Music to your 5.1 ears

How can one little cable bring so much ear-bursting happiness?

Like most film nuts, I always watch my DVDs via a big screen and through surround sound system. The picture is impressive, but what makes any film truly come alive is 5.1. Everything is so much clearer and awe inspiring with surround sound, from the little SFX that twinkle around the room, to the clear speech and rip-roaring explosions. Surround sound just makes films come alive.

So what I’ve always wanted to do is link-up my surround sound amp and Xbox 360, and hear some of the games in glorious 5.1. But frustratingly, the 360 has no optical output, so I can’t connect and enjoy some ear-bashing goodness. Curse you Microsoft cheap-scats!

But this technical shortcoming hasn’t been a major issue for me. I’ve always used the standard TV speakers, or if necessary slapped-on a pair of headphones. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do, and you’d be surprised at how well a pair of headphones can deliver. But recently I brought a PS3 – which has an optical output – and gave that a blast around the system. The results were fantastic. Well, I say fantastic, I’ve only got the one game at present (Resistance: Fall of Man), but it gave me a taste of what surround sound could do for a game, and vice-versa. So, I dived face-first into the web, and went in search of a way to get surround sound out of an Xbox 360.

Disappointingly, this isn’t going to be an epic tale of one mans enlightening experience of self discovery, filled with struggle, pain, adventure and torment. After a couple of brief clicks of a mouse and a sip of Ovaltine, I found a suitable cable on Amazon. No intricate technical operation was need, no expensive parts, not even a new console. Nope, just £12.99 and two days in the post. Why didn’t I do this 4 years ago?

Anyway, I plugged in the new cable, grabbed a copy of Half-Life 2 (any excuse to play this masterpiece again!) and cracked the amp up to eleven. I had barley been playing a few seconds when the G Man’s eerie tones came blasting through the speakers. God knows what the neighbours thought, as “rise and…shine, Mr. Free..man…rise-and …shine” bellowed from all around. Then I gave GTA4 a blast, and chuckled as an old lady gave me an ear bashing via the rear speaker, as she cartwheeled through the air to a pointless death. Next came Batman: Arkham Asylum, with Mark Hamill’s Joker never sounding better; and The Beatles Rock Band, transforming the Fab Four’s music into something spectacular. Then I gave Gears of War 2 a run-through. I may never hear again….

When playing a game through a 5.1 sound system, it’s surprising how the dynamics of the game change, and how your appreciation for the developer grows. Many thousands of hours go into producing the immensely detailed and complex audio of a game, and it’s a shame that most of the time it’s barely heard. We don’t pay it nearly enough respect, and in a way we ignore it. What should sound explosive, intense or sensitive, and add another layer to a gaming experience, is left to plop out of our measly TV stereo speakers. You miss so much.

If you have a 5.1 sound system, and either an Xbox 360 or PS3, then please get them hooked up. Even if you don’t own a surround system, and haven’t got the excessive funds needed to buy one, then at least buy a pair of reasonably high quality headphones. Sound plays a huge part in most games, even when it’s barley audible. Something as delicate as a gentle breeze or the whoosh of a bullet gets missed all too often, all because our TV speakers are rubbish.

Go on, treat yourself and buy a surround sound system to compliment your console. Trust me, once you’ve heard pedestrians scream from every speaker at once, you won’t regret it.

Scott Tierney

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2 Responses to “Music to your 5.1 ears”

  1. Great article, thanks for the share. Blog bookmarked 🙂

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