Is Surround Sound Good For Gaming Or A Gimmick?


Will surround sound really benefit you or is it just for marketing? Our goal is to cut through the confusion and explain the truth.

There are two types of surround sound, true and virtual.

Both types may benefit gamers depending on a situation but won’t necessarily give them a competitive edge. Surround sound’s main purpose is to add an extra level of immersion and in some situations, the immersion can be beneficial.

If you want to find out all the details and see if surround sound could benefit you or if it is purely marketing, keep reading.

Why Surround Sound Is A Gimmick (Sometimes)

Surround sound is advertised to add to the immersion in games.

Most gaming headsets have them so gamers can have better spatial sound to find out where the sound is coming from.

Does surround sound really benefit gamers though?

Surround sound itself isn’t necessarily a gimmick but the way it is advertised and implemented is. Gaming companies advertise headsets with surround sound as if they give a competitive edge, but this isn’t always true.

In fact in competitive shooters, the use of surround sound could actually give you a competitive disadvantage as the game engines for these games are designed for stereo headphones.

As a result, surround sound headphones in competitive games can give you false information.

Surround sound in some cases can add to the enjoyment of the user in some games.

But when it comes to giving you a competitive edge in gaming, it’s mostly just marketing.

Using A Gaming Amp For Virtual Surround Sound

A gaming amp does the function of a normal headphone amplifier but also adds other features, most notably, virtual surround sound.

The implementation of surround sound is far superior with gaming amps.

It is very accurate as the companies that have good surround sound, invested millions to create accurate implementations.

They have features like adding more reverb or controlling where the majority of the sound is coming from. They allow all this to tune the sound to your preference and liking.

Regardless if you change anything or not, the stock experience is really good. You can hear where specifically people are like if they are above you and in which room they may be.

In racing sims or flight sims, you feel like you are actually in the vehicle controlling it. There is no true way to fully understand how it feels without having tried it but you can hear the sound of the plane engines all around you. The Sound Stage of your headphones will be opened up.

Their level of immersion is taken to the next level if going from gaming headphones to a gaming amp. A gaming amp won’t help you fly better or drive faster but the immersion can add to the enjoyment of the game.

A gaming amp still will not be the best for competitive shooters but for racing sims, flight sims, or open-world titles they are great.

A gaming amp can add to the level of immersion and many of those games were built with game engines designed to work with 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.

Although gaming amps may provide an elevated virtual surround sound experience and other features like more power for your headphones they will make your audio setup cost more.

With a gaming amp, you will still need headphones of some sort. This could drastically increase the cost of your audio setup for an improvement that may not be justified by many.

Overall gaming amps will provide better performance than the virtual surround sound of gaming headphones, while still delivers a lot of other features.

To find out how amps can benefit you, find out if headphone amps are worth it.

Surround Sound vs Stereo: Which Is Better For Gaming?

Stereo sound is when sound comes from two speakers or drivers and because of this, almost all headphones are technically stereo devices.

Surround sound, in contrast, is when the sound is coming from multiple different sources but this can also be simulated.

Stereo sound is usually better for games like competitive shooters. In other situations like racing sims, flight sims, or open-world games, surround sound could add to the immersion.

Also, many of those games were designed to work well with surround sound setups, either a true or virtual experience.

Some games may not benefit from either stereo or surround sound. In this case either work but there is no point to spend extra to get a headset that supports surround sound.

The reason why using stereo sound is better when playing competitive shooters is because their sound engines were not designed with surround sound in mind.

Using surround sound in a competitive setting could actually make things harder for you as surround sound headphones may position sounds where they aren’t supposed to be, throwing you off and giving you an advantage.

What Do The Pros Use?

Looking at the pro scene for competitive shooters such as CSGO, the majority of them use stereo audio.

This is most likely for two reasons.

The first is because pros need to play in conditions that are most comfortable for them so they have the least factors going against them.

Most pros probably used stereo headphones before they were successful enough to afford good enough or they just never saw the need to get them.

The second reason is using surround sound with competitive shooters is often inconsistent.

One of the most important pieces of information for them is the sound that they hear. If that information is incorrect then that could result in a loss of a round.

Depending on your situation surround sound may add immersion for your game but it could also hinder your performance. If you play more competitive titles sticking with stereo sound is the best way to go.

In contrast, if you play open world or simulation games then a way to further your immersion in the game is through surround sound.

In games like Far Cry where you are in an open environment, surround sound may actually help you understand if an animal or gunshot is behind you and more precisely where it was behind you.

Virtual Surround Sound vs True Surround Sound

There are two different kinds of surround sound that exist.

Virtual surround sound and true surround sound.

Virtual surround sound is a method of providing the experience of sound all around the listener without actually having different audio devices to create the audio.

True surround sound is the other implementation of surround sound where there are multiple speakers. Usually, there are five speakers with one subwoofer for bass and the speakers are placed around the room.

The virtual implementation of surround sound is used in devices such as gaming amps or in gaming headsets to give the experience without you have multiple speakers or drivers.

Often people don’t have a true surround sound experience when gaming as people usually get these speaker setups solely for home theatre usage.

Since the sound isn’t coming from headphones, a surround sound speaker setup can make you feel like you are in the place that you are seeing on your screen, or if listening to music, you are in a concert.

True surround sound setups are not popular among gamers. In the right room, a true surround sound setup could greatly add to the immersion because the sound can be affected by reverb and other factors in the environment around you.

This can make the sound, be a lot more realistic for the person in the center of a surround sound speaker system.

In competitive shooters, MOBAS, or other games where you are not moving in a more open environment a true surround sound setup won’t benefit you. It isn’t worth the money to get a speaker setup if that is your main use case.

From my personal experience playing racing simulators with a surround sound speaker solution, I have found it very immersive. You can hear gravel fly up behind you if you just go a bit over the curbs and the sound fills the room as if you are there.

Like surround sound in general, true surround sound is only beneficial to add to the immersion of the game. If you can’t make much noise, do not have enough where your setup is, or can’t afford speakers the benefit isn’t a huge improvement over headphones.

Virtual surround sound is often a cheaper solution to surround sound because a speaker setup will often cost $100 or more.

Getting a gaming amp or a pair of gaming headphones are a way to go for a variety of reasons.

A virtual solution may not provide as good performance but it will usually be cheaper and it will also take up less space in your room because you don’t need to place speakers.

For those who want surround sound but can’t make a lot of noise, virtual surround sound is for them.

If you want the most immersive experience, true surround sound is very good at its job.

Otherwise, a virtual setup could be sufficient to get you the experience that you are looking for.

Does Having More Headset Drivers Improve Surround Sound Accuracy?

Drivers are probably the most important part of headphones.

Their job is to convert electrical signals from your device and then convert them into sound waves for your ears.

Headphones may have one or more drivers inside. This means the different drivers can control different frequencies.

For example, one driver can control the bass response and another driver can control the treble response.

This implementation of more drivers does not always mean that there will be an improvement in sound quality but often some of the most premium headphones do have more drivers.

Having a headset with more drivers won’t improve the surround sound experience. Since more drivers can help improve the overall sound clarity, the accuracy of sound could carry over to surround sound.

Although there could be an improvement in clarity, the surround sound itself won’t be improved.

Sounds may sound better or more distinct but a headset with more drivers won’t necessarily have better surround sound than one with fewer drivers.

Virtual surround sound is mostly reliant on the methodology that companies implement on their headphones. The hardware itself doesn’t matter as much because most of this is controlled by software.

Overall if a headset is marketed for having more drivers or even better hardware specs this probably won’t affect the surround sound experience at all. Surround sound is mostly software related so the hardware can only make the sound quality better in general.

Conclusion

Surround sound is advertised often incorrectly by gaming companies. In some situations, surround sound may help add to the level of immersion in a game but it will not give you a competitive advantage.

Surround sound for gaming is a gimmick in the sense that it won’t help you be a better gamer.

Using surround Ssund for competitive shooters, MOBAs, or any game that isn’t open will not help you.

In those situations, it is better to use stereo either because the sound engine does not have good support for surround sound or it will throw you off from the true location of an enemy player in an attempt to make your headphones sound more open.

For those who play open world games or simulation games well notice a greater level of immersion in those games and there is a chance that surround sound could help you, but it is very unlikely especially in simulation games.

Surround sound is more for a more immersive experience.

If you think surround sound is worth it for you then you must decide between virtual and true surround sound.

True surround sound can provide a better experience but costs more, requires more space, and could annoy other people where you live or work.

Happy listening!

Giacomo Coltorti

Giacomo has been a tech enthusiast throughout his life. He has built over 10 computers and has grown his interest in the different peripherals needed to use a computer. He wants to share his knowledge and experiences with all these subjects to help others enter these hobbies.

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