So you’re looking to improve your video gaming experience and you’re wondering what sound hardware you should invest in for the best results. Should you invest in a good pair of surround sound gaming headphones? Or a 7.1 channel home theatre?
In this article, we’ll compare some of the most popular surround sound audio setups for gaming and you can decide which one is best for you and your needs.
Surround sound is great for gaming because it not only makes it easier to detect where other players are but it also improves the cinematic experience. Most modern games are designed to take advantage of surround sound audio.
In certain games, such as competitive first-person shooters, surround sound is very important, and it can mean the difference between losing or winning a match.
Most modern games have great audio, but there are some that really stand out from the rest. A few notable mentions would be Alien Isolation, Dead Space, The Witcher 3, Skyrim, the recent Battlefield games, Hellblade, and many others.
Virtual Surround Sound vs True Surround Sound
Bear in mind, virtual surround sound and true surround sound are not the same. Generally, stereo headphones and soundbars use virtual surround sound to create the illusion of surround sound because those devices only have two speakers.
The way stereo devices create virtual surround sound is by using audio tricks like slight delays, volume changes, and the shape of your ear, to make the audio sound like it’s coming from certain angles. Most of the time, the virtual surround sound effect works very well, and it’s comparable to true surround sound.
What is True Surround Sound?
True surround sound is when you have multiple physical speakers in various locations for audio from those angles, such as a home theatre system.
For example, instead of relying on virtual tricks to make it seem like a sound is coming from behind you, there will actually be a speaker creating the sound behind you. True surround sound setups with multiple speakers use either 5.1 or 7.1 audio channels.
While there are true surround sound headphones, they’re generally not recommended because they’re very pricey and the effect doesn’t translate well to headphones. I would recommend stereo surround sound headphones, the virtual effect is about the same, assuming you find a good pair.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on to some audio setups for games.
What is the Best Audio Setup for Gaming?
The best audio setup for gaming will depend on what type of games you want to play, your budget, and the size of your room. Generally, a good pair of headphones will do the trick, but if you really want to indulge, a 7.1 home theatre would deliver the best audio experience.
Stereo Headphones & Headsets
For most games, surround sound stereo headphones are preferred because the sound is closer to your ears and the muffs usually cancel out other sounds, making it much easier to hear the audio.
Most gaming headsets offer excellent audio, and they work well with almost every type of game, single-player and multi-player alike. In fact, you’ll never see a competitive e-sports team play without headphones, it’s the best solution for games that rely heavily on audio.
Bear in mind, there are some things to watch out for when looking for gaming headphones. For one, I would avoid products that are heavily marketed as “Gaming” or “7.1” because those are much more expensive.
What you want is a good set of stereo headphones, preferably wired. Some people even suggest looking for “Music” headsets because they’re known to deliver the best audio which carries over into games.
The good news is there are plenty of budget-friendly headsets.
For single-player cinematic games, a home theatre setup is another option to consider. Just like how a home theatre can dramatically improve the movie-watching experience, it can also improve the gaming experience.
A home theatre setup is good for single-player or casual games that are compatible with higher audio channels but don’t require the player to pinpoint exact directions. Unless you soundproof your room, you’ll also probably hear ambient sounds like neighbours or vehicles. So while a home theatre does deliver the best surround sound, it can be easily interrupted.
The downside is you need a home theatre, which requires more space, a higher-budget, and the installation is a little more of a hassle. Usually, the easiest way to connect a home theatre to your devices (console or PC) is by the AV receiver using HDMI ARC.
Soundbars are not the best, but if you have one lying around they’re an improvement on TV speakers, that’s for sure.
Soundbars are kind of like portable speakers, they’re very easy to set up and you can position them right in front of you, most people place them under their monitors or TVs. They’re also budget-friendly and a good option for people who want to get decent stereo sound but not get totally immersed in the game.
For example, if you need to keep an ear out for your kids or pets. Or maybe you just don’t want to wear headphones, either way, a soundbar is a good choice. Soundbars don’t deliver the best audio, but they’re very flexible and portable.
So is surround sound good for gaming? Absolutely, surround sound greatly improves the experience and allows you to become totally immersed in the virtual world, without any outside distractions.
The good news is you don’t need any super high-tech sound equipment to experience surround sound. As mentioned earlier, a decent pair of noise-cancelling stereo headphones should do the trick. On the other hand, if you have space and money, investing in a dedicated gaming-room with a console (or PC) hooked up to a home theatre is worth it.
When looking for a surround sound headset, I recommend trying on a few to find one that is comfortable. I wouldn’t worry too much about the gaming brand, although some companies like Razer make awesome gaming headsets, the casual gamer won’t really need expensive headsets like that.