Budgetgamer’s Guide to Audio – Part 2

by

by Warren Ferguson

In our previous guide we looked at alternatives to surround sound. This time we’re looking at going the whole nine yards. Surround sound for your console is not out of your reach, with this guide we can take a look at how you can afford to step into the world of surround sound.

Firstly, you should look at the type of surround sound your console supports.

The Nintendo Wii uses Dolby Pro-Logic II, which technically isn’t surround sound. It still uses a stereo signal and tries to simulate surround sound and it does a pretty decent job.

Both the XBOX 360 and the Playstation 3 use Dolby Digital which means that the sound signal consists of 6 channels. 2 Front, 2 rear, 1 centre and a low frequency channel. 6 channels, 6 speakers giving you sound that not only surrounds you, but also gives you a good sense of where things are resulting in a gaming experience like none other.

The PS3 also supports DTS (Digital Theatre Surround). It’s really another surround format which many will argue is superior to Dolby Digital. Most modern Dolby Digital receivers will also support DTS, but if it’s DTS you’re looking for, it always helps to read the box. The logos for both are usually clearly displayed.

A Typical Dolby Digital Setup

A Typical Dolby Digital Setup

The Basics

You will need a Dolby Digital receiver. This is the heart of what we are looking at and of course is why I am writing this guide, you will also require this cable in the picture, it is called a TOSLink/Optical cable and it plugs between your console and the receiver, it should come with your speaker system but if it doesn’t, ask at your local audio/visual shop for it.

TOSLINK/Optical cable

TOSLINK/Optical cable

Look on the back of the consoles for the optical port that matches the pictures below, it is a smallish square plug. The cable itself is a little more rigid then your normal cables as it is optical so be gentle with it.

XBOX 360 Optical Port

XBOX 360 Optical Port

Playstation 3 Optical Port

Playstation 3 Optical Port

If you have a XBOX 360 Arcade, you’ll notice that the AV Connector does NOT have an optical port. You’re unfortuntely going to have to fork out R350 to R400 for an HD-AV cable or VGA cable in order to enjoy surround sound.

Headphones

This is by far the cheapest you will find for your move to 5.1. You can use the normal PC surround headsets and a pair should cost you around R1000.

If you’re an XBOX 360 owner who makes use of XBOX Live then this is a little complicated as you’ll require the use of your mic. I’ve only really found one solution in SA that handles both the 5.1 side and having the mic, this is the Triton AX360 Dolby Digital 5.1 Gaming Headset, which sells for just under R1500.

Triton AX360 Gaming Headset

Triton AX360 Gaming Headset

These headsets will give you true Dolby Digital sound via 4 speakers in each cup, both of these will also work on the Wii but only via Pro-logic II. There are many 5.1 headphones available out there but please remember you are looking for one that is Dolby Digital certified as otherwise you are going to be compromising on your sound.

The advantages to headphones is size and of course not blasting your neighbours away. The disadvantages in the case of 5.1 is cables, there are going to be a lot of cables to plug in and they require power.

Also, using headphones for long periods of time can leave you feeling tired and not wanting to play anymore.

PC Speakers

Yes, we advised you too look at them for our previous guide and I’m going to be advising it too. There are many great PC Speaker systems out there that offer 5.1, even a few at a decent price that offer Dolby Digital which is what we are looking for. The only limitation in the PC speaker field is your pocket, I personally have gotten myself a set of Creative GD580s. This set was not too pricey (approx R2000 depending on the shop you go to) it came with all the cables required, a really good sub-woofer, the satellites were a little disappointing but with time I got used to them. The other issue was the length of the rear speakers cables, coming in at 2 meters they were just too short, so I purchased another set of 2 meter long RCA cables, used a female to female jack and connected the back speakers to that, thus extending the speakers range.

Creative GD580

Creative GD580

There are also the Logitech Z series of speakers to look at, the wireless set being the Z5450s sits at around R2800 and the Z5500, which are highly rated, sits at around R3500.

Logitech Z5500

Logitech Z5500

There are also some fairly decent offerings from a company called Divoom which is around R1500 to R2000 depending on the feature set, look at the Comet-A1 of this make.

As with everything there are some pros and cons with regards to getting PC Speakers, the main pro is that the sound can be enjoyed by everyone, if correctly setup, you will experience a rich crystal clear sound.

The con is, of course that it can get loud, so your neighbours may not appreciate it as much as you do. You require space and will likely end up with cables running the length of your floors, easy to trip over if you don’t hide your cable nicely.

Also, with PC speakers, the number of inputs is usually substantially less when compared to home theatre systems, it’s not neccessarily a bad thing, it really just depends on how many devices you want to connect to your receiver.

The Creative set i mentioned earlier has 3 inputs, Co-axial, Optical and standard RCA, each one of these has already been filled, my DVD player outputs via the Co-axial which is another form of cable that you can use to output Dolby Digital, my Xbox 360 uses the optical and my DSTV Decoder goes through the normal RCA.

Home Theatre Systems

A home theatre system is similar to the PC speaker sets I’ve mentioned, the big difference is that the amp and the receiver is usually the same device. With the PC speakers, the amp is usually hidden in the sub-woofer and the receiver is a smaller device. These usually have higher outputs and are hence more expensive.

Having a dedicated receiver will also give you more inputs that your typical PC setup and as they are intended for bigger rooms, the rear speaker cables are actually long enough.

They are however, a little pricier, with home theatre sets starting at around R3000. Generally speaking, because the receiver has more features the speakers are smaller when compared to a PC speaker set in the same price range (like the Logitech Z5500), but you can always upgrade the speakers later.

There are many entry level Home Theatre systems from Sony, Panasonic and LG.

The big thing to beware of are the cheaper Home Theatre systems (going for around R1500). These are usually just a DVD player with 6 speakers, where the DVD player does the processing. Always make sure that the set you buy has an optical input port. Yes, they do Dolby Digtal processing, but only for the DVDs, they aren’t equipped to accept a Dolby Digital signal from another device (i.e your console).

Sony DDW880 6.1 Home Theatre System

Sony DDW880 6.1 Home Theatre System

I switched over to true 5.1 and I was blown away, being able to hear the enemies all around you, thunderstorms that sound and feel real, and of course gun fire and explosions all around you. It really is immersion. My advice for the budget gamer is too look at getting a decent set of PC speakers and get your console working on that, as you will not be disappointed.

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8 Responses to “Budgetgamer’s Guide to Audio – Part 2”

  1. cannis@budgetgamer.co.za Says:

    The Xbox actually also uses DTS, but this is only over HDMI while the PS3 uses it over both optical and HDMI. To be perfectly honest the only real difference I’ve heard between DTS and DD is that DTS is louder on most DVDs. The sound clarity and quality is the same.
    Games I cannot tell the difference at all.

  2. bulla Says:

    Great follow up on the ‘sound issue’.
    Home theatre is the only way for me, especially since its a lot cheaper than before. I got a 5.2 Sony system (yes 2 subs are definately better than one) for only R2499 at Makro.
    The 6.2 looks amazing though, but probably is overkill.

  3. cannis@budgetgamer.co.za Says:

    Depends hey, back in the day they were probably thinking 5.1 was overkill now look at us 😀

  4. milez_away@budgetgamer Says:

    2 subs is overkill. Especially with most of the cheaper home theatres where they give you overpowered subs and and weak satelites.

    However, 2 subs does look all nice and symmetrical, so i’d say that the 5.2 and 6.2 sets are more for aesthetics than function 🙂

  5. 2Three Says:

    A great guide to the world of surround sound. I could have used this last year when I purchased my HD TV. I basically picked up the system that they bundled with the TV as a special without really knowing much about what I was buying, other than the fact I was getting a 42″ 1080p TV with a surround sound system thrown in for a decent price. It’s definitely a whole new experience playing games in surround sound and there’s no going back… it’s so much better.

  6. shane Says:

    Where can I find a connector that will change the digital input into an analogue one? I’ve looked online and found a few that can give me a stereo setup, but ideally I’d like it to be 5.1, as my current set up can only take an analogue input. Can anyone give me a site or a product name? and maybe the price range I’m looking at…

  7. milez_away@budgetgamer Says:

    I’ve never tried it, but i did a quick search and apparently you do get a Coaxial (analogue) to Digital/Optical converter.

    http://www.jump.co.za/product/coaxial-rca-to-optical-toslink-digital-audio-converter-11365659.htm

    It’s about R300. And local AV specialists stock it.

  8. Jere Lasko Says:

    I know this really is actually boring and you might be skipping on the next comment, but I just wanted to throw you a big thanks – you cleared up some things for me!

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