Stereo vs Surround Headphones for Gaming: Which Are Better?

Having the right gaming setup means far more than choosing the right rig or console for you. There are plenty of accessories and external devices that not only enhance the overall experience but which have also become somewhat necessary in their own rights if you want to be fully immersed.

Gaming chairs aside, to complete your gaming setup, you will have to go the extra mile in choosing the right equipment to suit your needs (and wallet). This could mean purchasing a better monitor, a different keyboard, or otherwise upgrading your gaming rig completely.

All of these things will enhance the experience in some way, but it can be easy to overlook the sound system you use, despite it being instrumental in providing the most immersive experience possible. To this end, we have decided to guide you in your purchase of a better sound system. We will highlight some of the many things you will need to consider – including, most notably, the choice between surround sound and stereo.

So without further ado, stereo vs surround for gaming: Which one is better? Let’s find out!

Stereo Headphones

Stereo headphones are pretty much your standard-entry headphones, the ones you would be able to pick up at any electronics store and get a decent amount of mileage with them before their quality begins to falter. Just because they are “basic”, however, certainly does not mean that they are of low quality.

Obviously, you will probably get a whole lot more out of a premium brand-name set of stereo headphones, but in terms of quality, there is not a whole lot of room for the sound to be inconsistent between different devices.

Many of your cheaper stereo headphones will pretty much only be able to utilize the left and right audio channels, but more advanced designs are able to make full use of different sound frequencies. In fact, the sound quality can often seem far better with a pair of stereo headphones instead of speakers.

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Additionally, most gaming stereo headsets you come across will include a mic. Still, if you truly value the quality of your sound, we would recommend getting a pair of music headphones instead and simply purchasing a mic add-on.

Surround Sound Headphones

While there is nothing wrong with using a set of stereo headphones, most people will agree that surround sound offers a far more dynamic range of audio frequencies and leads to a more immersive experience overall. But because of their complexity, most surround sound headphones you come across will probably be more than a little pricey. Luckily, you do not need to go the whole nine yards immediately, thanks to a budget-friendly alternative to surround sound.

Virtual Surround Sound

Virtual surround sound uses several advanced engineering techniques and technologies to essentially trick your brain into believing that sound is being heard from more than two directions, as with stereo headphones.

However, this is a relatively new practice, and many companies are currently competing for the “best” way to accomplish this. Still, they all pretty much boil down to the same thing.

To illustrate this process, imagine that someone to your left is speaking to you. You will hear the sound immediately in your left ear, but also in your right ear, softer, and at a near-imperceivable delay. Most sound systems will take this into account, even stereo headphones, which use alternating volumes to convey this effect.

Virtual surround sound takes this even further, however, by delaying the sound in the “off” ear – among other ingenious processing tricks – sometimes to such a degree that it is possible to pinpoint the source of the sound. In general, you will perceive sound as coming from multiple directions at once, not just two.

As we have said before, because this is a burgeoning new tactic, many companies are competing to find the best method of creating virtual surround sound. As such, we are unable to fully illustrate or explain the exact methods. You will simply have to trust your headphone developer.

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True 5.1 Surround Sound

As the name implies, these headphones use five different audio output channels in each ear to help simulate the multiple directions in which sound tends to travel. They also typically feature a subwoofer for lower bass frequencies.

These headphones are ideal for a truly immersive gaming experience. They can give players a better idea of the source of a particular sound, which not only enhances the immersion but can also help in improving reaction time without ever having to actually see the threat itself.

Physically, the different drivers correspond to the five different channels, five for each ear, plus the subwoofer. These channels include a center channel, front-left and front-right channels, and rear-left and rear-right channels.

Most video games will offer their experience in surround sound, and so will movies.

Which One Should You Choose?

True surround sound is objectively the better choice between the two, but it is not everything. Even now, 7.1 surround sound is on the rise, but it is not quite there yet.

Honestly, if you are working on a budget, stereo headphones will serve you just fine until you can afford surround sound. In fact, many professional players still use stereo headphones, so there is clearly nothing wrong with them.

For immersion, you cannot get much better than true surround sound, but if you just need something to help keep you engaged in those intense multiplayer matches, then stereo will be just fine.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the differences between stereo and surround sound headphones for gaming, you need to know what to look for. Be careful not to overlook your choice of headphones when deciding between these, as it can really affect your gaming experience for better or for worse.

Remember to also consider your microphone along with the exact specifications of your headphones. With the right sound setup, you will not be able to help but become fully immersed in your gaming experience.


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