For over a decade, stereo VS surround sound has been a hot debate among gamers.

Here at Sentient Audio, we’re going to explain both, including their similarities and differences, and which is a better choice for gaming.

AUDIO 101

STEREO

As you probably know by now, stereo typically uses two (or more) channels on a stereo speaker setup – one channel sent to the L speaker, while the other is sent to the R speaker. This allows the stereo to simulate sound in a multi-directional audible perspective. This applies to headphones, earbuds, IEMS, and gaming headsets.

SURROUND SOUND

Surround sound is achieved by using multiple audio channels from more than two stereo speakers. Such speakers can be positioned around the listener, specifically designed to provide sound coming from all directions. It can also recreate sound coming from above and below you.

The usual surround sound setup is 5.1 and 7.1 for home but some can have as many as 9.2 to 11.2 setup. The typical 5.1 surround sound system which uses 5 stereo speakers (FR+FL, Center, RR+RL) and a subwoofer (the .1 in 5.1). The rule of thumb is: The wider a space is, the greater number of speakers required. See image below for a comparison between setups.

Surround Sound Setup Comparison

Surround sound can also be achieved on headphones, earbuds, IEMs and gaming headsets. Called virtual surround sound, it mimics and simulates multiple speakers into two or more drivers, which are installed on the earcups/earbuds.

GAMING WITH STEREO OR SURROUND SOUND

Now, for the all-important question: Which is good for gaming, STEREO or SURROUND SOUND?

Most of today’s gaming headsets use stereo drivers on both earcups. And so, sound coming from games are simulated according to the audio recording setup. Meaning, it can be surround sound, as well. Right?

The fact is all games today are developed to be played with a 2.0 speaker setup. This is also true with gaming headsets, earbuds and IEMs. We only have two ears and stereo audio is the most accurate way to give you the idea of the sound in-game. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hear 2.0 stereo. In fact, you can enjoy a better sound experience if you get more speakers and sound source to make it surround sound.

Below is a video in which HardwareCanucks YouTube Channel explains and demonstrates the sound difference between 2.0 and 7.1 in-game.

Gaming Headset

Does surround sound – with its many speakers (drivers for headphones) – provide a more realistic and immersive gaming experience compared to the standard 2.0 speakers or stereo headphones? The answer is, yes and no.

Yes, because some headphones, especially those with “virtual surround sound”, can mimic speakers that are virtually positioned around you and with the help of HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function). With this, you have improved pinpoint accuracy where the sound is coming from, as well as the distance of the sound around you. Also, some headphones have better sound quality than your average stereo headset. More about HRTF here.

An example of this is the Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma V2 headset. It has a 7.1 virtual surround sound with two large 50mm drivers on a stereo headphone.

Meanwhile, normal stereo headphones can also achieve this surround sound experience with the help of software like the Razer Synapse (available for FREE) and the Windows Sonic for Headphones. These software help your stereo headphones produce simulated surround sound. But don’t expect it to significantly boost sound quality, because this will depend on the quality of the stereo headset. Additionally, HRTF can be enabled even in a 2.0 stereo headset and in some games like CS:GO, APEX Legends, Overwatch and PUBG, just to name a few.

Here is a short video from Razer explaining how virtual surround sound is good for gaming. And by using their software your stereo headset will sound like as if you have a 5.1 surround sound speaker.

 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, you don’t really need to splurge on high-end surround sound gaming headset to get that immersive gaming experience you want. For many gamers, a good pair of stereo headphones, coupled with surround sound simulation software, is enough to give their overall gaming experience that extra oomph.

But if you’re the heavy-duty type who’s adamant about getting the best surround sound experience, you can go ahead and set up a 7.1 surround sound system, or buy yourself a nice pair of gaming headphones with 7.1 true surround sound. Check out Razer Tiamat V2 while you’re at it!

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