Building the perfect PC gaming experience with the right computer accessories depends on treating every part of the show as important. But have you really given your ears the same respect as your eyes? Sure, your desktop’s video card is pumping out mind blowing graphics to your cutting edge monitor, or your top of the line laptop is firing on all cylinders. And your RAM and processor are as large and fast as possible. So what are the crusty old speakers that you found in the back of the closet still doing attached to your rig? I have to confess: I was a sound barbarian for the longest time. And then I discovered surround sound and the ability to hear your enemies creeping up on you.
Space: the Final Frontier
There is a very important question you have to answer before you upgrade your sound equipment: quiet or loud? If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated gaming room (or the freedom of living on your own) you can choose the Computer Speakers of your dreams. But if the peace and quiet of others around you puts a limit on the bone rattling speaker options, it’s time to look at top quality Gaming Headsets as your solution.
As long as you have the space, external speakers are the best option for truly immersive gaming. The first technical specification that you need to decipher is the channel capacity. The naming scheme for the different available channel formats is confusing for the first-time shopper, a jumble of numbers and different letters. Relax! It’s actually pretty simple. 1 channel is the most basic output type, where all of the sound is sent to every connected speaker. This is what your old surplus speakers are delivering to you. The next step up is stereo. The audio signal is split into two channels (left and right) and sent to their respective speakers.
Most of the stereo PC speaker packages will include a subwoofer to pump the lower decibel sounds up, bringing the channel up to the 2.1 designation. The Logitech Z323 2.1 Channel Computer Speaker System is an economical example of a stereo with subwoofer set-up. It also has a headphone jack for those times where someone has encroached on your private gaming domain and you need to run quiet.
The full audio experience only comes to life when you step up to 5.1 channel, or full surround sound. Provided you have the physical space to lay the speakers out around the room in the correct configuration, you can be in the middle of a full audio landscape. As you might have guessed, 5.1 splits the source sound into 5 distinct channels, with the subwoofer boosting the low frequency sounds to a potentially rumbling volume. The Edifier 5.1 Channel Home Theatre Speaker System brings the rumble. The powerful 10-inch subwoofer will shake the floor when it’s at full volume, making your downstairs neighbours love you even more. It also offers several input options (3 optical, 1 coaxial, analog 5.1 and dual stereo inputs) so it can serve as not only your PC speaker system, but your central sound system for your entertainment centre.
Speaking of set-up and installation, there is an alternative to wiring your whole room to your computer. A wireless Bluetooth speaker set will connect wirelessly to your PC, eliminating the onerous chore of running the wires around the perimeter of the room and attempting to discretely tuck them away. Don’t get too excited over the possibility of a wire-free world: most speaker setups still require a power cord for each speaker. The Creative T4 2.1 Bluetooth Computer Speaker connects via Bluetooth, and it also has near-field communications (NFC) so you can pair an NFC device simply by tapping it on the NFC receptor on the speaker.
So the world of true surround sound is sadly out of your reach when it comes to headphones. The speaker on either side of your head just can’t replace the five or six spaced around the room. On the other hand, headphones offer you a more intimate and private gaming experience. No matter ow loud your surround system is, the blaring of a car horn from the street below will always break the audio illusion. Even entry level headphones like the Creative Fatal1ty gaming headset will muffle the noise from the outside world, while higher end models will offer noise cancellation as a feature. Be careful to remember that you’re wearing noise cancelling headphones, or be prepared to be startled out of your wits by the sudden appearance of your family or roommates.
And the majority of gaming headphones have a built in microphone to facilitate coordinating with your online teammates during a high stress raid or dungeon, or to simply shoot the breeze while you’re waiting for the next match. The Razer Kraken Pro 2015 Over-Ear Headset, as an example, has a folding microphone boom arm that can tuck up out of the way when not in use, and microphone controls on the cord so that you can mute and adjust volume more easily.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can get a wealth of other features. Start with wireless connectivity, add in noise cancelling, surround sound simulation (not the real thing but close), and a variety of configuration and connection types. The Logitech G933 Wireless Gaming Headset has all the above and more. It can handle three different input devices, so you can take calls from your cellphone while still playing the game. The G933 has three programmable keys that you can use for audio control or to trigger macros within your game. It also has a band of LED lights around the edge and an illuminated logo that can all be customized to glow in whatever colour you choose. The downside of the fancy lighting is reduced battery performance, dropping the standard 12 hours between charges to 8 hours at most.
Ultimately, the decision to upgrade your PC sound equipment should be driven by a need to hear the true, full sound as imagined by the sound designers in the game. Sound is your constant companion, and it deserves a suitable budget to have the best experience possible.