Little Speakers, Big Speakers.What do you use to listen to your video games?

This site offers surround professionals an opportunity to exchange information, voice their opinions, and get their production questions answered by their peers. This was created for you to discuss issues pertaining to the surround sound revolution.

by murray allen

I would like everybody who reads this article and plays games to help me out. Send me an e-mail and tell me what kind of game platform you like the most. It may be the PlayStation, the Dreamcast, the Nintendo, or the PC. I know some of you even like to play games on a Mac; too bad there are not more games available for the Mac.

Next, I would like you to describe your speaker system. I would like to know the brand. I also want to know if you have a subwoofer. In addition let me know if it has any of the popular surround flavors.

The reason I am asking you to do this is that I am trying to ascertain what our gaming audience is using in the way of speakers.

As a rule, we design the sound for games much as the sound for TV shows is created. We use nearfield monitors with a good bass response. We will also use small speakers and TV speakers to judge if the dialog, music, and sfx retain their integrity as to their correct levels in the mix. Of course, as the size of the speaker becomes smaller, there will be changes in the mix. Dialog will have a tendency to move up in front. Sfx with a heavy midrange will also move to the front. The music will lose most of its low-end frequencies. This is always a problem, but unfortunately we can’t repeal the laws of physics as they pertain to acoustics. So the music will seem to be lower in level. Our trick is to raise the music as high as possible in the small speaker, but still not overpower the dialog when using our larger speakers.

The question has come up as to what kind of sound system the majority of game players use. Knowing this information might enable us to better target our mixes to better serve the largest target audience. A 1998 study tells us that game players use 33 percent of televisions in use. We are presently trying to find out what percentage of televisions are stereo in nature. We also know that 59 percent of these television sets are connected to better high-fidelity systems. So, by using this figure, I would guess that about 50 percent of gamers use some kind of higher quality audio than one would expect to hear from a small 3-inch TV speaker. With your help, I will be able to derive a clearer picture.

As the next generation of game consoles make its way into your homes, we in the audio development business will have some very powerful target machines for which to orchestrate audio. We would love for every game player to have the largest high-quality speakers possible. We want to emulate the same sound you feel in your chest when watching a movie in a motion picture theater.

Of course, we know this is not possible. However, we would like to please those audio-enthusiast readers of Surround Professional above all others. So let me know what is your favorite audio game playing situation.

Once we have this information, we can establish a test lab whereby we can play our games on the most popular rigs. If we find that we are losing some of our desired impact on one system as opposed to another, we can adjust our mix as to create the desired audio field regardless of the player’s system. I think this will ultimately result in a contest between various sizes of nearfield monitors and so-called computer speakers.

And then again we may find that a good mix works on almost all good speakers. In the long run it is only a matter of personal judgment. However, from a scientific point of view, I am curious.

This discussion is not new. In the old days, before nearfield monitoring, we used Big Reds in the front wall of the control room. They would blast at about 120 dB to help us really turn on the clients. Of course, everything was in monaural. When recording commercials, the client would always request the final playback to be on our Auratones. I would leave the door to the control room leading to the studio open. As I was pumping the audio through those dreadful small speakers, I was also driving the large speakers in the studio. Needless to say, the bass being resonated in the large recording studio would bleed back into the control room, reinforcing the little speakers.

The amazed client would always comment on how much bottom our mix had in the little speakers. It never hurts to con a client now and then. However, when a game player is racing around our Cyber Racetrack, he has no large recording studio with a door left open. And we definitely do not want to con our loyal gamers. However, we do want to create the most satisfying aural experience possible.

So write to me with the elements of you audio environment. I am at [email protected].

Surround Professional Magazine