What's best for gaming? A 5.1 or 7.1 speaker set up, or simple headphones? Ultimately, it's a question of preferences, but also money, particularly as Dolby Atmos ramps up its presence across Xbox One and Windows PC.
But which experience is ultimately better? Join us for a look at the pros and cons, from someone who has tested a ridiculous amount of headsets and experience true 7.1 surround with Dolby Atmos.
The best thing about headsets over speakers is the sheer convenience. You don't have to mount speakers to the wall, deal with tons of wires and cable trunking, and a quality headset will generally be cheaper over all. Additionally, headsets are portable, making them great for gaming on different devices, in different rooms, or even on the go.
There are some incredible surround sound headsets out there, both with 7.1 sound and other software surround solutions. The best headsets include large 50mm drivers for multi-channel sound, including the likes of the Elite Pro Tournament from Turtle Beach and the Thresher Ultimate from Razer. Using the Elite Pro Tournament as my go-to headset, I've been able to get kills as a direct result of the accuracy from the positional feedback from its precise surround sound.
Still, wearing headphones, particularly premium ones, can be an isolating experience. You won't be able to hear the outside world very easily without removing the headset, and unless your product has decent mic monitoring voice feedback, you might end up yelling into the microphone accidentally.
And then, there's sound. Even with software solutions that attempt to add a sense of space to the headset soundscape, it never sounds as good or as immersive as a full room-sized 7.1 setup, with multiple speakers. Future headsets, like the LucidSound LS35X, will also come with head tracking to ensure that the sound effects retain positional accuracy even if you move around. Even still, for that true sense of scale, you're going to want speakers.
As noted, 5.1 and 7.1 speaker set ups can become expensive, particularly if you're throwing in wall mounts and that sort of thing, but there are also some great budget options available, and if you're gunning for 5.1 instead of 7.1, you'll make even more savings. There are also quality soundbars that can elevate your gaming experience, without the space and wiring problems associated with multiple speaker setups.
When it comes to price and cost, the sky is well and truly the limit for speaker setups, particularly when you throw in Dolby Atmos, which delivers positional information in true 3D, across every axis. You could place speakers in the ceiling and experience the sounds of helicopters flying over head in Battlefield, or TIE fighters in Star Wars Battlefront. If you're willing to spend the cash, that is.
With speakers, you'll generally enjoy a more spacious sound experience, which, in my opinion can feel more immersive. I experienced Gears of War 4 on the Xbox One X, running in a theatre configured with 16 speakers to deliver a true 3D sound experience, and it was quite frankly incredible. This is an experience you'd sooner expect to experience in your local IMAX theatre, rather than the living room.
Ultimately, it's down to each individual user to decide what's best for them, but I think a combination of both worlds is probably ideal. Modern soundbars can deliver a decent surround experience without speaker mounting, but for the "best" experience, you're probably going to want a proper theatre speaker set up.
Still, speakers lack the versatility of great headsets, which you can use for listening to music while travelling, gaming on the go, or gaming in situations where staying quiet is necessary. They're generally easier and more convenient to deal with, too.
What sound set up do you use with your Xbox One or gaming PC? We'd like to hear from you in the comments below!