Thanks very much for reading, and for the great detailed question!
The Arctis 3, 5, and 7 all rely on software-based virtual surround that runs only on Windows. The 5 and 7 use DTS Headphone: X, one of the gold standards for virtual headphone surround.
On the Arctis 3, you get a different piece of software written by Steelseries themselves. It’s quite good, but I had some issues where it would make a couple of games crash. Dragon Age: Inquisition wouldn’t even start if I had it running!
I don’t think the Arctis 3 software is bad sounding per se, but even hardware-based surround headphones are only going to give you approximated surround sound. There’s only so much room to work with inside headphone ear cups!
The jack used doesn’t really matter; it’s all about the type of processing. 99 percent of headphones only have two drivers to work with, and so binaural processing is used to simulate surround, whether it’s done in hardware or software. There’s nothing inherently special about the headphones themselves.
Your Soundblaster ZX card probably includes support for Creative’s SBX surround system, a hybrid software/hardware solution. I find that one works well depending on the game. You can’t use two software-based solutions at the same time. It’ll just make things sound super weird and echo-y.
Honestly, if surround sound is your focus, it’s not worth buying the Arctis 3 just for that feature.
Instead, I’d first recommend checking out Razer Surround, an excellent software-based solution. The base version is completely free and fully functional. The upgraded Pro version is just $20 and gives you some additional options. It works on any sound card, and any pair of headphones. It’s one of the best surround experiences I’ve heard.
That way, you can buy whatever headset or headphone you’d like and use it with your current sound card in glorious surround. Just make sure you turn off the surround features on your sound card first.
The Arctis 3 is really comfy, and works better with Razer Surround than its own software honestly, and if you’re looking for something even cheaper, the HyperX Cloud Stinger is comfy and fun to listen to, and has a good mic.
I currently use a SoundBlaster G5 external sound card with all their processing turned off, and with Razer Surround instead. I’ve found that gives me great results. I like the processing that Steelseries uses in their own stuff, I just think Razer’s is better.
I hope that helped you out, or at least gave you a place to start. Thanks again for reading.