I want real 5.1 sound in my games, what should I buy?

Caveat: I’m not going nforce. I don’t want to buy a new mobo & proc.

I hear that despite never updating drivers, the Audigy 2 series are pretty good. I don’t care about anything but high quality 5.1 or better sound in games. So what should I buy?


EDIT: Oh and I just realized it’s not clear - I’m in the market for a new sound card and speakers.


Never had a problem with my Audigy 2 (other than the occasional game that has wonky 3D sound support – not the Audigy’s fault). Fantastic sounding card.

Does it have honest to god 5.1 support? I’ve got some guy in a chat screeching about how it only does 2.1 support unless the application encodes it which basically means only DVDs (ie no 5.1 in games). I think he’s blowing smoke up my ass because he’s an nvidia fanboy but I wanted to get some other opinions.


Yep, true 7.1 sound support, it’ll even simulate 3D sound from two-channel stuff with the EAX support. There’s better support for Audigy 3D sound than the Nvidia stuff, actually. I hate fanboys.

For speakers, Klipsch rules. High-end Logitechs are good as well. Boston Acoustics used to be the bargain deal in great-sounding 5.1 setups, but they dropped out of the PC market. I’m not a big fan of most of the Cambridge stuff I’ve seen. If you have lots of room and are flush with cash, though, forget the PC speakers and get an Onkyo HT770 6.1 “Home Theater in a Box” system. You can find it for about $450 with a $50 rebate and it’ll blow away any PC speakers. :)

I am very happy with my Audigy 2 ZS. It supports up to 7.1 surround speaker systems and seems to work well with the very latest drivers.

I think one of you is misunderstanding.

If the developers of a game don’t add 5.1 audio support, then it’s just not going to have 5.1 audio support.

One would not blame a stereo manufacturer for not hearing sound from a mono recording. Why blame sound card manufacturers for not hearing 5.1 sound from a stereo recording?

If you are a gamer, it’s important to pick up some flavor of Creative Audigy if you want 5.1 support in some games. Design constraints, programmer laziness, whatever the reason, certain games only activate the multi-speaker sound if they detect EAX 3.0, which is a Creative Labs technology present in the Audigy.

I know this from experience with onboard 5.1 sound. Half the games would give me wonderful surround sound. The other half wouldn’t let me activate it in their Setup screens.

All that went away when I got an Audigy 2 ZS, and now all 5.1-capable games give me 5.1.

It should be noted that a good sound card, especially an Audigy or Audigy 2, will DRASTICALLY lower the CPU utilization of 3D sound. When a game tries to play 32 sounds at once, it can really put a strain on those AC’97 codecs, which use the host CPU for everything. Sometimes that alone will eat up 15 or 20% of your CPU time. Compare that to less than 5% on an Audigy.

Also, if you get good speakers (Logitech offers the best bang for the buck, IMHO), sound quality starts to matter. Most motherboard manufacturers don’t seperate the ground plane well or properly isolate the audio circuitry, so you get a real-world signal to noise ratio of something like 80dB. BLEH! A good sound card, provided you don’t have other weird interference in your case or something, will get you over 90 (and it’s a logarithmic scale, so that’s a huge improvement).

My personal recommendation for PC 5.1 sound:

  • Audigy 2 (any flavor, get whatever is cheap)
  • Logitech Z-680 speakers (if you want to spend more… list price is $400 but you can find them for way less)
  • Logitech Z-5300 (if you want to spend less… list is $200, but again, easy to find a good deal)

Oh, and while you’re doing the audio upgrade thing, it might be worth picking up a decent headset (Logitech and Sennheiser high-end PC headsets are both excellent). You know, for those voice-chat online games, teamspeak, stuff like that. I find myself using that more and more as time goes on.

Just to contradict Jason, I’d recommend the Creative Gigaworks (either the 5.1’s or 7.1’s, depending on how many satellites you want to fool with).

Of course, what I really want is the Gigaworks Sub, plus six Paradigm Atom sats and a CC-170 surround.


If you really want high quality, go with the traditional home theatre setup, not the home theater in a box deal. I mean picking up separate components and running a cord from your computer to the receiver. That’s the way I went. Costs a bit over a grand for a decent true 5.1 set up, but worth it if you also like watching DVDs on your television.

I have these speakers, and while they’re great sounding, they’re also ridiculously powerful, especially the subwoofer, so let the buyer beware. In hindsight, I regret buying them because I live in a small flat and I’m getting complaints from the neighbours. If I were choosing again, I’d probably go for the Z-5300s. However, the Z-680s work wonderfully with the Dolby Digital output of my motherboard (Asus A7N8X Deluxe PCB rev 2.0).

Sam, there’s this device called a “volume knob” that you might want to engage from time to time. :D

On the subject, what exactly is the difference between the Audigy 1 and 2 series?

I currently have a vanilla Audigy 1 card and am wondering if I am missing out on any aural features that most current games support. Also, what is the difference between EAX 2.0 and 3.0? I see this choice given quite a bit in most games these days, but I’m not certain exactly which I could support. (EAX Enhanced HD is one of them?) Bah…too many buzzwords!

Oh and I can second the 5.1 Gigaworks recommendation myself. Though the other options are possibly more fruitful, this system is pretty damned powerful in its own right.

Thx for the replies.

I’ve already got a genuine home theater setup - but it’s in my theater room and moving the PC in there isn’t an option. LIkewise I don’t want to spend a grand on speakers for the PC. Just isn’t that high a priority…

I’ve heard great things about the Klipsch speakers, how are the Creative Gigaworks compared to them? The 7.1 is tempting but I have to wonder if I really need that for playing video games. 5.1 would probably be enough.

Are those fancy front panels that the Creative cards come with for an extra 100 bucks worth it at all? I can’t see myself ever using most of the functionality…


I use the front panel mainly to provide headphone output. Without the front panel, you have to reach around the back of your computer and swap the front speaker jack with your headphone jack.

I’m awake at nights, so having convenient access to the headphone jack was very important to me. In, out, in out? Screw that. The convenience was worth the $100 I paid for the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum back in May (Circuit city had a $100 mail-in rebate for it).

The main differences between Audigy2 and Audigy are:
[ul]6.1 v.s 5.1 sound channels
24-bit vs. 16-bit recording
DVD-Audio support vs. no DVD-Audio support[/ul]

The useful differences between Audigy 2 ZS and Audigy 2 are:
[ul] 7.1 vs 6.1 sound channels

So, if neither of those interest you, you don’t need the ZS model.

What’s the trend in gaming these days? Do most big new releases have 5.1? Do any have 7.1, or is that a more exclusive feature reserved for tie-ins with particular manufactures for card X with game Y? What’s the mainstream penetration for 5.1 and up sound in the actual games?

Most A-list titles ship with 5.1 support. A much smaller subset supports 6.1. I don’t recall seeing any 7.1 options in any games.

I want real 5.1 sound in my games, what should I buy?

An Xbox.

7.1 is simply a mirror of the surround back channel (6.1). This is to create a more stable sound stage from the rear, as with only a single speaker in the rear, depending on your setup, the sound stage can really start to collapse in on itself and negate that rear speaker something awful.

I have both. The Z-680 in my living room for watching movies and the others in my office for playing games. I prefer them to the Gigaworks - they’re also better looking (which matters in the living room).
As THX certified sets go, they outperform most complete sorround sets sold in stores (ie sold in television stores). You really have to go the 1K or above hi-fi route to get a better set of sorround speakers.

While we’re at the subject. Does anybody have any experience with sorround headphones?

I’m using Sennheiser HD 457 for surround headphones. I think it was about $50 or less when I bought it around a year and a half ago. Pretty decent.