Budgetgamer’s Guide to Audio – Part 1

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by Milesh Bhana

Next-gen gaming is surrounded by a cloud of buzz words, HD, Dolby Digital etc.. but what does it all mean? Well, we’ll get into that in a moment but essentially it means a more immersive gaming experience. Don’t be afraid of them and don’t rush out and buy every thing the salesmen tell you that you will need. Let’s start with the basics: Audio, sure having a fancy picture is great but a good audio setup can really enhance your gaming (and movie watching) without costing an arm and a leg.

The recommended setup is Dolby Digital, often referred to surround sound. (Don’t get mistaken though, as Dolby Digital is one of a few “surround sound” setups). A Dolby Digital setup consists of, a Dolby Digital processor (usually contained in the amp), 5 speakers and 1 sub. It essentially gives you the following benefits:

  1. Positional Audio
  2. Better sound quality

Obviously, the added boom from the sub really helps with there “there like a bear” feeling in action games.

A Dolby Digital setup is definitely a nice to have? But do you really need it? The short answer is no, it’s not really necessary. Here are some suggestions on what you can do on a limited budget. They are what one could call, acceptable ways of “faking it”.

(If you do have your heart set on a Dolby Digital setup, then watch this space. Part II of this guide will look at budget Dolby Digital solutions).

In this article, we’ll be looking at the alternatives to surround sound. Most of what I’ll be saying is fairly obvious, but easily overlooked. It really looks at trying to satisfy the two main benefits at the lowest possible cost. The most important bit of advice I can give is :

Stereo sound will do the job!

The problem with most TVs is that they will accept a stereo signal, but the speakers are actually mono. Even if the TV has 2 speakers, it’s not effective because the speakers are too close together which loses the stereo effect. TV speakers (especially flat panel screens) tend to distort at high volume. You will satisfy both needs by getting some kind of stereo system.

Solution #1 : Headphones

The most effective stereo system is a good pair of headphones.

There are some drawbacks to using headphones; they only work if you game alone and if you’re not already wearing a communication headset while playing on-line. You will at least not disturb anyone during those late night gaming sessions.

Connecting a set of headphones to your console poses a minor problem. Remember: Most TVs having headphone jacks so just plug your headphones into the TV and you’re sorted.

When choosing a set of headphones, try to find a set with a long cable (6m should do the trick). Failing that, your local audio specialist will be able to provide you with a headphone extension cable.

You can also consider wireless headphones, but these can get pricey. Budget wireless sets are very often mono; avoid these or you’ll lose the intended effect.

Solution #2 : Stereo Hi-Fi

Mini Hi-Fis are pretty easy to find and cheap. You’ll also get the added bonus of having it come with a CD player and a radio. However, you need to find one with an Auxiliary In port, or you’ll not be able to connect to the hi-fi.

The best thing to do here is check out your local Hi-Fi Corporation and maybe take your favourite CD with and test the system (and don’t forget to look for the Aux-in port). Crank it up and make sure the speakers don’t distort.

When you set it up, try and place the 2 speakers a reasonable distance apart. You’ll hear the difference immediately. Try playing a first person shooter and see if you can hear where the sounds are coming from and adjust accordingly.

Many others have upgraded to surround sound and you’ll find plenty of these Mini Hi-FI sets at your local Cash Crusaders.

Solution #3 :PC Speakers

PC speakers are also a good option. You’ll find many 2.1 (i.e 2 speakers + 1 sub-woofer) sets available. The real advantage of PC speakers vs Hi-Fis is that because you’re not paying for the CD/Radio, you get better speakers for the same price. Also, seeing that many of these sets have dedicated sub-woofers, you’ll often get much better bass out of these sets.

Again, there’s the issue of how to connect these to your console. The answer is the same as with the headphones; use the headphone jack on your TV.

Also, play around with the speaker placement until you’re happy with the result.

Creative SBS 2.1 370

Creative SBS 2.1 370

I actually used this solution with the Creative SBS 2.1 – 370 set (around R300), but this particular set has been discontinued. Similar alternatives exist at the same price bracket. I’ve seen a 2.1 set go for as little as R60, but can’t really vouch for the quality of a set like this. It really does show how affordable these sets can be if you look around a little bit.

No headphone jack ?

You will have noticed that 2 out 3 of the solutions provided assume that your TV has a headphone jack. If you’re using a PC monitor, you’re probably wondering if these solutions can still be applied. They can. Converters are available to the stereo RCAs that come with your console to a headphone jack input. However, these converters are rare (I was not able to find one, but a good audio/electronics shop can make one for you).

An easier way to do this is to combine two other more easily available adapters to get the same effect.

1) Connect your console to a “Stereo RCA female to 3.5mm male” cable

Stereo RCA female to 3.5mm male.

Stereo RCA female to 3.5mm male.

2) Connect the first cable to one of these (3.5mm female to female adaptor)

3.5mm Female to Female

3.5mm Female to Female

3) Connect the headphones/PC speakers to the other side.

The two components shown above should set you back around R40.

So there you have it, 3 simple solutions to get a similar effect with standard stereo speakers. Depending on the solution you choose, this can easily be done for under R500. Split the speakers, add some thump and your gaming experience will improve dramatically.

If you do it well enough, you may even get complaints from your neighbours.

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16 Responses to “Budgetgamer’s Guide to Audio – Part 1”

  1. CattleBruiser Says:

    Nice guide Miles!

  2. Hennie Louw Says:

    Great guide miles.

    But I’d like to add to the headphones that their is a very affordable pair of headphones available at Hi-Fi Corp.
    Namely the Philips Wireless Headphone SBCHC210 (http://www.p4c.philips.com/cgi-bin/dcbint/cpindex.pl?ctn=SBCHC210/00&scy=za&slg=ENG).

    These are selling for approx R230 – R270 for a pair and have very good sound reproduction for their price. Of course they are IR Wireless phones, which does mean that you need clear line of sight, but it’s not like you’ll be sitting in the next room while gaming. ;-p

    Added bonus, the come with a pair of Philips rechargeable batteries which can be charged in the phones while they are not being used.

  3. Hennie Louw Says:

    A small tip for every one which has been having trouble getting a hold of a 3.5mm Female to Female jack.

    If you are within the Johannes burg area, you can go past a store call Zaks Speed in Woodmeat. I found tons of these buggers there when no one else could help.

  4. milez_away@budgetgamer Says:

    I actually forgot to mention this. I didn’t need the funky cable as i used a set of PC speakers on a TV with a headphone jack.

    I actually got the cabling advice from the guys at Zakspeed in Woodmead (they have branches nationwide) So check them out if you’re having trouble finding the uncommon AV cables/adaptors.

  5. CattleBruiser Says:

    I got that 3.5mm female to female jack from The Digital Experience in Fourways Crossing, set me back a whopping R10.

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