default file manager will appear on your screen, displaying the contents of the Start menu folder. Chrome’s shortcut will be one of them.
- Drag and drop this shortcut to an empty spot on your desktop using the right mouse button. Select Create shortcuts here from the menu that appears.
- Right-click the new Chrome shortcut on your desktop and select Properties.
- Make sure you’re on the Shortcut tab. Click in the third text field, next to the “plain” Target, which should already contain the full path to the Google browser’s executable file.
- Move to the end of that line, press Space once, and then type the following:
The entire line should look like this:
As we saw in the case of Spotify, and as suggested by the wizard, click Next to proceed. Then, under Type a name for this shortcut, give your new custom shortcut a name.
Click Finish to save the shortcut to your desktop.
Alternative Solutions for Chrome
Although the solution mentioned above worked for us, some state it didn’t produce the desired results for them. Instead, they had to use one of the following alternatives:
If you noticed that one of them looks identical to the switch used for Spotify, that’s because it is. Spotify’s desktop app is made with the Electron.js framework, which means it’s a “web-app” running on a bundled version of Chrome.
Troubleshooting Steps for Problems That Can Arise
Do Spotify and Google Chrome, even after the tweaks we saw, insist on producing stereo sound from only two speakers? Is it even worse and you can’t hear anything at all? It’s worth trying out Windows’ automated troubleshooter.
Such troubleshooters justifiably got a bad rap on older versions of Windows (up to Windows 8). Even though they made the user go through a lot of hoops, they still couldn’t solve most problems. However, in the latest versions of Windows, such troubleshooters can ensure a device is configured correctly and that the proper drivers for it are installed.
To troubleshoot your PC’s audio system on Windows 10 and 11, use search to seek “sound settings”. When found, launch it.
Make sure that the pull-down menu under Choose your output device is set to your speakers.
If they are, look at the Master volume a bit below. If that isn’t the problem, either, by being muted or too low, it’s worth trying the troubleshooter.
Click on the Troubleshoot button directly underneath the Master volume.
Follow the troubleshooting wizard’s suggestions. If it asks you to try alternative settings or download new drivers, answer positively.
Hopefully, when it’s completed, you should be able to hear multi-channel audio coming from all of your speakers.
Prepare For a Stereo Future
No matter how many speakers you get, most people believe that two speakers are plenty for desktop PCs. And when using a laptop, headphones are preferable for mobility. Thus, Chrome and Spotify’s stereo-output prioritization is appropriate.
Because of this, the tweaks we saw may stop working in the future. And if that happens, hopefully we can find another way to get back our multi-channel audio. Until then, enjoy your surround sound.
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