How to Get 5.1 Audio in Google Chrome and Desktop Spotify for Windows

If you have a 5.1 sound system, you might be wondering why Google Chrome and Spotify’s desktop client only use two speakers.

These important apps do not provide an option to mix stereo sound to multiple speakers (like a 5.1 setup). Worse still, they can “smash” the multi-stream audio and only send it to two of your speakers in stereo.

Fortunately, the problems of both programs 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 5.1 channel audio?

Almost all movies and TV shows now include at least 5.1 channels of audio, if not more, to provide a “true surround sound audio” experience. The audio we play should ideally include a separate sound channel for each of our speakers. For more information on how multi-channel audio works, see our article on how to understand surround sound systems for beginners.

However, it is easier to output audio for just two channels, and any surround effect is diminished when listening to audio through headphones. As a result, the music remained stereo and two-channel.

By default, if you buy a multi-speaker system to enjoy positional audio in movies and series, you will only use two of these speakers to listen to music. Fortunately, most audio equipment today, especially PC audio systems, can mix stereo audio and output it 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 output sound from the front left and front right speakers. And, icing on the cake, they offer no option to modify this behavior.

Fortunately, some “hidden switches” can solve this little inconvenience.

It’s worth noting that Spotify and Google Chrome aren’t the only apps that provide 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 making a stereo upmix

After the following adjustments, audio with more than two channels should play through all speakers. Stereo audio, on the other hand, must be mixed separately.

Most in-car and external audio systems offer stereo mixing. However, as it depends on the bundled software, we cannot provide specific instructions on how to enable this feature on every audio system.

Let’s take Creative’s old but popular X-Fi sound card as an example.

Creative Xfi Control Panel

After launching the sound card software control panel, select the first icon to enter the speaker configuration. Make sure you have chosen the correct number of speakers.

Creative Xfi speaker setup

Click the fourth icon on the main display of the sound control panel to upmix stereo audio using CMSS-3D. Click the little speaker icon to check the results.

Creative Xfi CMSS 3D

You can use the slider under Stereo Envelope to “shift” the sound to the front or rear speakers.

CMSS-3D offers two stereo mixing modes. Click the Surround button in the CMSS-3D panel to choose between them.

  • Develop retains mostly stereo sound, but “spills” it to the rear speakers for richer sound.
  • Surround attempts to create a virtual audio “sphere” around you.

If you want to listen to stereo music from Spotify through all your surround speakers, be sure to enable any similar feature on your PC sound system.

To clarify further: the tweaks we’ll see next enable multi-channel audio output in Chrome and Spotify, but they don’t mix stereo.

If your sound system is not configured to upmix stereo audio, you will 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 cannot be used in the terminal. And yet, this is a command line switch that can force either to output audio to a multi-speaker audio setup.

However, typing the same command each time you want to launch Google Chrome or Spotify in multi-speaker mode can quickly become tedious. So let’s see how you can create a shortcut for each app that includes the command line switch to launch it in multi-speaker mode.

Note that whenever you want each app to play audio on all your speakers, you’ll need to launch it from this custom shortcut.

How to Enable Multi-Speaker Mode for Spotify

Right-click on an empty spot on your desktop and select New > Shortcut in the menu that appears. The Windows Create Shortcut wizard will appear on your screen.

New Windows 10 desktop shortcut

Click in the text field below Type the location of the item and enter the following:

Windows10 Spotify Shortcut Command

Then, as suggested, click Next Continue.

Windows 10 Spotify Shortcut Name

Click in the text field below Type a name for this shortcut and do as instructed. Although you can type anything, it would be better if you named your shortcut appropriately. A simple “Spotify” will do.

How to Enable Multi-Speaker Mode for Chrome

The solution to having Chrome audio output to all speakers in your multi-speaker setup is almost identical to Spotify.

Chrome does not register a global descriptor to launch it by name only. Thus, you must enter its full path in the Windows Create Shortcut wizard. Instead of manually finding its executable, you can do the following:

  1. Use the Start or Search menu to locate Google’s browser. Once found, do not launch it.
  2. Right click on its icon and choose Open File Location from the context menu.
  3. 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.
  4. Drag and drop this shortcut to an empty spot on your desktop using the right mouse button. Select Create shortcuts here in the menu that appears.
  5. Right-click on the new Chrome shortcut on your desktop and select Properties.
  6. Make sure you’re on the Shortcut tongue. Click in the third text field, next to the “plain” Targetwhich should already contain the full path to the Google browser executable file.
  7. Go to the end of this line, press Space once, then type the following:

The whole line should look like this:

"C:FullPathTochrome.exe" --try-supported-channel-layouts
Windows10 Chrome shortcut command

As we have seen in the case of Spotify, and as suggested by the assistant, click on Next proceed. Then, under Type a name for this shortcutgive your new custom shortcut a name.

Windows 10 Chrome Shortcut Name

Click on Finish to save the shortcut to your desktop.

Workarounds for Chrome

Although the above mentioned solution worked for us, some claim that it did not produce the desired results for them. Instead, they had to use one of the following alternatives:

  • –force-wave-audio
  • –disable-audio-output-resampler

If you’ve noticed that any of them look the same as the switch used for Spotify, that’s because they are. Spotify’s desktop app is built with the Electron.js framework, which means it’s a “web app” running on a bundled version of Chrome.

Troubleshooting steps for issues that may arise

Do Spotify and Google Chrome, even after the tweaks we’ve seen, insist on producing stereo sound from just two speakers? Is it even worse and you hear nothing at all? It’s worth trying Windows’ automated troubleshooter.

These troubleshooters rightly have a bad reputation on older versions of Windows (up to Windows 8). Even though they forced the user to go through many steps, they still couldn’t fix most of the issues. However, in later versions of Windows, these troubleshooters can ensure that a device is configured correctly and that the correct drivers are installed.

To troubleshoot your PC’s sound system in Windows 10 and 11, use search to find “sound settings”. Once found, launch it.

Start menu sound settings

Make sure the drop-down menu under Choose your output device is set to your speakers.

If so, look main volume a little below. If that’s not the problem either, being muted or too low, it’s worth trying the troubleshooter.

Click on the Troubleshoot button directly below the main volume.

Troubleshooting Windows Sound

Follow the troubleshooting wizard’s suggestions. If it asks you to try other settings or download new drivers, answer positively.

Hopefully, when finished, you should be able to hear multi-channel sound coming from all your speakers.

Get ready for a stereo future

No matter how many speakers you get, most people think two speakers are enough for desktop PCs. And when using a laptop, headphones are best for mobility. So the stereo output prioritization of Chrome and Spotify is appropriate.

Because of this, the tweaks we’ve seen may stop working in the future. And if that happens, hopefully we can find another way to get our multi-channel audio back. Until then, enjoy your surround sound.

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