The Nameless Guide To PC Gaming Audio (with binaural headphone surround sound)

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by namelesspfg, Jan 28, 2012.
  1. ClintonL
    Wondering what 5.1/7.1 software i should use for my USB dac (nfb-11) for surround for just gaming purposes.

    ScubaMan2017 likes this.
  2. overhaze
    Are there any windows audio plugins that just add crossfeed?
  3. bigbeard
    What do you guys think of using surround sound processing on a stereo speaker setup?

    Will it be better just to keep speakers on stereo and not introduce processing for casual gaming (I use hd800 for when I really care)

    Speakers are KEF LS50W with PSA 3000i sub connected.
  4. Clovis559
    Don't position your speakers in front left and right of you. Try directly to the left and right of you. Let us know how it sounds.
    Most would say no. But what do you have to loose?
  5. bigbeard
    that's not practical for my desk. I need workspace.
  6. Clovis559
    That is a simple answer then. Definitely no.
  7. bigbeard
    thanks. I assumed surround sound processing may take into account that speakers are in front of you, as opposed to the sides of your hears, like headphones.
  8. pietcux
    I would just give it a try. I used both, the Creative and the Asus/Dolby virtual speaker setting with my cheap desktop speakers at times. Not bad for 50 € speakers I would say. Headphones is much better though, but again not bad. If you have more decent desktop speakers, It's worth a try.
  9. Jacobh
    I've been spending some time trying to find a virtual surround sound setup I can use primarily for movies and some 5.1 music content that I have. In general I prefer listening to music in stereo, but I have some 5.1 DVD Audio that I sometimes enjoy listening to even with headphones. I do game a little bit, but I care more about immersion than pin-point accuracy. In that respect I care more about sound quality, overall effect, and immersion rather than positional accuracy (for my uses positional accuracy was acceptable on all of them, but probably not for serious gamers). Hopefully my experience is helpful for others.

    Razer Surround Free: The most finicky from a software perspective, and it flat out didn't work on several computers I tried it on. The overall effect was OK, but I found it the worst for listening to music. I could take it or leave it for movies. Maybe the paid version where you can customize the HRTF is a bit better. You can try it out for free, so there's not much harm in seeing how it works. Since you can get a Xonar DG/DGX or U3 on sale for about the same price as the paid version of Razer, I'd personally go with those options. If you have any Razer products, I think you can get the pro version for free so you should at least check.

    Realtek with Dolby Headphone: I tried this with modded Realtek drivers on my motherboard analog out. For my chipset, I do not have the option to select which "room" to use (e.g. DH1, DH2, DH3) and the option is only enabled when I use the front panel headphone jack. For configuration you can set the Realtek speaker output to 5.1/7.1, plug in your headphones, and turn on Dolby Home Theater in the speaker options. If you aren't using the headphone jack this enables ProLogic speaker virtualization.

    On first listen, Dolby Headphone gives the most noticeable effect. The reverb/echo creates the most sense of space around each virtual speaker and it does something with the EQ that really fills in the sound. You can hear this in most of the game demo videos where the explosion and other bass heavy effects have a lot of "oomph." For music, the EQ also helps with more acoustic songs, but can become overwhelming with more compressed rock songs. The echo though is just overly distracting for any length of time in many applications.

    Blaster X Acoustic Engine Software: You can download the "lite" version for free and manually edit config files to setup different profiles. Once you've got profiles configured, it's easy to use and free. Unlike Dolby Headphone, I can output virtual surround sound via the Realtek headphone out or analog speaker out and set the speakers to 5.1 or 7.1 in Windows. As many people have reported a stereo only output device (any SPDIF) will only let you assign the Windows speakers to stereo. However if have 5.1 or 7.1 sound on your motherboard and are OK using analog out then you do get fully functional VSS. I assume X-FI MB3 is the same.

    On the whole, I think this provided the best effect with the least impact on tonal balance. When listening to music, I sometimes thought this created a bit of a "hollow" feeling in the middle of the sound-stage and it didn't have the same "oomph" as Dolby Headphone in the mids/lows. Adjusting the EQ helped fill in the sound some, but Dolby is doing something to really bring out the lows. That being said, Creatives VSS was closest in balance to the source material and did not have any of the echo effect of Dolby. For me, this was the best all around virtual surround.

    SBX Surround Pro: I tested this out using a Soundlbaster Omni USB sound card. I could not tell any significant differences between this and the Blaster X. It's possible the different surround values work a little different, but to me the overall sound quality and effect was the same.

    Dolby Atmos for Headphones (Windows): This only works for me with Windows set to stereo. Since I don't have any Atmos content, I'm think in practice this is using ProLogic to upmix stereo and then virtualize that. I could be wrong on this and maybe Windows is somehow feeding 5.1 or 7.1 sources into the virtualizer prior to the stereo downmix and it is really virtualizing 5.1 content. Unfortunately, my trial expired and the software won't let me purchase even if I want to for some reason and I did not test this against the others. From my recollection this actually worked OK with stereo music and was the best option for music in general. For stereo sources, I'd still rather listen in normal stereo though. Given the complete lack of understanding of what it actually does and all the issues with the roll-out I can't recommend this right now, but it does have potential.

    Overall: In terms of which brand of VSS, for movies only I would go with Dolby Headphone. The extra "oomph" it provides is good for that application and more like what you hear in a movie theater. For everything else, I'd go Creative. I don't see the point for Razer given there are inexpensive options of the others. If you only care about positional accuracy for gaming go with whatever HRTF works best with your ears.

    If you have a multi-channel on-board sound card and don't have any noise over the analog output, I'd go with either the software only solutions depending on whether you like Dolby or Creative's VSS. For Creative if you don't need an EQ and are OK editing .ini files then go with the BlasterX software (free). If you want the EQ or easier use go with the X-FI MB3.

    If you want VSS over a SPDIF connection to then you are either stuck with Razer or need a sound card with that capability. Asus and Creative have a wide variety of internal and external cards with the capability to apply VSS to the SPIF output in the $30 - $100 range. I picked up a Creative Omni, but I may return it for a more portable solution (Xonar U3 or Creative G1). The software only is fine for my desktop as I have no problems with analog out of my motherboard and the Omni is not as portable as some of the other solutions and the headphone amplifier is over-powered for most of my portable headphones. I may keep it around since it's the cheapest option for Creative's VSS over SPDIF if I ever need that capability. The Omni as a DAC alone seems to be competitive in terms of sound quality to DACs I've listened to under $150-$200 though.

    I did not test out Sennheiser's new hardware solutions as they are much more expensive than the other options.
  10. FlavioWolff
    quick question (sorry if already answered. probably is, but couldnt find): isnt possiblity better to trust the game developer and use Stereo/Headphone Stereo mode? I mean, its probably a correct downmix of the channels. Using CMSS-3D HF, DH and such to downmix a 7.1 mix to stereo, without knowing the particularities of the sound engineering of a particular game, doesnt seem accurate.. what do u guys think? When u choose stereo and headphones option from a game, its probably a correct HTRF downmix, isnt it?

    Sorry for my lack of knowledge.
  11. BrightCandle
    I have a similar view on them actually with one additional point, the Sennheiser GSX 1000 is better than the soundblaster for positional information by some margin. It also removes the hollow mids making it a much more well rounded device in general. I recommend it a lot more than a Creative product now, its more expensive and practically it needs an amp after it for headphones as its not a very good amp (nor is the DAC fantastic either this is no Schiit stack replacement in one box) but the surround sound is second to nothing else I have heard so far.
  12. BrightCandle
    No it isn't. It all depends on precisely what sound API middleware the game developers use. Most of them do something really basic and the end result is you hear things but with poor positional information. A few games like Overwatch have Dolby atmos headphone built in but the majority really don't and they have by and large just used two channels with minimal HRTF implementation as provided by Microsoft in DirectX. That HRTF doesn't work well for just about everybody, I don't know what MS did wrong with it but I get no positional information out of that at all and neither do most people.

    If you can pinpoint the direction of a gunshot in a game like battlefield with just headphone mode on then you are luck, MS DirectX 2 channel headphone mode is working for you. Some games wont use it and wont provide headphone capabilities beyond just 2 channels and would still be served better with a sound card with 5.1 -> 2.0 HRTF for headphones but it becomes less important.
  13. Casef
    Based on your post I've downloaded and tried the Blaster X Engine, since I'm interested in testing any virtual surround solutions I can get my hands on, and as an SB Omni user and someone who doesn't really like SBX Surround based on my experience with it on this card, I can tell you there's definitely a difference. The biggest one for me is the fact that with the Omni, left and right surround channels sound more like left and right side channels. The rear sound cues are quite "flat" due to this - there's pretty much no real "stereo image" or how you'd call it with the rear sound cues, they're located either to the sides or directly behind you, nothing much between this.

    With the Blaster X Engine, the left and right surround channels are located much more where they "should" be, therefore the rear sound cues have a lot more "width" available to them, the rear sound image is much "fuller".

    In both cases, you can further adjust the isolation and directionality of the channels using the "Surround" slider , of course.

    This one difference alone has made me like the Blaster X Engine much more than the SBX Surround on the Omni. In fact I'm going to give it a try and maybe use it as my preferred virtual surround solution. I'm normally a Dolby Headphone guy as I can tweak it using the virtual speaker shifter exactly to my liking, but it has a bit too much reverb than I'd like, so I'm always looking for an alternative.
  14. Jacobh
    Thanks for that perspective. The GSX 1000 is a bit more than I'm willing to spend for the amount of time I listen to VSS, but I'll keep my eye out for a used one.

    Glad the software worked out for you. If you have a multi-channel sound card already, it's a good solution. I think everyone is a bit different with respect to HRTF, so for me any difference was subtle enough to be negligible. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a solution where the rear speakers don't sound more like side-surround than true rear to me. Maybe the GSX would do it, but the other solutions are good enough for me.

    I'm going to keep my Omni. It's small enough to fit in my laptop bag and the microphone and ability to output VSS over optical are enough to make it worth the difference in price over a G1 or something similar. A software only solution won't work for my laptop since it does not have a 5.1/7.1 on board sound.
  15. Casef
    Yeah, HRTF is definitely somewhat subjective.

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