Ah yes, surround sound. The one feature (except for graphics of course) that has made the biggest leap in terms of technology in gaming in recent. Just like in feature films, a game’s sound (if done right) is just as, if not more so immersive than than the visuals you see on the screen. Just like the HDTV buying guide that came before this, I’ve created a list of what to look for, but with more specific models and answer to address almost any gamer budget. From the broke bastards to the guys with fat pockets. I’ve got you all covered. I’ll even throw in a wild card, a gaming headset for when you can’t use your surround sound setup (or too cheap to buy an actual one). Check out the complete list below.
The Astro A40 Headset.
If you want surround sound, and don’t care about sharing it with anyone else, it is time to invest into this headset. The price may be a bit steep, especially for a pair of headphones but you will not be disappointed. I am sure you’ve all seen Turtle Beach head sets for about a $100 bucks, and after seeing that the price of these doesn’t look to appealing, but I must say that these are worth every single penny. The A40 comes with a dedicated powered mix amp that will allow you to connect to the PC, 360, and the PS3. All with the ability to tune the audio levels (in game chat or surround sound) on the fly. The mix amp also allows you to plug in virtually any MP3 player with a 3.5 millimeter jack for custom music while gaming. It also supports “daisy chaining” multiple amps, in order to have dedicated chat lines while playing in a LAN. The A40’s support Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround. They’re definitely not the cheapest, but definitely the best surround sound for gaming you get for $250. Period.
Home Theater In a Box.
I consider these (to some) a gateway drug. You might have some good trips and some bad, but in the end they only leave you wanting more. I too started with one of these systems, and then I grew up and grew wiser. Not a bad starting off point by any means, because as I said most start here.
One main critique I have to say about the HTIB category that I didn’t include in this list, are the ones with dedicated Disc players. They never have enough inputs, and once one piece is messed up the entire system usually goes to shit due to proprietary connectors. The winner in this category for price as well as function is the:
Yamaha – YHT-391BL – 600W 5.1-Ch. Home Theater System
I chose this because it is one of the cheapest HTIB that offers a powered (non-disc playing) dedicated amp. It has HDMI inputs and outputs to relay the video signal to your TV. Although, I must point out that it does not decode the audia VIA the HDMI cable. To do this you will still need a toslink (optical) or Coaxial wire. It does however support both Dolby Digital and DTS over either the toslink or coaxial inputs, which at this price range, is the biggest feature you’re looking for.
For the everyday guy, or someone who’s begun to really understand surround sound and wants to start getting serious about their purchases it’s time to upgrade to buying separate components. Forget about Home Theater In a Box, no this is when you make sure everything you buy comes in a box all of it’s own. However at this stage I must say that it is still possible to buy good/great speakers in bundles. Here are a few of my favorite receivers to take a serious look at when hitting this pivotal step. All of which include HDMI 1.3a connectivity (some more than others), plenty of inputs, and all of the major Blu-Ray/HDDVD audio codecs (i.e. Dolby Digital True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-Master Audio, DTS-High Resolution Audio).
First at around $300 we have the Pioneer VSX819-H-K. Followed by the 90 watt per channel, year-after-year best seller the Onkyo TX-SR607 which retails around $500. And for around 6 benjamins ($600) we have the 1080p upscaling monster known as the Yamaha RX-V765, with 95 watts per channel, this amp is sure to rock your socks. These three amps are more than enough for the average living room and/or gaming space. If the room where you’re planing to have your setup isn’t bigger than 18x18ft anything more than what these three amps already offer would be overkill. Trust me. Spend the money you save on great speakers to make up the difference. Those crappy HTIB systems, that have dedicated DVD/Blu-Ray players always advertise as being 1,000 watt systems, but that isn’t 100% true. 85-95 watts per channel systems are more than enough for any small to medium sized room.
For The Gamer That Has It All…
except for a kick ass surround sound setup, we have the following. ***Warning the following list (if you can afford anything on it) will make you incredibly happy and might cause a decline in skin pigmentation as you will most likely live in your new media room and never see the light of day.*** Glad I got that out of the way. The following 3 receivers are in my opinion the Creme De La Creme. They all have features you wlll probably never use, but you paid for it so it’s nice to know they are there. Some of these features include but are not limited to: full color LCD screen on the receiver, 8 HDMI connections, forgot about multizone audio that’s for suckers, no now it’s all about multidisplays. Excessive? Yes, but if you can afford it-who cares?
The Receivers in this category are serious, how serious are we talking? Well to put things into perspective, the cheapest one is the Onkyo TX-NR5007 at around $2,5oo bucks. Next up is the always excessive Pioneer SC-09TX, with it’s full color LCD screen and $4,600 price tag, this isn’t your daddy’s receiver. And finally, the biggest and baddest receiver on the list is none other than the Denon AVP-A1HDCI(A): Ultra-Reference 12 Channel A/V Home Theater/MultiMedia Preamplifier with Network Streaming and Wi-Fi. Sorry had to write out the whole name to show how serious it actually is. Just look at the inputs below, and try not to think to yourself “who the hell has this many things to connect?” Well I sure as hell don’t, but If i had the money to buy this I’d definitely find something for each and everyone!
As far as speakers go there are so many different brands and tiers (sizes and price ranges) that I just can’t break them all down. A few notables I will mention are: (from low to high, in price and quality) Polk Audio, Orb Audio, Klipsh, Kef, Definitive Technology, and the super expensive Martin Logan. Subwoofers should also be purchased separate although there are companies like Klipsh, and Definitive Technology who make excellent subs in their own right, the company that takes the cake (ask any real home theater enthusiast) has to be HSU.
Well there you have it. I hope that any of you that have been on the fence about buying a surround sound setup for gaming have now been swayed to the dark side. Just be warned that like any other drug, when done without moderation this habit can get both addicting and expensive. If any readers want to show off your own setup, let’s see what you’ve got in the comments section!