Skyrim Special Edition On Xbox One, PC Has Worse Audio Than The Original

Image: Bethesda

With a name like "Skyrim Special Edition", you'd expect everything to be better than it was in the original game or, at the very least, as good. Certainly not worse — if that's even possible. Well, it is for Bethesda, with the PC and Xbox One versions of the game having significantly crappier audio than their PS4 and previous generation counterparts.

After playing the Special Edition for a while and feeling that the "audio seemed... off", a Reddit user by the name "LasurArkinshade" decided to investigate. It's a trivial matter to extract the sound files from the game and analyse them; LasurArkinshade quickly discovered that it wasn't just his imagination.

If you want to listen for yourself, here's an example using the level up sound effect:

Turns out the audio in the Special Edition is heavily compressed. The format used is XWM / XMA, which is essentially Windows Media Audio (WMA). Now, there's nothing wrong with compressing audio, especially for games, as the space savings more than make up for the imperceptible loss in quality. But this is only true if you use a high bitrate, such as 128Kb/s or better.

In the case of the Special Edition, Bethesda seems to have used the default XMA encoding bitrate of 48Kb/s. Which is rather terrible. Here's an audio spectrogram from another Reddit user, withmorten, that shows the difference (original on left, Special Edition on the right).

Image: withmorten, via Reddit

The downgraded audio is only present in the PC and Xbox One versions of the game, with the PS4 unaffected.

Fortunately, a Bethesda representative did respond to the post with the following:

We’re currently testing a fix and hope to have an update out next week.

The downside is I can't see any way of applying a "fix" without getting users to download a fat patch full of uncompressed (or properly compressed) assets. Not such a huge deal in the age of broadband, but still a disappointing effort by the developer.

The Skyrim Special Edition features a significant audio quality downgrade [Reddit]


    At least the bugs are up to the usual standard.

    At least it's the XB1 and PC versions that are affected - maybe someone can do a mod for better audio :D

      Heh. There was actually a 'vanilla skyrim audio' up on the Nexus on day one... but I can only assume it's been pulled because it was multiple GB and the poor Nexus servers have been struggling under the weight of everyone re-downloading their mods.

    looks like they really dropped the ball with the special edition and put the minimum amount of effort into it. Iv also heard from a few people that the edges of the screen are being cut off as well.

      Yeah I've got the screen cut off issue at the moment on ps4. How does such a fundamental problem like that get through QA? First time I've ever encountered this problem I think.

        I fixed it by adjusting my TV settings. Check overscan yada yada...

    I should have researched it more..... I got to Whiterun and it looked like a desert because I normally run the town/city upgrade mod on PC.....

    Checked the mods.... Nope no town/city upgrades... *sigh*

    But then achievements disabled with mods anyway.....

      Give it time. It's an upgraded engine and it only just came out, mod developers will update over the next few weeks.

        Yeah, more and more ports of favourite vanilla Skyrim mods are going up on the SE-specific nexus site every hour.

    Ah so this will explain the recent 'no more early review copies' thing from Bethesda.

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