PC gaming: speakers vs. headphones

When gaming on a PC, do you usually prefer using speakers or headphones?


  • Total voters
    124

rive22

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$1.6 on a PC sound system is cheap. I've got over $13k worth of audio gear for my PC sound system. Not much so speakers just a crap load of Stax headphones, Audeze, Sennheiser, Sony's, DAC's and tube amps and more tube amps and more Stax amps then cables. All over the place not even plugged in.

I obviously have a problem.

lol the addiction is real
 

djoye

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I live in a house and my wife apparently has the complete opposite of misophonia (I swear sometimes she's going to kill me but I go downstairs and it's like she's heard nothing) so I'm speakers all the way. When I was house shopping, my primary goal was to find a bonus room with dimensions that would be good for my speaker setup. :D
 

debaucher

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I'm recovering slowly, it is the result of spending 4 years on that wasteful site headfi, good riddance I was banned.

OUch, yeah... that site will make you think what you have is just not good enough then after you buy you find out that it STILL is not good enough... and the circle continues with your wallet staying empty.

I only go there when I am looking for something particular nowadays.
(ie.. I am looking for a nice DAC right now when I visit America to take back as Audio Equipment is super overpriced here).
 

Matthew Kane

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I don't visit the site anymore. But I did at least have all the TOTL headphones at one stage. Will be buying the upcoming rumoured 50k Orpheus successor then I'm done. Been a speaker person my whole life anyway so headphones was a good distraction. Now I build my own stuff.
 

ironforge

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Headphones!

Nice set of open headphones and a nice amp you get some real spacious sound out of games. Combine they with sbx or Dolby surround processing for headphone surround.
Very hard to beat!
 

Factum

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I use a 7.1 Speaker setup.
Challenged all my friends to bring a headphone that would give better 3D positioning.
They all failed hard and have now stopped trying...not because they don't want too...but because they can hear for themselfes how bad the 3D positioning is with headphone compared to a true 7.1 speaker setup.

Sadly sound is being neglected in these days...people think "onboard" sound does fine....so sad.
 
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Sycraft

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I use a 7.1 Speaker setup.
Challenged all my friends to bring a headphone that would give better 3D positioning.
They all failed hard and have now stopped trying...not because they don't want too...but because they can hear for themselfes how bad the 3D positioning is with headphone compared to a true 7.1 speaker setup.

Sadly sound is being neglected in these days...people think "onboard" sound does fine....so sad.

Game are being crappy about it too. Way too many games don't do 7.1 these days, only 5.1. It is annoying.
 

B00nie

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I live in a house and my wife apparently has the complete opposite of misophonia (I swear sometimes she's going to kill me but I go downstairs and it's like she's heard nothing) so I'm speakers all the way. When I was house shopping, my primary goal was to find a bonus room with dimensions that would be good for my speaker setup. :D

You're my soul mate then. I bought this house with a separate utility building I'm converting into a perfect man-cave / listening room with 20hz bass horn to boot. Oh and let's not forget the line-source ESL:s.
 

B00nie

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Headphones!

Nice set of open headphones and a nice amp you get some real spacious sound out of games. Combine they with sbx or Dolby surround processing for headphone surround.
Very hard to beat!

Without head tracking head-fi is a joke. Having said that I use headphones for gaming and nothing else.
 

Sycraft

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Without head tracking head-fi is a joke. Having said that I use headphones for gaming and nothing else.

I suppose it depends on how you want to use it. For realism, ya it doesn't hold up. That's a big reason I don't do the headphone thing is that I love good surround and without headtracking even the best binaural processing breaks the immersion for me.

However I will say it can still give reasonably good positional audio for gaming since you can learn that "sound from behind me means 180 degree turn in game, not 180 from my head".

I am amazed at how good the positional audio in some games is on headphones these days. Certainly usable in a competitive sense.

But the realism just can't touch speakers until someone makes a head tracking device that isn't super expensive, so tons o' speakers it is for me. :D
 

Matthew Kane

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Without head tracking head-fi is a joke. Having said that I use headphones for gaming and nothing else.

You've obviously haven't heard good head-fi then. You'd need spend high 5 - 6 digit figure priced system to match the TOTL headphone set-ups in terms of detail and realism. Speakers on the other hand, no matter how expensive it is more harder to adjust because of room treatment/correction and speaker placement.
 

Matthew Kane

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But the realism just can't touch speakers until someone makes a head tracking device that isn't super expensive, so tons o' speakers it is for me. :D

That isn't related to realism it's called imaging and yeah there is already a device made for it called the Smythe Realiser A8.
 

B00nie

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You've obviously haven't heard good head-fi then. You'd need spend high 5 - 6 digit figure priced system to match the TOTL headphone set-ups in terms of detail and realism. Speakers on the other hand, no matter how expensive it is more harder to adjust because of room treatment/correction and speaker placement.

If Stax SRS 4170 combined to a 20 000 euro tube amp is not good head-fi to you then yes. Headphone listening can not produce an authentic sound stage, the sound is in your head and I find this extremely disturbing. Only head tracking can remove this limitation.

Directivity helps with room issues with speakers, that's why I love my ESLs.
 

ZacharyS

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I use a 7.1 Speaker setup.
Challenged all my friends to bring a headphone that would give better 3D positioning.
They all failed hard and have now stopped trying...not because they don't want too...but because they can hear for themselfes how bad the 3D positioning is with headphone compared to a true 7.1 speaker setup.

Sadly sound is being neglected in these days...people think "onboard" sound does fine....so sad.

So what you're saying is that your friends have shitty headphones and you don't know how to properly set up your games/movies sound settings? :p

I sincerely doubt your 7.1 system would outperform even a cheapish set of cans like the AD700 in an FPS.
 

Matthew Kane

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If Stax SRS 4170 combined to a 20 000 euro tube amp is not good head-fi to you then yes. Headphone listening can not produce an authentic sound stage, the sound is in your head and I find this extremely disturbing. Only head tracking can remove this limitation.

Directivity helps with room issues with speakers, that's why I love my ESLs.

Stax SRS 4170 is the package of a entry level Stax Lambda series SR-407 and the Stax SRM-006 tube amp, both are not well regarded and that setup is less then $2k, can be had for even less if you buy from Japan. Listen to the SR-009's, SR-Omega 1 and O2 mk1's on a well regarded amp such as the KGSSHV or BHSE and you'd be blown away. As with soundstaging, yes speakers that are carefully setup will always be better in this regards if you like out of the head experience.
 

djoye

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So what you're saying is that your friends have shitty headphones and you don't know how to properly set up your games/movies sound settings? :p

I sincerely doubt your 7.1 system would outperform even a cheapish set of cans like the AD700 in an FPS.
AMEN. A nice set of headphones are superior at audio positioning. I wonder when movie theaters will wise up and stop wasting all that money on large surround speaker setups and just go with a nice 2.1 setup.
 

B00nie

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Stax SRS 4170 is the package of a entry level Stax Lambda series SR-407 and the Stax SRM-006 tube amp, both are not well regarded and that setup is less then $2k, can be had for even less if you buy from Japan. Listen to the SR-009's, SR-Omega 1 and O2 mk1's on a well regarded amp such as the KGSSHV or BHSE and you'd be blown away. As with soundstaging, yes speakers that are carefully setup will always be better in this regards if you like out of the head experience.

I have listened to several stax and other headphone models using different amp setups in high-end expos I've visited. Although the headphones produce otherwise a very nice sound the imaging is the killer. You see I'm a freak for a holographic sound where speakers 'disappear'.

The headphones can never produce a proper sound stage no metter their price if they lack headtracking. And quite frankly if I had to spend thousands for headphones, I'd choose to spend them to upgrade my stereo setup instead. Headphones are uncomfortable to wear for longer periods and you lack the bass thump in your chest that real speakers give you.
 

Sycraft

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So what you're saying is that your friends have shitty headphones and you don't know how to properly set up your games/movies sound settings? :p

I sincerely doubt your 7.1 system would outperform even a cheapish set of cans like the AD700 in an FPS.

Have you ever heard a good surround setup? They are very convincing since, well, they are actually playing sound from positions all around you. Not everyone has a set of cheap speakers.

nest1.jpg
 

rive22

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AMEN. A nice set of headphones are 'awesome' at audio positioning.
Yes

I wonder when movie theaters will wise up and stop wasting all that money on large surround speaker setups and just go with a nice 2.1 setup.

That is crazy. When's the last time you've been to a "good" movie theater? The amazing surround sound is the best part. Sit as close to the center of the theater as you can, middle rows, middle seats, on a good action flick film, and you'll see what I mean. A good theater though on a new released film, not those little rooms they put backburner stuff in. 2.1 in a movie theater, noway.
 

lee0539

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I only use headphones if i need to use microphone or playing a game where headphones give competitive advantage. I have Fidelio X2s and I still prefer to use speakers because I hate having to wear anything I don't have to put on.
 

ZacharyS

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I wonder when movie theaters will wise up and stop wasting all that money on large surround speaker setups and just go with a nice 2.1 setup.

Yes, because when people go to a movie theater their first thought is:

"Man, I'm really glad this theater has excellent audio imaging."

People go to theaters because its a giant screen with giant speakers that are loud as shit, which is something most people just can't have in their home. I'm not denying that speakers are better in many ways, but when it comes to precise positioning in games/movies, I have never heard a set of speakers do better. And also, a simple 2.1 speaker setup is nothing like a proper stereo headphone setup.

When the media is designed with stereo headphones in mind specifically, it is the most accurate sound imaging you can get. There is a difference in speaker stereo and headphone stereo and there are many examples online you can listen to (Look up more youtube videos like this one if you want).
 

itzshadow

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I only use headphones if i need to use microphone or playing a game where headphones give competitive advantage. I have Fidelio X2s and I still prefer to use speakers because I hate having to wear anything I don't have to put on.

Being in the living room it does get a little noisy, so headphones just to drown out the sound is nice
 

Factum

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So what you're saying is that your friends have shitty headphones and you don't know how to properly set up your games/movies sound settings? :p

I sincerely doubt your 7.1 system would outperform even a cheapish set of cans like the AD700 in an FPS.

No, I am just stating the facts.
Perhaps you should look into how our ears and brain work together to create a 3D soundstage...no headphone comes close...no matter how much money you use...it's simple physics.

Even going frrom 5.1 to 7.1 does wonder to the 3D soundstage,

At best I would classify headphone as a little bit below 2.0/2.1 speakerr setup.

But let me guess...you never heard a calibrated 7.1 speaker setup, correct?
(Simple yes/no will suffice)
 

Factum

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Have you ever heard a good surround setup? They are very convincing since, well, they are actually playing sound from positions all around you. Not everyone has a set of cheap speakers.

nest1.jpg

My bet is that he hasn't.
 

ZacharyS

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Yes, I have heard properly calibrated 7.1 systems, and I'm not denying that they sound great and have excellent positioning. What I am saying is that if your media is properly designed and calibrated with a headphone mode it will be just as good if not better than a surround sound system. This article is older, but explains everything pretty well.

Perhaps you should look into how our ears and brain work together to create a 3D soundstage...no headphone comes close...no matter how much money you use...it's simple physics.

Perhaps you should? We have two ears, and with HRTF functions in programming we can simulate how directional sounds are perceived by our ears. Because of the nature of gaming audio (it has to be adaptable and even in 5.1 systems lots of processing is happening anyway to give accurate positions), it isn't that hard to apply HRTF and so when you see a game audio option for specifically headphones (not stereo, but headphones specifically) it is using HRTF to give you full 360 degree surround sound out of your two headphone drivers, and this works very well because they are isolated from each other so it can mimic natural binaural recordings.

And if you have heard a properly recorded binaural track, you would know that any regular surround system couldn't possibly come close.

So again, I am very comfortable standing by my statements. If your media supports a headphone specific mode, there is little reason to believe 7.1 setups offer any advantage for 3d imaging because it simply isn't true. You might prefer your surround system because it is what you're used to, but it is not more accurate.

The other huge advantage is that there is very little setup for a proper surround with headphones, as there are only two isolated drivers. A 7.1 system can sound drastically different from even minor changes to the environment or positioning of the speakers. But even if it is set up perfect, I don't see how you can say it is more accurate.

EDIT: And one thing I forgot, headphones will almost always give better vertical indication, at least in my experience.
 

B00nie

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Headphones (without accurate head tracking) can never provide accurate imaging no matter what gimmick is used due to the simple fact that ears do not do the listening. Brains do. And tests have shown that when people listen to sounds, the brain subconciously makes microscopic head movements in order to give more reference points for positioning the source of the audio.

When there is a mismatch (the headphones move with your head and provide no change for head movements) the illusion of space and audio sources is canceled in the brain. This is actually the biggest flaw of head-fi.
 

Matthew Kane

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Headphones (without accurate head tracking) can never provide accurate imaging no matter what gimmick is used due to the simple fact that ears do not do the listening.

And neither does most speakers. And I've heard auditioned well regarded stuff in the 6 figure range.
 

B00nie

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And neither does most speakers. And I've heard auditioned well regarded stuff in the 6 figure range.

Speakers can do a far better job on it due to them being not attached to your skull. Electrostatic panels in the sweet spot pretty much put you inside the performance if the recording is good.
 

Factum

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Yes, I have heard properly calibrated 7.1 systems, and I'm not denying that they sound great and have excellent positioning. What I am saying is that if your media is properly designed and calibrated with a headphone mode it will be just as good if not better than a surround sound system. This article is older, but explains everything pretty well.



Perhaps you should? We have two ears, and with HRTF functions in programming we can simulate how directional sounds are perceived by our ears. Because of the nature of gaming audio (it has to be adaptable and even in 5.1 systems lots of processing is happening anyway to give accurate positions), it isn't that hard to apply HRTF and so when you see a game audio option for specifically headphones (not stereo, but headphones specifically) it is using HRTF to give you full 360 degree surround sound out of your two headphone drivers, and this works very well because they are isolated from each other so it can mimic natural binaural recordings.

And if you have heard a properly recorded binaural track, you would know that any regular surround system couldn't possibly come close.

So again, I am very comfortable standing by my statements. If your media supports a headphone specific mode, there is little reason to believe 7.1 setups offer any advantage for 3d imaging because it simply isn't true. You might prefer your surround system because it is what you're used to, but it is not more accurate.

The other huge advantage is that there is very little setup for a proper surround with headphones, as there are only two isolated drivers. A 7.1 system can sound drastically different from even minor changes to the environment or positioning of the speakers. But even if it is set up perfect, I don't see how you can say it is more accurate.

EDIT: And one thing I forgot, headphones will almost always give better vertical indication, at least in my experience.

Because one (static) can per ear dosn't give a real 3D soundpicture.
Both the shapes of the ears (different frequencies gets reflected differently, the shape of our ears are not by accident), you do subtle headmovements (just like your eyes does for vision)...it all adds up to being sub par to a real 7.1 setup.

Sound in games today are worse than 10 years ago, 3D soundpicture wise.

You can try and "simulate" all you want too...you will still not reach a true 7.1 setup...it's not complicated...really.
 

Sycraft

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Headphones (without accurate head tracking) can never provide accurate imaging no matter what gimmick is used due to the simple fact that ears do not do the listening. Brains do. And tests have shown that when people listen to sounds, the brain subconciously makes microscopic head movements in order to give more reference points for positioning the source of the audio.

When there is a mismatch (the headphones move with your head and provide no change for head movements) the illusion of space and audio sources is canceled in the brain. This is actually the biggest flaw of head-fi.

Not just head tracking either, but compensation for the shape of the ear. The Realiser A8 is the only device I know of that can really nail it since it takes impulses with microphones in your ears both of the speakers and the headphones, and thus the HRTF convolution is done completely correctly. Amazing setup, but $2900 without headphones, and then it still needs a high end speaker system to capture from.
 

genkifd

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i dont about gaming but for movies surround sound in recorded per channel so each speaker get its own track.

in regards to sound stage headphone are very poor in comparison to speakers and one already mentioned headphones are attached to your head.

Note another thing speakers have over headphone is sound body impact.
 

Matthew Kane

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Speakers can do a far better job on it due to them being not attached to your skull. Electrostatic panels in the sweet spot pretty much put you inside the performance if the recording is good.

Good electrostatic headphones are able to portray exactly that or even better (if you don't mind wearing headphones) for less of the cost of good electrostatic speakers (none of the crappy Martin Logan stuff but true ESL speakers such as Quad ESL 63, the older Acoustats and such).

Don't forget that room treatment and speaker placement is just as important as the speaker itself. You can't randomly place a very expensive and good sounding speaker into a room without proper placement and treatment and expect it to sound good. Good TOTL headphones or earspeakers mitigate that issue completely for the peace of mind for the listener.
 

B00nie

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Good electrostatic headphones are able to portray exactly that or even better (if you don't mind wearing headphones) for less of the cost of good electrostatic speakers (none of the crappy Martin Logan stuff but true ESL speakers such as Quad ESL 63, the older Acoustats and such).

Don't forget that room treatment and speaker placement is just as important as the speaker itself. You can't randomly place a very expensive and good sounding speaker into a room without proper placement and treatment and expect it to sound good. Good TOTL headphones or earspeakers mitigate that issue completely for the peace of mind for the listener.

No, I just explained to you why no headphone electrostatic or not, can not produce a believable soundstage without an added headtracking.

I have been into high-end audio for over two decades now, no need to tell me about room treatments or other very basic forms of setup :) I was measuring speaker positions with a tape measure and checking early reflection points with mirrors already in the 90's lol.
 

Matthew Kane

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No, I just explained to you why no headphone electrostatic or not, can not produce a believable soundstage without an added headtracking.

I have been into high-end audio for over two decades now, no need to tell me about room treatments or other very basic forms of setup :) I was measuring speaker positions with a tape measure and checking early reflection points with mirrors already in the 90's lol.

You haven't even heard what the TOTL stuff has to offer.

2 decades? Sorry been in the audio scene longer than you.
 

M76

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speakers always

headphones are a compromise, preferred by many because they're cheap (compared to good speakers) and they can have them in flats so the neighbour doesn't go nuts.
 

B00nie

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You haven't even heard what the TOTL stuff has to offer.

2 decades? Sorry been in the audio scene longer than you.

If you fail to undesrtand the basic limitation of headphone listening there is no further need to discuss this issue with you.
 

spaceman

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Good electrostatic headphones are able to portray exactly that or even better (if you don't mind wearing headphones) for less of the cost of good electrostatic speakers (none of the crappy Martin Logan stuff but true ESL speakers such as Quad ESL 63, the older Acoustats and such).

Don't forget that room treatment and speaker placement is just as important as the speaker itself. You can't randomly place a very expensive and good sounding speaker into a room without proper placement and treatment and expect it to sound good. Good TOTL headphones or earspeakers mitigate that issue completely for the peace of mind for the listener.

Yup. This is where Stax come in. Best gaming experience I have ever had. I could hear people clear across the map in Battlefield. Infantry running in halls within a building 200 yards away or more. Delicate and dammmmn fast sound with incredible separation.

I like the speakers I have now but I would trade for some old lambda stax and a good amp. Their speed almost felt real. With headtracking they would be realistic sounding.
 
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Matthew Kane

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If you fail to undesrtand the basic limitation of headphone listening there is no further need to discuss this issue with you.

You have zero experience with TOTL headphones, namely electrostatic headphones yet you're trying to educate me on why head-tracking on electrostatic earspeakers can't compete with speakers in general. Please.
 
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