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Is Surround Sound good for Gaming?

  • 4 min read

Every serious gamer knows just how important a well set-up gaming rig can be. From the latest generation console, to a TV or monitor that renders your games in crystal clear HD, to super fast Wi-Fi that never lags—all of these are essential tools in the gamer’s toolbox. 

Another gaming necessity is a dynamic sound system. A lot of non-competitive gamers might think listening to gaming scores through a soundbar is sufficient, but there is absolutely a better, more dynamic alternative. Soundbars throw sound in one direction, straight forward, but many of today’s most noteworthy games are scored with SFX, music and voice acting that are intended to be heard in tandem and from multiple directions. 

Serious gamers might feel like a decent set of headphones is adequate. Though a game’s sound quality is heads and tails better with headphones than with a soundbar, the speakers’ proximity to your ears prevents you from being totally enveloped in sound, like you would in a real life scenario. Though in years past serious gamers considered external speakers less valuable for total world immersion, today’s completely configurable systems make creating a wholly new aural environment totally possible in the comfort of your own home. 

Read on to understand more about how different speaker options like headphones, headsets, and soundbars work. Then learn how playing in 5.1 surround sound just might change the way you game forever.

What are your sound system options?

Stereo Headphones & Headsets

Headphones are perhaps the most popular audio option for gamers. This is because the sound is closer to your ears and the headphone muffs block out other noises, making it easier to focus. But headphone quality varies wildly and there are enough options to make your head spin. 

Two common types of headphones gamers use are regular stereo headphones and gaming headphones. Both tend to offer good audio quality, versatility, and can be used with almost any type of game, single-player and multiplayer alike. Also, both types usually include a built-in microphone, which is essential for online, competitive play. There’s a reason why you often see professional e-sports athletes sporting headphones, after all. 

Stereo headphones tend to be simple and no nonsense. They usually have only two driver units, one for each ear, and thus only offer two audio channels. Gaming headphones, on the other hand, which are sometimes marketed as “5.1.”, “7.1”, or “surround sound”, are typically much more expensive than regular stereo headphones.

While stereo headphones only offer two drivers, gaming headphones up this number to either five (5.1) or seven (7.1) split across both ears. The drivers are positioned to help simulate sound coming from a range of directions, but the audio improvement is often negligible.

This is because the surround sound quality that they attempt to capture simply doesn’t translate well to headphones. Surround sound needs space to breathe and works by filling up a whole room. As headphones only give your ears a few centimeters of space, the level of quality doesn’t transfer. 

Soundbars

While soundbars offer an improvement over your run-of-the-mill TV speakers, they’re probably the worst external speaker option you can go with, quality-wise. Though soundbars tend to be easy to set up and relatively budget friendly, they don’t allow for a cinematic aural experience.

The problem with sound bars is that sound only comes from one place. Since most people set up a soundbar near their TV, the sound they hear has a far away or tinny effect. For a dedicated gamer looking for full-scale world immersion, soundbars aren’t the way to go. 

Surround Sound

To see why surround sound works so well for gaming, you first need to know how it functions. There are actually several types of surround sound, and this is important to know because some offer better quality than others.

For our money, 5.1 surround sound systems (sometimes referred to as “true surround sound”) are the best on the market. This type of system works when multiple speakers are set up in various locations in a room—5.1 refers to the five configurable speakers set up around a room. Each speaker represents a different voice or piece of music, and so a 5 channel configuration creates a complete, polyphonic sound quality. As most games are now meant for multichannel sound, a 5.1 surround sound set up is the best sound system around if you want to hear games as their makers intended them. 

On the other hand, virtual surround sound works differently. It is most often found in headphones and soundbars that market themselves as surround sound, and work by tricking your ears into thinking sound is coming behind and to the side of you, like the sound coming from a true surround sound physical speaker system would. This type of surround sound is inferior because these devices only have two speakers instead of the five that true 5.1 surround sound offers. Put simply, virtual surround sound only creates the illusion of surround sound, not the real thing.

Is surround sound really better than soundbars for gaming?

Surround sound far outweighs soundbars for gaming. Surround sound both improves the cinematic experience of a game and also makes it easier to detect other players in a multiplayer setting.

If you want true, undistracted immersion into your virtual world, you need a system versatile enough to suit all your gaming needs––and 5.1 Surround Sound offers exactly that. The good news is that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to bring that full-range, cinematic sound into your home. The CineHome PRO delivers an all-in-one 5.1 solution and THX-certified dynamics. Shop Enclave today.