Originally Posted by Wolfsbane
I posted this a couple of days ago but it got delayed waiting for approval so I'm not sure if anyone saw it - apologies for the repost.
My old surround sound headphones on my gaming PC are in the process of dying, so I'm looking at picking up a new pair. I'm currently trying to decide whether it's worth getting a pair of "true" 5.1 surround headphones or using stereo headphones with virtual surround. Picking from Mad Lust Envy's guide, I can get a set of Philips Fidelio X1/00 or Sony MDRMA900 for about £180, which seems to be around the top end price for surround headphones (Creative Recon3D or Razer Tiamat). From reading around the site I've been made aware that the surround headphones are going to sound bad in comparison the the stereo. So, two questions:
1) Is the benefit of surround sound for gaming enough to make up for the drop in quality? Is there even a significant benefit?
2) I'm currently using the on-board sound from my motherboard (Asus P8P67 Rev 3.1), which seems to be a Realtek ALC892. Is it worth picking up a separate sound card (guessing yes), and if so, how the heck do you choose one? There are dozens of them, with very similar-sounding names, and review sites don't seem to bother with sound cards any more. I could get an X-Fi Xtreme Gamer or Xonar XD/D1/DSX (see what I mean?) for about £50 - is that worth doing, or is there not much improvement up to the £100ish level?
No, "true" 5.1 headphones aren't worth it because their audio quality is inferior to stereo headphones with virtual surround. The process of trying to force multiple tiny drivers into a single ear cup enclosure compromises the sound quality compared to just using two large high quality drivers.
1) Yes, IMO the benefits of surround sound outweigh the drop in quality from processing. Games typically don't have that high quality audio anyways (lots of compression used). The benefits of surround sound are significant (if they work with your ears).
2) The different models of soundcards are confusing. Generally there are two paths you can take: 1) Buy a cheap soundcard with virtual surround for the processing part, but use an external amplifier (and optionally DAC) to drive the headphones. Think of this like a modular approach, OR 2) Buy a more expensive soundcard that comes with a better integrated DAC and amp and just use that to power the headphones. This is more of an all-in-one approach.
The modular approach will ultimately give you a bit better sound quality, and it gives the flexiblity to upgrade the components individually if you want to later on down the line. Also, the DAC and amp won't become outdated or obsolete should a new soundcard come out with a better DSP.
The three most popular virtual surround sound options are Dolby Headphone, SBX Pro, and CMSS-3D.
Evshrug has a good post detailing them a bit here:
I also like Benbenkr's description of them here:
For Dolby Headphone, the Xonar DGX is the least expensive soundcard option.
For SBX Pro, it's the Sound Blaster Z OEM version.
For CMSS-3D, I'm not sure what the cheapest card is...X-Fi Titanium something or other?
The MA900 and X1 are both great choices. Are the X1 and MA900 the same price where you're at? Because if so, the X1 is technically the better headphone and I'd personally go for that one. Over here the MA900 costs about $199, and the X1 normally goes for about $299, however it's on sale this month at Amazon for $249, which is a good deal.
Edited by chicolom - 1/8/14 at 5:43am