Update: I've recently been given a full license to the Spatial Sound Card App by New Audio Technology. I'm currently working on creating a test track:
List of VSS software I currently have:
- SBX Pro Studio
- Dolby Headphone 5.1
- Spatial Sound Card App by New Audio Technology
- Razer Surround
VSS software I need to get:
- THX TruStudio
- Dolby Headphone 7.1
- Out Of Your Head by PhongAudio
I would also check out SAGE (Spatial Audio Game Engine) if you have Doom 3 (not BFG edition).
Your impressions on the differences between each recording are welcome.
How To Listen To These Recordings (Click to show)
I'm going to start doing comparison videos of different virtual surround sound software. The aim is to use the same video footage and apply the VSS processing afterwards.
I record the footage the footage in Fraps using multi-channel audio recording. Then play back the video with the desired VSS software and record the stereo output. I then overlay this VSS processed audio on to the original footage.
I'll be uploading these as videos to Youtube but because of the audio compression that Youtube uses I will also upload them to Mega in FLAC.
I've uploaded some test audio of Dead Space recorded in 5.1.
How To Listen To These Recordings
- Go to Playback devices and right click your default playback device.
- Click Configure Speakers and set to Stereo
- Tick Full Range Speakers
- Turn off any Virtual Surround Sound you are using Use Headphones
Here is the audio from the beginning of Dead Space with different VSS applied:
For Dolby Headphone I'm using this wrapper for Foobar2k which is 5.1 and has DH1, 2 and 3. I don't have a sound card with Dolby Headphone 7.1 at the moment and neither can I afford it right now. In the future I'll get a Xonar U7 which has Dolby Headphone 7.1 which will be used for my 7.1 recordings for Razer VSS, CMSS-3D 7.1 and Dolby Headphone 7.1
All are in FLAC and about 70MB each. The 6 channel Raw is 160MB.
CMSS-3D 5.1 Entertainment Mode Stereo Envelopment 67% Crystalizer Off Full Range Speakers Off
CMSS-3D 5.1 Entertainment Mode Stereo Envelopment 67% Crystalizer 65% Full Range Speakers Off
CMSS-3D 5.1 Entertainment Mode Stereo Envelopment 100% Crystalizer Off Full Range Speakers Off
CMSS-3D 5.1 Entertainment Mode Stereo Envelopment 100% Crystalizer 65% Full Range Speakers Off
SBX Pro Studio Surround 67% Crystalizer Off Bass Off Smart Volume Off Dialog Plus Off Full Range Speakers Off
SBX Pro Studio Surround 67% Crystalizer 65% Bass Off Smart Volume Off Dialog Plus Off Full Range Speakers Off
SBX Pro Studio Surround 100% Crystalizer Off Bass Off Smart Volume Off Dialog Plus Off Full Range Speakers Off
My Audio Impressions So Far
- Dolby Headphone sounds the most distant as if the speaker source is further away. The differences between DH1, 2 and 3 are relatively minor.
- Razer VSS sounds like the speakers are closest to your head
- SBX Pro Studio and CMSS-3D sound very similar to each other.
- CMSS-3D is louder relative to SBX Pro Studio. Digital volume control is at 100 for all of these tests.
- I'm pretty sure CMSS-3D is clipping during loud sections.
- Positioning behind is clearer with CMSS-3D than SBX Pro Studio but this may be due to CMSS-3D being louder
- I'm surprised by how similar they all sound if you ignore Dolby Headphone.
- Record game footage with Fraps with multi-channel selected.
- Save WAV audio from AVI with VirtualDubMod
- Using Audacity record "What U hear" @ 2 channel and source sampling rate while playing back WAV audio in Foobar2K (100% volume) using WASAPI and VSS enabled e.g. Output Device: WASAPI Push Sound Blaster Z
- Save and recorded Audacity recorded audio as FLAC. Removing beginning silence and end silence.
- Overlay this audio on to video
The problem with this setup is that it is slow. Does anyone have any ideas in how to speed it up?
Mega has 50GB for free so hopefully that will last a while.
I don't believe it will be possible to compare 5.1 and 7.1 VSS. The reason is that the side speakers for SBX Pro Studio are at 110° whereas in a 7.1 system such as CMSS-3D they are at 90°. This means that you can't take a 7.1 track and remove the 2 rear channels.
Expanding Into The World Of Stereo Music
So we know how VSS sounds with 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound. But, how does it deal with stereo music?
I'm going to include links to the same track with different VSS applied.
You should follow the steps in "How To Listen To These Recordings" for these videos as well.
This Section is Currently Under Maintenance and being reworded. (Click to show)
At the moment there are quite a few virtual surround sound comparison (from here onwards will be called VSS) videos out there. They are pretty good but they are fundamentally flawed in that the video game footage and audio is not the same for each VSS. As a result, it is not possible to A/B test them correctly. I hope to change this by creating a standardised video that all VSS can be applied too.
VSS software no longer takes data from the game now that OpenAL, EAX and DirectSound are deprecated. Modern audio processing with fmod and Xaudio is all done in software on the CPU. Modern VSS software such as SBX Pro Studio, Dolby Headphone, Razer VSS, CMSS-3D only take the outputted PCM audio channels from the game and use it in their Head Related Transfer Functions. As a result, this means that if we record game footage and have the PCM audio channels remain intact we can then use any VSS and record the Stereo PCM output which has been processed by the VSS software.
Creating a standardised test track means that any future VSS software can be directly compared with other VSS software using the same track.
Here are questions that need to be asked:
How do we evaluate VSS software?
To evaluate VSS software we need to understand what it is being used for. I'll broadly segment game audio into different categories.
Competitive audio is where all useful information is emphasised and useless information isn't. Here is what I think is important for this type of audio:
- Clear positional cues 360° around the player and verticality as well
- Clear sense of distance
- Bass is greatly reduced
- Frequency response where footsteps, gunshots and voices are located are increased
- Clarity. How clear are different sounds in a cluttered soundscape
Immersive audio is to recreate the sound as if it were an actual environment. This is an objective ideal in that you can compare to a real environment.
"Fun" audio is sound that is enjoyable to the listener. This usually has an elevated bass response, perhaps the sound of bullets moving through air is emphasised, voices are emphasised etc...
So, I've thought of three categories but I want your feedback on how these categories can be expanded and improved.
What games and what events should be included in the VSS test track?
If we are to evaluate using a test track then we need to make sure that all the information we would need is there to be evaluated. When comparing headphones listeners usually use small segments of tracks as a reference point and use this for all headphone comparisons. We need to do the same. With headphones you may want to compare the sound of a cymbal crash on a particular song, the sound of a drum in another etc...
So what would we use for games?
Here are some of my ideas:
- Helicopter travelling around the player:
You can test how well the positional cues in a 360° circle and whether the helicopter sounds above you or not
- Battlefield is a good game to use:
It has gunfire in the distance, jets and helicopters flowing over head, close quarter gunfire. The soundscape is cluttered with a lot of noise.
- The sound of footsteps of someone running above you or around you
There must be more and people with more competitive experience can say what they want and find important.
The Recording of Footage
Fraps allows recording of multi-channel PCM and that is what I will use. The master video will be edited together footage that contains 8 channels (7.1).
How to record the VSS stereo:
- Play the Master Video and record the stereo output with your VSS using the desired settings.
There should be an option to record what you hear in Windows. Record that with Audacity. Overlay the stereo output recorded on to the original video or send the stereo audio to someone else who can overlay it on to the original video.
This makes it incredibly easy because you don't have to worry about recreating the same conditions. You just need to make sure the stereo output from the VSS is recorded correctly and someone can do overlay it on to the original video. It also means that a person doesn't need to have a lot of soundcards and newer VSS can be compared using the same video.
I'll add a proper guide later but for the moment this is only the planning stage.
The critical problem of 5.1 and 7.1 VSS
There is however at the moment one key problem. SBX Pro Studio is 5.1 and CMSS-3D is 7.1. You can't record both 5.1 and 7.1 from a game at the same time so it wouldn't be possible to compare the same footage as SBX Pro Studio is 5.1 and CMSS-3D is 7.1
I hopefully have a solution of taking the 8 channels (7.1) and removing the two rear channels to create 6 channels (5.1). I have even done this already using the game Hard Reset.
Hard Reset support both 7.1 and 5.1. Using the benchmark tool in Hard Reset I have recorded the benchmark audio as 7.1 using Fraps, then removed the rear channels using Audacity and this creates 6 channels (5.1). I then recorded the benchmark tool again using 5.1 rather than 7.1 in Fraps.
I then processed the audio with SBX Pro Studio (67%, Crystalizer off, bass off, smart volume off, dialog plus off).
Here is the two FLAC files: https://anonfiles.com/file/ae346e7ab01e7d419e806430c24e63a2
One is the native 5.1 process through SBX Pro Studio and the other is 7.1 with the two rear channels removed processed through SBX Pro Studio. I want to know if they sound the same to you or not.
If it sounds the same then the game footage can be recorded in 7.1 and to compare 7.1 VSS such as CMSS-3D to 5.1 VSS such as SBX Pro Studio you only need to remove the two rear channels from the master video.
It sounds like the speakers for SBX Pro Studio are at 110° and the side channels for CMSS-3D are at 90°.
Edited by AUserName501 - 4/27/14 at 3:29am