What Do Those Different Game Audio Options Actually Do?

There are plenty of games offering a variety of audio options: stereo, TV speakers, headphones, home theatres, 5.1 speakers, 7.1 speakers and God knows what else. Question is: what's the actual difference?

Gaming picture from Shutterstock

Most in-game audio settings simply make subtle adjustments to whatever sound source you're using, similar to how most TVs come with a range of preset sound modes. The "TV" mode typically improves the bass to compensate for tinny speakers while "Home Theater" is self-explanatory.

You do occasionally encounter hardware-specific options such as 'EAX Enhancement' which are digital signal processing presets designed specifically for PC sound cards. You'll usually only see these setting in older games however. Many games also have individual sliders which let you adjust the music, sound effects and dialogue to suit your preference.

As with all audio-visual entertainment, the best bet is to ignore the inbuilt settings and invest in a home cinema kit if you want superior sound. You can find a bunch of handy DIY tips via this beginner's home theatre guide.

If any hardcore gaming audiophiles are reading, feel free to share your own sound recommendations in the comments.

This post originally appeared on Lifehacker Australia


    ...stereo, TV speakers, headphones, home theatres, 5.1 speakers, 7.1 speakers and God knows what else. Question is: what’s the actual difference?

    I sort of feel like you didn't really answer your question entirely, was it for the readers to answer?

      Yup. Real click vanity article this one. Answer? Buy a hifi. Real technical guys. Thx.

    uuuh clicking through to the lifehacker article makes much more sense than the hacked up article that is here.

    You know what more games need? A low dynamic range option, for when you don't have headphones but want to play with sound late at night.

    Ooh! I love game audio!

    There don't seem to be many games anymore that offer audio option beyond volume of music/effects.

    I've noticed that some newer games (Uncharted series/Battlefield series) offer Dynamic Range options. This can be confusing, but basically it's the difference (range) between the quietest sounds versus the loudest sounds. A reduced dynamic range setting compresses the range, so the quieter sounds (dialogue, footsteps etc.) are easier to hear on smaller sound systems or quiet volume settings. Alternately, a wide or reference level dynamic range setting gives a much more natural sounding environment, but it requires a large speaker system capable of delivering the quiet nuance and also the explosive loud parts.

    Take home point is: gamers using wide dynamic range settings on small sound systems/TV speakers are doing themselves a disservice. Most of the quiet sounds won't be audible, so you're missing the sound of enemies sneaking, reloading, etc. You also miss most of the subtle environmental effects that build atmosphere. Wide dynamic range settings are made for large systems with the volume turned up very loud, not a reality in lots of houses!

    On the flip side, if you need to play with the volume turned low, use a reduced dynamic range setting and you should still be able to hear all the dialogue and effects.

      Oh wow - this is why you get some movies with inaudible dialogue one minute and then sound effects which constitute ear-assault the next!

        Most receivers have the option to change that though they name them stupid things in the preset equaliser like hall, drama, spacious etc. Failing that if there are huge differences the various night modes some have lower the range.

          it's called "Midnight" on my receiver.

    "Hardcore gaming audiophiles".... The same kind of people who identify as 'foodies' or 'assholes'.

      Oh man I hope not, ha ha.

        There is nothing wrong with having passion for audio. I'm a producer. But the term audiophile is elitist wank.

      I once put a pic of my home theatre on Facebook. I might be an audiohole.

    If you see a game offering "headphone audio" as an option, then it is effectively doing what those expensive "surround sound headphones" but without the need for a separate decoder box, and potentially giving better results.

    And it should sound different to a stereo speaker profile. With speakers, you're going to hear sounds from the right speaker in your left ear and sounds from the left speaker in your right ear. That doesn't happen with headphones, so it helps to cross mix the channels a bit. Combined with delays and volume adjustments, they can help position the audio in a way you wouldn't get if using the stereo speaker profile through headphones.

      can't upvote for some reason. +1

    Headphone setting just boosts midrange slightly on the assumption that you have crap headphones that need it.

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