By default, many games support 5.1 surround sound. And probably a lot of people have moved on from 5.1 since the introduction of newer tech like the 7.1 surround sound system, DTS X, and Dolby Atmos.
Most popular games such as Overwatch 2, Valorant, Warzone, and a few other FPS games provide various options to customize the audio design according to what their players want.
For example, Overwatch 2 allows you to set spatial audio from your default settings to Dolby Atmos for Headphones, which can drastically improve your overall sound quality, especially for footsteps of flanking heroes like Sombra, Genji, and even Junkrat’s ult.
But that’s not limited to headphones. If you’re using a 5.1 surround sound system, you can take advantage of the Home Theater preset in the Audio Mix setting, so you’ll have a much better audio quality while playing the game.
There’s also an option to change the audio mix to suit your current audio rig, whether you’re playing on a laptop using headphones, using a standard home theater setup on a console or PC, or currently, on a silent night mode, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from to customize how would you like the game to sound like based on these presets.
Is 5.1 Surround Sound Worth It for Gaming?
Surround sound systems create an atmosphere where playing titles such as God of War, The Last of Us, Battlefield 4, and even RTS games such as Red Alert 3 and Command and Conquer feel more alive than your average gaming session can bring.
It feels more cinematic and it works even in action games that require great focus, like Overwatch 2, Valorant, Call of Duty: Warzone, or Battlefield 4.
But it doesn’t stop there. Single-player games are probably the best use case for having a decent 5.1 surround sound system.
For example, when walking by yourself in the Rattay Woods in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, you’ll hear a bunch of noises coming from birds, critters, and various games.
Having a 5.1 surround sound system on your rig can drastically improve your hunting experience all because you can detect your prey faster than they can see you. Mind you, it still takes skill to kill them.
Having a better sound system doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be downing games left and right, but it sure does give a better advantage at strengthening your overall awareness.
That said, there are still nuances around playing with a 5.1 surround sound system versus just getting a better headphones.
After all, headphones provide the same thing and it’s a lot more compact than a surround sound system, which technically occupies a lot more space in your house and requires some interior planning to have a better and more optimized experience.
Pros and Cons
It can be pretty daunting to have to choose between an actual sound system designed for better audio quality over some cheap yet reliable headphones that can do almost, if not all, the same thing.
Optimized Home Theater setups take advantage of the room through proper insulation, soundproof walls, and room space. You don’t want to get blasted from your right surround speaker because you have an uneven space between you and your speakers.
For games such as Cyberpunk 2077, using a 5.1 or even better, a 7.1 surround sound system, will feel a lot more immersive, which in turn makes the gameplay better.
In most fights, you’ll almost guarantee that you’ll know which camera detected your presence given the audio queues coming from them, which might trigger a gunfight that will probably be to your disadvantage.
To prevent that from happening and not to let your enemies know your position, a surround sound system might help you locate the camera’s audio prompts coming from detecting your presence, which will help you locate the said device and turn it off before it can alert the whole squad of gunmen to come after you.
But the thing is, a 5.1 surround sound system is quite expensive.
This Yamaha brand alone costs more than your average speakers.
When you compare this set to a headphone that pretty much does the same thing, you’ll see that having a 5.1 surround sound system is much, much more expensive than usual.
And to top it off, you’ll still have to buy a separate mic because if you’re playing cooperative and competitive games, there’s no way you’ll be able to communicate with your team using only the built-in microphones from your setup without being drowned by the output sound coming out of your set.
5.1 surround sound systems provide a more riveting and generally better cinematic experience when and only when properly set up.
Because you’ll have five channels, and typically, five physical speakers along with it, you’ll need to take advantage of that.
Make sure that the room you’re putting them in doesn’t ruin the immersion and quality of your systems simply because you have a terrible room design and regular, thin walls in the first place.
Are 5.1 Speakers Worth it for PC?
Are you an avid gamer who likes to play narrative-driven games and competitive games? Are you a casual gamer who likes to play games, but also watches a lot of TV shows and movies?
5.1 speakers are relatively ancient at this point since we have better tech like the 7.1 and DTS X, but they’re still worth it if you’re willing to spend your own money. Titles such as God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last of Us benefit greatly from having a surround sound system.
These games were tailored to have better overall audio and visual design, especially since they’re made for PlayStation 4s, but also because of how the environment was designed for them. And since they’re ported to PC, you’re also going to enjoy them even further.
Open-world titles such as Assassin’s Creed, Witcher 3, Genshin Impact, Watch_Dogs Legion, No Man’s Sky, Warframe, FFXIV, and many more games take advantage of the 5.1 through their world music.
But take note that for competitive games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch 2, or League of Legends, having a headphone generally gives you better chances at winning a tilted ranked match through comms via the mic that comes along with it.
And if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, having a 5.1 surround sound system can turn an excruciating 10-hr long, unskippable cutscene into a bearable one.
Remember, you can buy all the most expensive rigs in the world. But you’ll still be a loser if you suck at the game. But at least you can hear your team lose in the most immersive way possible.