Is 5.1 / surround sound gaming still relevant?

Skylinestar

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In the past, quadraphonic was highly praised. Then came 5.1/7.1/Atmos. Most gamers use headsets. Perhaps the mic is the main issue here (feedback). But if you don't use a mic, does traditional surround sound gaming still relevant? Will you do it?

I tried Doom3 with headphones and with 5.1 audio before. 5.1 felt better to me.

55-16016-surround_21.jpg
 
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NoOther

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In the past, quadraphonic was highly praised. Then came 5.1/7.1/Atmos. Most gamers use headsets. Perhaps the mic is the main issue here (feedback). But if you don't use a mic, does traditional surround sound gaming still relevant? Will you do it?
I think this largely depends on what you need it for. A lot of people feel it gives them better perception of where shots are coming from in FPS games. There are certainly other games that take advantage of 5.1 if you have it. If you are watching certain movies, it could provide more full sound stage. For me I switched from my 5.1 to 2.1. I didn't care as much about positional audio, I wanted better overall audio. I do miss some things about my 5.1 setup, but my speakers now are better quality overall. I am sure I could have gotten a better 2.1 setup for cheaper, but it works. I could also eventually combine my Home Theater and gaming room into one, but I still like having them separate for now.
 

djoye

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I only use speakers and would tell anyone that thinks surround positioning in headphones is as good as discrete speakers that they're an idiot (or that they need to experience proper surround speakers), but the convenience of headphones likely outweighs speakers for most people.

Headphones:
  • Pro: Inexpensive
  • Pro: Consume significantly less space
  • Pro: Not noisy to those around you
  • Pro: Able to use mic while gaming
  • Pro: Don't typically need additional hardware but might benefit from it (sound card with better amp or external amp)
  • Con: Virtual surround sound
Surround Speakers
  • Con: Cost quickly adds up if using an AV receiver + speakers
  • Con: Requires additional space
  • Con: Requires routing of cables
  • Con: Requires separate amplifier if not using 'computer' speakers
  • Con: Would require noise cancelling tech to use a mic while gaming (I think newer Sound Blaster cards do this)
  • Con: LOUD (pro?)
  • Pro: Actual discrete surround sound positioning
  • Pro: Ears don't hurt from wearing headphones
I have the bonus room to myself in my own house and I don't do many online games so speakers it is for me.
 

Motley

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Oh yes indeed a nice AV unit with a small sub and 5 speakers is way better than headphones. The only time I use headphones is when I'm on my laptop.
 

Sycraft

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Very. Most games support 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. Now as to if you enjoy it or not is another matter but games do a good job with support. I am all surround all the time for my gaming. Not a completely current picture, but my gaming speaker setup:

nest2.jpg



That said, with head tracking headphones can do an acceptable job simulating it these days. Waves NX was really cool for that before they broke their Bluetooth implementation. Id' still take real speakers over it though.
 

bpizzle1

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I dropped all speakers outside of my headset (granted, the Samsung 4K that I use as a monitor has speakers if I really want to use them) for communication reasons mostly. I play a lot of MMOs and FPSs where communication is key, and it's super annoying when you can hear someone's game sounds every time they talk. I also don't want to annoy my wife with gunshots and explosions for hours on end.
 

MGV001

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For what it is worth, I use 5.1 surround with 5 discrete speakers and a sub; although I think I am in the vast minority. I do watch movies on my rig but it is my secondary source for that.

I do have a gaming Sennheiser headset for when the family needs quiet, but I prefer the 5.1 setup.
 
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It depends on the game. Some games really don't do surround sound well at all. I'm thinking of Dragon Age Origins where the cutscene audio could get borked and dialogue may come from the rears instead of front channels.
 

AlphaAtlas

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You can get pretty good 7.1 on headphones with Razer Surround or Dolby Atmos.

Sure, a high end surround setup will sound better, but that's quite an investment.
 

DoubleTap

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It depends on the game. Some games really don't do surround sound well at all. I'm thinking of Dragon Age Origins where the cutscene audio could get borked and dialogue may come from the rears instead of front channels.
Most big name / AAA games have excellent surround sound but there is no question it's fallen out of favor.

I blame young people staying home longer and not getting their own place - and the way kids prefer to play games on a laptop more than a desktop.

If you're old and have a house, gaming surround sound is a true luxury and you should consider treating yourself.

I have a pretty beastly system now and I consider it every bit as important as a good GPU and monitor(s).
 

DigitalPanhandler

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not to poop on some you...but I stoped using surround sound / speakers in general YEARS AGO...probably around quake 3.... when my ears were enlightened to a good headset.... there are SOOOOOOOOOO MANY sound cues you just don't get with speakers, surround sound or not...that you do with headphones... (and im not talking bullshit ass virtual surround or usb driven headsets..... im talking, a decent pair of sennheisers…)
 

Comixbooks

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I used Speakers all the time have a Z906 set I just moved it closer on my table sounds alot better than behind the monitor but I turned down the THX on my Soundblaster Recon sound card because it was too upfront for most things.

I only use Headphones when I don't want to wake the parents they used to piss at me when I was playing Duke Nukem Forever using the big guns would wake them up playing online.
 

MGV001

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not to poop on some you...but I stoped using surround sound / speakers in general YEARS AGO...probably around quake 3.... when my ears were enlightened to a good headset.... there are SOOOOOOOOOO MANY sound cues you just don't get with speakers, surround sound or not...that you do with headphones... (and im not talking bullshit ass virtual surround or usb driven headsets..... im talking, a decent pair of sennheisers…)
Out of curiosity, what Sennheiser model would you recommend? I have an old gaming set from many years ago, but am looking to upgrade and have seen mixed reviews. Say a budget of $150 give or take.
 

djoye

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not to poop on some you...but I stoped using surround sound / speakers in general YEARS AGO...probably around quake 3.... when my ears were enlightened to a good headset.... there are SOOOOOOOOOO MANY sound cues you just don't get with speakers, surround sound or not...that you do with headphones... (and im not talking bullshit ass virtual surround or usb driven headsets..... im talking, a decent pair of sennheisers…)
The typical speaker setup in 1999: A pair of crappy beige computer speakers or, if it were a surround setup, a skimpy Cambridge SoundWorks set with a tiny sub and most of the speakers crammed somewhere behind the monitor; that's like 99% of the speaker setups I've seen either at peoples' computers or even when they attempt to setup a home theater config in their living room.

The challenge with speakers is that you have to read the manual to perform a proper setup (physical placement of the speakers) and you then have to calibrate the volume levels of each speaker using either the sound card software or external amplifier's software, then you have to know how to configure Windows and sometimes games to work with it; people either don't know better or give up on it.
 

Neapolitan6th

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My 2 cents:

A headset if you want to win competitive titles.

OR

Surround Sound if immersion is of the highest importance.

Generally speakers can be as effective as a headset, but it would take a well calibrated system and most importantly a sound treated room to make that possible.
 
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ironforge

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I used to have surround setup (cheap one) and now am using high end headphones. I prefer the headphones, as they are more immersive. Blocks out a lot of background noise (computer fans, AC unit, dog outside). Sound quality with $200+ headphones is very good.
 

DigitalPanhandler

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Out of curiosity, what Sennheiser model would you recommend? I have an old gaming set from many years ago, but am looking to upgrade and have seen mixed reviews. Say a budget of $150 give or take.
uhm, I wouldn't really no where to begin, I went with HD558's and then opened the cans up and removed the foam padding on the inside, essentially making a HD598

cost me like...120 bux for em? I wouldn't call em high end, but they certainly crush any other cans ive owned, and ive had some 400$ shures, ive had some turtle beach 5.1's...and a few others

edit: good luck finding some relatively cheap ones, didn't spend to long looking but quick amazon search turns up third parties selling them for a arm and a leg... 200-300+ for hd558-hd599

sennheisers site sells em for 179.99 though so.... might have to just go directly through them.
https://en-us.sennheiser.com/audio-headphones-high-end-hd-558

The typical speaker setup in 1999: A pair of crappy beige computer speakers or, if it were a surround setup, a skimpy Cambridge SoundWorks set with a tiny sub and most of the speakers crammed somewhere behind the monitor; that's like 99% of the speaker setups I've seen either at peoples' computers or even when they attempt to setup a home theater config in their living room.

The challenge with speakers is that you have to read the manual to perform a proper setup (physical placement of the speakers) and you then have to calibrate the volume levels of each speaker using either the sound card software or external amplifier's software, then you have to know how to configure Windows and sometimes games to work with it; people either don't know better or give up on it.

ya I have no doubt a decently setup 5.1 setup can be good...but had a friend in Texas around 2002 that had some Logitech 7.1s... I dunno the ones with the fancy desk digital dial thingy,.... even he recommended a good headset over it...

also what happended to CMSS3D? oh...windows.
 
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spaceman

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The zero is ok. If I were to buy a gaming headphone around $100-200 range I would strongly consider the new Sennheiser 579. It is the 558/598 successor and has even better separation of sound according to reviews. I have had every Sennheiser under the 650 mark and found all of them exemplary gaming cans.

Back on topic: speakers are better than headphones but are more difficult to set up properly and take up more space. So people end up thinking they sound worse.

I use a nearfield stereo speaker setup. It ends up sounding like a huge pair of headphones. I can "see" sounds move in the air around me. So I can hear something coming up behind me and look and follow it going back to front. So yes. Surround is also possible with just two good speakers properly setup.

Using the monitor mounted mic that came with my SBZ soundcard, nobody has complained about speaker sound or feedback. It has good focus and noise cancellation.
 
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djoye

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ya I have no doubt a decently setup 5.1 setup can be good...but had a friend in Texas around 2002 that had some Logitech 7.1s... I dunno the ones with the fancy desk digital dial thingy,.... even he recommended a good headset over it...

also what happended to CMSS3D? oh...windows.
Logitech's speakers aren't great but they're not terrible, they're really too small to sound fulfilling. I had the Z-5500, their strong point was that they had an 8" subwoofer, but still had 'cube' speakers, so they lacked mid-range. Also, CMSS-3D isn't dead, EAX is dead, and software-based audio engines (which are built into games) are doing good enough at replacing it.

Using the monitor mounted mic that came with my SBZ soundcard, nobody has complained about speaker sound or feedback. It has good focus and noise cancellation.
I was excited about the newer Sound Blaster cards when I saw that they had the noise-cancelling mic, but had to pass since they didn't offer 7.1 analog output. That's cool that it sounds like the noise cancellation is working as intended.
 

DoubleTap

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The challenge with speakers is that you have to read the manual to perform a proper setup (physical placement of the speakers) and you then have to calibrate the volume levels of each speaker using either the sound card software or external amplifier's software, then you have to know how to configure Windows and sometimes games to work with it; people either don't know better or give up on it.
Honestly, you don't really have to do that. It's a good idea for a primo HT setup, but for a small home office or desk setup, room correction isn't needed for good gaming sound.

I'm in a 10x10.5' room and my side and rear surrounds are wall mounted (JBL), while my L/C/R speakers are on stands (Kef).

I have killer directional sound in all the games I play: Guild Wars 2, Battlefield, Overwatch, Destiny 2, Titanfall 2, everything else I can think of.

The thing about gaming sound is that we have no idea what "fidelity" is supposed to sound like. Between space ships, dragons, laser blasters and everything else, your ears don't go "hmm, not sure that really captures the timbre of a real interdimensional time rift".

Fidelity is important in music because we know what things are supposed to sound like - but in games? Nah.

I would recommend you get at least 5" surrounds though. You will miss the mid bass if you use tiny little sats and not every game will add sub info for directional sound: with my previous sats, if I heard Road Hog (Big tank character in Overwatch) coming up behind me, the sound on my 3" Orb speakers was clear, but very thin and missing a lot of weight. Switching to 5" JBL Arena 15s cleared that right up and made a huge difference. Is it "accurate"? I have no idea, but it's enjoyable and functional which is what I was going for.

I've had plenty of issues:

1. SLI+NVSurround has some near insurmountable compatibility issues with HDMI surround sound.
2. Optical sucks
3. 7.1 Analog to an AVR runs in direct mode on most receivers meaning you have no DSP functions. At all.
4. HDMI is the best solution as long as you have a working strategy for EDID emulation

But all of those issues are hardware level. Once you get it setup, almost every game works really well with surround sound - especially AAA games.

The software has been the easy part.
 

MGV001

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2. Optical sucks
I could never get the surround sound to work over optical in Witcher 3. I have the z906 from logitech, so there is a direct connection from the motherboard to the "mini AVR" and it is supposed to "decode" either a dolby digital or DTS signal. I have an ASUS board with the SupremeFX, but I was under the impression that all of that processing is bypassed with the digital signal. Oh well, in analog 5.1, the game was mixed very well. Sound was most certainly a very enjoyable part of that game.

The only reason I tried the optical for that game is that I think I prefer optical for 2.1 music. Sound is very subjective, so it is what it is.

I have since played many games and do not use the optical any longer (for games).

For on Netflix, sometimes the movie is not encoded (is that the right word?) for analog surround sound, and I switch over to optical and the z906 decodes the signal. I realize it is a compressed signal trying to fit 5.1 channels of sound over a medium intended for 2.1, but I am not sure my ears are able to tell a difference.
 

djoye

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I could never get the surround sound to work over optical in Witcher 3. I have the z906 from logitech, so there is a direct connection from the motherboard to the "mini AVR" and it is supposed to "decode" either a dolby digital or DTS signal. I have an ASUS board with the SupremeFX, but I was under the impression that all of that processing is bypassed with the digital signal. Oh well, in analog 5.1, the game was mixed very well. Sound was most certainly a very enjoyable part of that game.

The only reason I tried the optical for that game is that I think I prefer optical for 2.1 music. Sound is very subjective, so it is what it is.

I have since played many games and do not use the optical any longer (for games).

For on Netflix, sometimes the movie is not encoded (is that the right word?) for analog surround sound, and I switch over to optical and the z906 decodes the signal. I realize it is a compressed signal trying to fit 5.1 channels of sound over a medium intended for 2.1, but I am not sure my ears are able to tell a difference.
To get 5.1 over optical, you have to enable Dolby or DTS encoding for the SPDIF output if your sound device supports it, then your Logitech system would have detected and decoded the 5.1 stream from your PC. Just another reason optical sucks for anything other than stereo PCM. Optical was the best we had before HDMI, but even multi-channel analog out from a computer is less cumbersome, eliminates the need for additional encoding software, and sounds at least as good as long as you're not using terrible cables (I have cheap monoprice cables, no noise in them).

Looks like SupremeFX has DTS Connect, did you have that enabled? I've read people saying they tried using Dolby or DTS encoding over SPDIF and some games didn't seem to work properly with it; probably because the game couldn't correctly detect the speaker configuration.
 

spaceman

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The difference is much more noticeable with larger speakers. The need for a larger than 5" driver applies. You will not hear nearly as much of the sound from a 2-3" driver that makes up most pc surround speakers. That is why, for the same money, I tell people to get two bookshelf speakers. The midrange is where most sound lives.
 

DoubleTap

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To get 5.1 over optical, you have to enable Dolby or DTS encoding for the SPDIF output if your sound device supports it, then your Logitech system would have detected and decoded the 5.1 stream from your PC. Just another reason optical sucks for anything other than stereo PCM. Optical was the best we had before HDMI, but even multi-channel analog out from a computer is less cumbersome, eliminates the need for additional encoding software, and sounds at least as good as long as you're not using terrible cables (I have cheap monoprice cables, no noise in them).

Looks like SupremeFX has DTS Connect, did you have that enabled? I've read people saying they tried using Dolby or DTS encoding over SPDIF and some games didn't seem to work properly with it; probably because the game couldn't correctly detect the speaker configuration.
Pretty much ever modern sound card is capable of DTS Connect and Dolby Digital Live! encoding, but many/most motherboards don't include a license and the feature can't be used without a hack.

Additionally, the encoding process usually adds more latency than most people would find acceptable for gaming. A half second or more delay in firing a weapon and hearing the sound effect is immersion breaking and unacceptable. You don't get this in encoded movies because your system only has to decode them which is pretty quick.

If you're going to do PC gaming surround sound, either use multi channel analog or HDMI - the latency that comes with optical just ruins it in my experience and opinion.
 

profiled

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optical DON'T have bandwidth for lossless 5.1 audio..


more than ever.

after xbox 360 software only apocalypse audio was piss poor 5.1

now we have 7.1 support. Battlefield has 5.2.1 atmos on PS4.


crysis 3 has top notch 7.1 audio and star citizen. :whistle: mostly to do engine used.
 

Saturn_V

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I feel 5.1 on typical computer desktop speakers isn't worth your time.

But Steam IHS supports 5.1 PCM and passing that to a Steam Link w/ a real AVR with real full sized HT speakers *is* worth your time.
 

DoubleTap

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I feel 5.1 on typical computer desktop speakers isn't worth your time.

But Steam IHS supports 5.1 PCM and passing that to a Steam Link w/ a real AVR with real full sized HT speakers *is* worth your time.
I'm interested to hear why you don't think it's worth it?

There are multiple dimensions to computer audio - you don't have to have a high fidelity system to benefit from directional audio and if someone wants that, it's possible to do it on the cheap.

In my experience, many people that hold that opinion are approaching audio from the perspective of someone who only cares about high resolution music playback - that's fine, but you can have a good to great gaming audio system that is poor to fair at music playback and that could make perfect sense to many people.
 

Saturn_V

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I'm interested to hear why you don't think it's worth it?

There are multiple dimensions to computer audio - you don't have to have a high fidelity system to benefit from directional audio and if someone wants that, it's possible to do it on the cheap.
I've tried it on "the cheap" many times before and I've had surround systems since the 1990s. That's not elitism- or championing "high fidelity" over desktop speakers. I've tried multimedia surround speaker sets. I've tried hooking up to HTiB systems. I've tried various satellite and "bass unit" speakers.

I just think trying to reproduce a surround stage from 2.5 inch driver-equipped speakers is a lost cause.
 

MGV001

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To get 5.1 over optical, you have to enable Dolby or DTS encoding for the SPDIF output if your sound device supports it, then your Logitech system would have detected and decoded the 5.1 stream from your PC. Just another reason optical sucks for anything other than stereo PCM. Optical was the best we had before HDMI, but even multi-channel analog out from a computer is less cumbersome, eliminates the need for additional encoding software, and sounds at least as good as long as you're not using terrible cables (I have cheap monoprice cables, no noise in them).

Looks like SupremeFX has DTS Connect, did you have that enabled? I've read people saying they tried using Dolby or DTS encoding over SPDIF and some games didn't seem to work properly with it; probably because the game couldn't correctly detect the speaker configuration.
Funny story about that. Turns out that after Win 10 Build 14393 the SupremeFX drivers from ASUS do not support DTS Connect. When this went down, the ROG boards were full of angry MB customers, yet, as far as I know this has never been resolved. Someone determined that an older SupremeFX driver still allowed DTS Connect functionality, so I rolled back to the older driver. Still didn't work for surround sound in Witcher 3. Frankly, at that point, because, IMHO, the audio over analog was perfectly acceptable (for gaming), I reinstalled the latest drivers and "gave up" on ever having the DTS Connect feature.
 

mjz_5

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I used to have a nice dedicated 5.1 setup when I lived with my parents. Now that I moved out into an apartment, I am forced to use headphones. I miss 5.1 every single day! Especially for movies
 

gamerk2

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It's fine for a stereo system.
It still has latency issues. There's a lot of DACs that simply turn off when a signal isn't being output, and have a delay turning on when the signal returns. This often also causes an audible "pop".

USB has the bandwidth to handle uncompressed 7.1. Audio-only HDMI can also do it. There's no technical reason why Optical and all it's limitations needs to stick around; it's simply a legacy technology that's going to hang around for ages.
 

sparks

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is positional audio dead in games?
It seems that all of them are console ports and all they care about is loud.
 

DoubleTap

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It still has latency issues. There's a lot of DACs that simply turn off when a signal isn't being output, and have a delay turning on when the signal returns. This often also causes an audible "pop".

USB has the bandwidth to handle uncompressed 7.1. Audio-only HDMI can also do it. There's no technical reason why Optical and all it's limitations needs to stick around; it's simply a legacy technology that's going to hang around for ages.
I don't see why stereo audio over optical would have significant latency issues - there is no encoding/decoding, only electric to optical transceivers which should add virtually no latency - certainly noting on the order of a real time surround encoding scheme.

Optical has the advantage of being electrically decoupled and highly compatible with a wide range of gear going very far back.

Also, there is no "Audio only HDMI" - the HDMI signal requires video information and any device that operates with audio only is just using a blank frame injector.

There is no practical reason why the PC platform couldn't run audio only HDMI (with blank frame injection) but HDCP and content protection politics are probably too hot for the GPU makers to get near it.

It would be a great solution for gaming, even if you ran it without HDCP or as explicitly HDCP incompatible (you'd probably not be able to output Netflix sound through it, but that would be a small price to pay, in my opinion - just throw a Chromecast on your receiver and you're good)


is positional audio dead in games?
It seems that all of them are console ports and all they care about is loud.
No, most certainly not dead.

Many/Most games have positional audio but the PC culture has become largely mobile and headphone dependent and there are very few budget solutions for surround sound - so most people tend to run headphones or 2.1/2.0 systems (at all price points) and surround sound tends to be reserved for hard core weirdos because 1. It's inherently more expensive and 2. every type of surround sound connection has limitations and issues that can be daunting to the casual user.
 

spaceman

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Yeah. Games like Battlefield have excellent positional audio. Certainly are more headphone gamers than anything else though.
 
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