Surround Sound for Gaming – A Gimmick or a Useful Feature

Surround Sound is a well-known feature for home cinemas and speaker setups which can improve directional audio by using more than 2 channels. 

This feature bled into the gaming industry as well with Surround headphones and audio software that supposedly would improve the ability to locate targets around yourself. Certain gaming communities (Tarkov people) swear by Surround Sound and that it helps them identify targets more easily, while others do not even know what it is. 

I wanted to do some research for myself to figure out if this would be a useful feature for gaming or not. 

Proper Usage

Surround sound makes use of multiple speakers and allows for a more realistic audio source positioned correctly to create a vivid spatial audio environment. In essence, this would be very hard to replicate or do with a pair of headphones that are millimeters away from your ears, and even more so on closed-back headphones.

surround sound 5.1 vs 7.1

The more tolerable 5.1/7.1 Surround Sound implementations for gaming come in the form of hardware additions like AMP/DAC combos which can expand your audio environment with the use of different filtering and EQ-ing. Most software implementations however just skew the sound signature of my headphones and make them sound hollow without any substance to the sound.

It would seem then that for gaming, entertainment, and video consumption you could indeed enjoy a speaker setup with 5.1/7.1 Surround Sound, but I am not so sure about doing the same with headphones on. 

Integrating Surround Sound Into Games

Certain games also try integrating Surround Sound and HRTF (head-related transfer function) to improve spatial awareness. In most cases, these audio techniques are mutually exclusive so you would want to avoid mixing 5.1/7.1 and HRTF since these would conflict.

perspective correction

The usefulness of these features is also questionable since from my experience a good pair of open-back headphones with no sound filtering at all offers amazing pinpoint location to enemy steps and other audio queues. If anything, applying any software of EQ/Surround Sound mostly hinders the ability to find things in your audio environment.  

If you are, however, using some cheaper “gaming” headphones features such as 5.1/7.1 Surround Sound and HRTF might be useful in increasing your spatial awareness. 

My Perspective

Sound is subjective and most people will almost always have different tastes when it comes to sound signatures. When it comes to determining how good Surround Sound is in terms of increasing spatial awareness you must apply it directly to the specific scenario you are in: 

  • Do you use headphones only or speakers as well?
  • Hardware vs software implementations?
  • What headphones do you have – do these headphones even need help with spatial audio?
  • What games do you play and do they have integrated features such as HRTF and 5.1/7/1?

In my case my open-back headphones going straight through an AMP/DAC with no DSP sounds the best in most games I play with me not lacking any spatial awareness and audio queues. I like the way my DT 990s sound and applying any spatial audio EQ just makes them sound bad (to me).

dt990 with amp

With this in mind, I would say that  Surround Sound is more of a gimmick for gaming and is mostly focused on a cinema experience in your living room instead of a sweaty gaming night.

About The Author

Chris (vile_is_dead)

Custom Windows ISO enjoyer, FPS optimizer, and aim improvement enthusiast. Will disassemble all of his peripherals (and sometimes PC parts) to mod them even if all of them work perfectly fine. Discord/Twitter: vile_is_dead

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