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What features would distinguish a gaming audio system from the regular one?

I would assume that direction from where the sound is coming is extremely important, would having 7 channels ( as opposed to 2 ) be beneficial in that aspect ?

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"What features would distinguish a gaming audio system from the regular one?"

In my experience, there aren't any such features. I have a music studio, lots of audiophile equipment and lots of gaming gadgets. I sometimes use them interchangeably.

'Gaming' gear is usually targeted at people's perceptions or desires rather than their requirements. If there was one major difference, buying audiophile gear offers a large advantage: They're aimed at an audience who know how to critique their products. Games accessories are aimed at the 'gadget' market - and as such as more likely to be over-priced, flimsy and inferior to an equivalent developed for the audio industry.

Steelsound headphones, for example, can offer excellent sound quality but they can't take any sort of a beating (or moisture) and for the price you'd expect that. An equivalent set of Sony headphones is superior. It's not that the Sony headphones bring any special features to the table, it's the economics of a utility versus a toy.

5.1/7.1/9.1/45.1 speaker setups are intended for home theatre. They are not relevant for video gaming and headphones will serve you just fine. Pro gamers use headphones - there's no justification.

If you are going to buy a decent set of headphones you need to upgrade your sound card to get the benefit of them. I highly recommend little USB stick sound cards, such as those from Steelsound. They're convenient as hell.

Now I haven't really described what definition of 'better' I'm using. Better is fidelity. If you're looking to be competitive, you need to be able to pick out small cues and individual sounds from the mix. That tiny little click underneath all the explosions? That's your opponent reloading!

It's also very important the sound isn't too tinny or thick - huge liabilities when you're trying to concentrate. This comes naturally from getting good equipment with a wide natural dynamic range.

If you're interested in speakers specifically, you can do a lot worse than buying short-range studio reference monitors such as these: http://www.camdensounds.co.uk/monitors/edirol-ma-7a-bk-analogue-stereo-micro-studio-monitors.html They are designed for the studio, they won't break the bank (in comparison to equivalent home theatre/gaming kit) and they sound just sublime - but they're only useful if you're sat in just the right place in front of the screen, conveniently exactly where a gamer sits!

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Magic mystery downrate... I see alot of this on this site. I guess people think getting their answer selected is 'winning'. –  Rushyo Apr 15 '11 at 9:22
    
Why was this downvoted? It's great general information regarding the question at hand. (+1 obviously) –  Gustav Kores Apr 15 '11 at 9:27
    
I didn't downvote, but I laughed at the idea that audiophiles are collectively less gullible than gamers when it comes to hardware. They're probably the only consumers I'd rate above gamers in ridiculous hardware purchases. –  user2640 Apr 15 '11 at 9:40
    
if that is the definition of wining, then you win :) –  bronzebeard Apr 15 '11 at 9:51
    
@Rushyo There's no need to get like that. I upvoted your answer and I currently have the highest voted answer. –  Simon Hartcher Apr 15 '11 at 9:53
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This question is somewhat subjective, as what type of audio people prefer tends to vary from person to person. From personal experience, I have a 5.1 system where one of the rear speakers broke, so I've been using it as 2.1 for a while. I can't say it makes a noticeable difference to the gaming experience. If there is a difference between 5.1 and 7.1 systems, I would expect it to be less than the difference between 2.1 and 5.1 so not noticeable to the majority of people.

I would say that a decent quality 2.1 system would be perfectly adequate for gaming unless you're competing online at a very high level where surround might give you a very slight edge. For most people, surround isn't worth all the irritating trailing cables and speaker placement hassles. Having a speaker set with a subwoofer is probably a good idea as it will make explosions etc sound better.

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For the greatest benefit in gaming in terms of being competitive, headphones are the best choice for first person shooters. I am making the assumption that you are playing FPS games due to your concern on knowing where sounds come from.

With headphones, the sounds are closer to your ears so that you can play quiet enough to still be able to think, and you can hear where sounds are coming from more accurately.

In regards to the number of channels, 2 channel headphones are absolutely fine! Games these days trick your brain into thinking that sounds are coming from in front or behind etc by emulating binaural recording.

Also, my experience with 2+ channel headphones is that they don't last, as they are just too complicated to be sturdy.

Having a great pair of headphones will only come into their own with a good sound card as well. Some in built soundcards these days are very decent, but you will get the best sound with some kind of expansion.

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Which games use binaural recording? As far as I know, only very few do that nowadays, the most prominent of them being Papa Sangre. Most games rely on more rudimentary techniques, such as modifying the balance and volume depending on the direction of and distance to the source. See gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/54956/… –  Jubobs Sep 1 '13 at 12:36
    
@Jubobs I said "emulate binaural recording". Game sound engines have been doing this for years. –  Simon Hartcher Sep 1 '13 at 12:47
    
Citation needed... –  Jubobs Sep 1 '13 at 12:57
    
"3d audio engines" are emulating binaural recording. You only need to play a modern FPS to experience this. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_audio_effect –  Simon Hartcher Sep 2 '13 at 11:02
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