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Headphones For Positional Audio in CS:GO

Hello again! Or I should not say again as whoever is reading this does not know me, but this is actually my second time on Tom's Hardware and just like the first time, I have spent weeks looking online trying to make sense of the internet's babbling and have come to no conclusion. So I have come once again to the wise people of this forum to ask for help. Last time I was asking on opinions on my gaming PC, and now I will ask about the peripherals, most specifically the headphones (just a note, imagine that every time I say headphones I also mean headsets, I mean both). As I did last time I would like to say in advance thank you for reading this and even trying to help me. Now onto the mad ravings that bump around in my mind.

Now onto business, I need a stylish peripherals setup for my new gaming computer and my favorite game is CS:GO. My current setup is pitiful at best, with no headphones due to to the jack on my laptop being broken from 3 years of use. I have a cheap laser logitech mouse and I am currently using the framework of my laptop for a mousepad. It's more smooth than you think.....I swear. Now for any of you that like CS:GO, you know that if you play competitive and hope to be good at it, positional audio is essential. I have spent hours and days looking at the internet looking stereo vs virtual surround (occasionally getting confused because I didn't know whether people were talking about real surround or virtual surround, and I can only get virtual surround). To be honest, nobody had my exact situation, and I was tired of feeling like a complete idiot. So I came here..... to ask others to fix my problems for me..... the not feeling like a complete idiot is not working so well. Now that you know my situation I need to ask some questions and I must warn you to beware of my dreaded follow up questions, where I want to be absolutely sure of what you are saying.

1. I have heard many people saying that stereo headphones in CS:GO are more than enough for positional audio in CS:GO, is that true?

2. If I get some headphones, like oh lets say Hyper X Cloud 2 (hint as to what I am thinking of getting) do I have to use the usb to have the 7.1 or can I use the onboard motherboard sound card like oh lets say the Realtek® ALC892 that comes with the Asus Z97 (another hint hint)?

3. Follow up to #2, which would be better quality 7.1? If it is the onboard sound card, please also check if the one I mentioned that will be on my Z97 is better or the Asus Xonar DG because I could also get that

4. A particularly stupid question, if I enabled surround sound in my motherboard sound card, and used stereo headphones like the Hyper X Cloud (the first one not the second, the one without surround sound) would those stereo headphones turn into 7.1 headphones?

5. A CS:GO specific question, what is the best sound setting to use with virtual 7.1 and what is the best with just stereo?

6. If I am using headphones (HYPER X CLOUD 2) and I am using the usb to enable 7.1 surround sound, do I also need to have the 7.1 enabled on my motherboard sound card? Or does it not matter since the usb uses a seperate sound card?

7. Basically the main thing is that I need to hear positional audio, so mix all of those answers to the questions above to answer this.

What are the best headphones I can use to get a mix of great sound and the BEST positional audio I can get? The current options are,

Stereo headphones using stereo sound. They will have better sound quality but no surround sound.

Stereo headphones that use my sound card's 7.1 setting, I have no idea what this will do, so I need your help, just like #4 asks, will this make the stereo headphones 7.1, will it make it worse, better etc.

Virtual surround sound headphones (cough cough Hyper X Cloud 2 cough cough still open to suggestions though cough) that use the usb they come with.

If it is possible to not use the usb, virtual surround sound headphones that instead of using the usb, use my motherboards sound card with the 7.1 setting turned on.

That is finally the end. Thank you so much for reading if you did, and I appreciate any help or feedback given. I am open to suggestions for headphones and please try to answer as many questions as you can because I really don't wanna mess this up. Thanks everybody and have a nice day :)
10 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about headphones positional audio
  1. Best answer
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/534479/mad-lust-envys-headphone-gaming-guide-2-17-2015-x2-partial-evshrugs-x7-review-added

    Here. Best thread I know in terms of positional cues.

    To answer your question in terms of numbers:

    1- Stereo headphones and 5.1 or 7.1 headphones are the same. What I am trying to say is that the way our brain interprets positional cues means that 5.1 and stereo headphones are the same as far as our brain is concerned.
    The way we do is by delay of sound reaching ear 1 and ear 2, as well as volume that reacehs ear 1 and ear 2. It has nothing to do with the angle at what the sound enters your ear.

    2- You want to use the headphone jack on your PC. Even if using a realtek on board audio, it will be better than usb.
    USB means that:
    A) The soundcard is actually on your headphones, so the quality of it will be always lower than onbaord, dedicated or external audio.
    B) THe interferance and noise that goes throu USB will also be reaching your headphones, distorting the sound quality.

    3- From the ones you have mentioned there, Asus Xonar should be the best. Personally I use an external system (Schiit bifrost and schiit asgard) for my audio.

    4- Yes and no. There are many ways to emulate 5.1 and 7.1 on headphones by software (Razer has a freeware program that can be used with any headphones, you might want to test it). Hardware surround is slightly different, but I dont advice to go into that. Its too expensive and I dont even know if it works since i never tested it.

    5-I dont play CS GO, but Id assume the setting will be something you will have to work out yourself.

    6- If it uses separate soundcard, and has its own 7.1, motherboard 7.1 wont change anything.

    7- oK. :D

    As A side note, Id like you to know that 5.1 and 7.1 is, for the most part, a gimick.
    There is only one game that I played with my speaker 5.1 system (Z-5500 Logitech) that had really incredible positional cues:
    Unreal Tournament 99.

    It was good enought that I could, by the sound of a gunshot, turn 180 degrees and in one single move be able to headshot my enemy, based only on the sound of his gun.

    Every other game I played was good enoguht to give me a 20-30 degree angle from where I knew the sound was coming from, but not know the exact position of my enemy.

    I am unsure if this is because of the fact that back then I played on hardware EAX and now this does not exist or if it was because the game was so good, but what I am trying to say is that the improvement of stereo to 5.1 will be far lower than the improvement of better headphones, sound card, amplifier and so on.
  2. Steelseries Siberia Prism / Elite Prism would be STYLISH and awesome for CS GO.
    Basically i play with my Steelseries Elite (Which is awesome, it had his own soundcard FYI)

    But well, it cost much for a Gaming headset :(

    Would recommend Razer Kraken 7.1 / HyperX Cloud II / Gigabyte Force H3X

    Those are around 100 bucks.
  3. I'd like to thank you guys a lot for answering, you've really helped me out, if anybody else sees this thread and wants to give an opinion I'd really appreciate it.

    I'd especially like to thank you cats_paw because you answered the questions in exactly the format I was dreaming for, answering all of them as best you could.

    I think I will use this info to get a Hyper X Cloud 2, as it has surround sound but also some of the most renowned audio around. I game for hours and I also hear it is extremely comfortable.

    Instead of using the usb however, I will get an Asus Xonar DG and plug it into that. This will give me a huge jump in sound quality, 7.1 surround sound, and a very comfortable headset

    . For $120 I think this is a good choice and I'd like to thank you guys again for helping me out.
  4. ruledarkman said:
    I'd like to thank you guys a lot for answering, you've really helped me out, if anybody else sees this thread and wants to give an opinion I'd really appreciate it.

    I'd especially like to thank you cats_paw because you answered the questions in exactly the format I was dreaming for, answering all of them as best you could.

    I think I will use this info to get a Hyper X Cloud 2, as it has surround sound but also some of the most renowned audio around. I game for hours and I also hear it is extremely comfortable.

    Instead of using the usb however, I will get an Asus Xonar DG and plug it into that. This will give me a huge jump in sound quality, 7.1 surround sound, and a very comfortable headset

    . For $120 I think this is a good choice and I'd like to thank you guys again for helping me out.


    1. The Source Engine's audio stack is archaic. It is neither truly 3D nor truly positional. So the answer is yes, a stereo headset is usually just as good as a surround headset. I'll get more into the specifics later.

    2. This depends on the headset. Some headsets have a USB digital input and 5 discrete drivers in each earpiece (front left/right, center, side left/right, rear left/right, and LFE), others have a stereo input that is fed into a Dolby Surround decoder, others have a digital input that is fed into a Dolby Digital decoder, and yet others have discrete analogue inputs. The discrete analogue inputs are the best, but they're also the hardest to find. I know of only one discrete 7.1 headset on the market, and that's the Razer Tiamat 7.1

    3. I use a discrete Creative Labs sound card, can't really answer this.

    4. Headphones that use Dolby Surround (or the Dolby Headphone variant) require additional software packages to be installed. They're "technically" stereo headphones as far as the audio driver is concerned.

    5. CS:GO uses the source engine to provide its 3D sound. Try toggling snd_legacy_surround on and off, see which one sounds better.

    6. Nope, they're separate audio devices.

    7. I hate to burst your bubble but you won't get positional sound on CS:GO, or any source engine game for that matter.

    The Human brain uses three different variables to place the source of a sound in an environment.

    - Amplitude

    - Frequency

    - Delay

    The difference in each of these across each ear is used to place the source of a sound. A true positional audio system takes a point source in 3D space and transforms all three variables for each speaker. This process is called a head-related-transfer-function, or HRTF.

    A stripped-down HRTF that changes only the amplitude is called a cross-fade. This is what the source engine uses. In the source engine, each sound source casts the same audio to each speaker, just at a different volume. Ergo, it's impossible to get true 3D positioning in the source engine, but it is possible to get half-baked positional audio.

    With heavy digital signal processing it is possible to obtain near to reality positional audio using only high quality stereo headphones. I generally don't like them because I find them uncomfortable, but they do work.
  5. Thank you so much for the post and I'd like to respond to it with a few follow-up questions.

    Perhaps the term, positional audio was too specific, what I mean is that my friend has a pair of turtle beach headphones that aren't nearly as good as any headphones I can get in terms of sound even though my choices are half the price.

    However, he can still hear sound and know where the enemies are coming from. With a good headset, I have seen that the range of hearing is pretty high. Warowl himself has a pair of stereo headphones and he can enemies reload their weapons and drop them to pick up another one from a very good range.

    I think considering I have NO headphones, it would be a more than worthy investment for me since I am an extremely avid player

    Now for the dreaded numbered questions!!!

    1. From what I am hearing, I can get "positional" cues in CS:GO with stereo headphones that are just as good or better than virtual surround sound. Is this correct?

    2. Am I correct in thinking that getting the Asus Xonar is definitely worth it and will make a good difference.

    3. If I get stereo headphones, should I turn on the surround sound on the sound card (If I have to turn it on/off) and switch the options in CS:GO to 5.1 for more positional audio, or should I leave it on stereo settings.

    That wasn't actually that many questions :P. Try to answer them and thank you so much again.
  6. 1st. From people saying yes. But i never know exactly. So it maybe yes maybe no.

    2nd. Not worth, won't make a difference that much (Since ASUS Xonar mostly give awesome sound on music (You can hear the difference))

    3rd. Hmm, i think surround sound is automatic so you don't need to turn on and off
  7. ruledarkman said:
    Thank you so much for the post and I'd like to respond to it with a few follow-up questions.

    Perhaps the term, positional audio was too specific, what I mean is that my friend has a pair of turtle beach headphones that aren't nearly as good as any headphones I can get in terms of sound even though my choices are half the price.

    However, he can still hear sound and know where the enemies are coming from. With a good headset, I have seen that the range of hearing is pretty high. Warowl himself has a pair of stereo headphones and he can enemies reload their weapons and drop them to pick up another one from a very good range.

    I think considering I have NO headphones, it would be a more than worthy investment for me since I am an extremely avid player

    Now for the dreaded numbered questions!!!

    1. From what I am hearing, I can get "positional" cues in CS:GO with stereo headphones that are just as good or better than virtual surround sound. Is this correct?

    2. Am I correct in thinking that getting the Asus Xonar is definitely worth it and will make a good difference.

    3. If I get stereo headphones, should I turn on the surround sound on the sound card (If I have to turn it on/off) and switch the options in CS:GO to 5.1 for more positional audio, or should I leave it on stereo settings.

    That wasn't actually that many questions :P. Try to answer them and thank you so much again.


    1. Absolutely. I've played CS:GO with both native 5.1 headphones, and stereo earbuds. Much of the game involves learning the audio cues at each position on each map.

    2. Not likely. The biggest advantage of using a discrete sound card is in the much cleaner digital to analogue conversion. The signal to noise ratio on a decent discrete card is 20-30 decibels higher than it is on most integrated cards. This is nice for games such as Battlefield 4 that use extensive sound processing, but CS:GO has absolutely terrible sound quality to begin with so it's unlikely to help much at all.

    3. If you have stereo headphones and a discrete sound card that does support virtual surround (most Creative Labs cards have this, it's called CMSS-3D Headphone) the sound card will be capable of performing the previously mentioned HRTF in hardware. However, doing so requires the application to use a hardware accelerated audio codec such as DirectSound3D (only with Creative Alchemy) or OpenAL.
    If the application does not do this, it can still be configured to generate audio for 6/8 virtual channels. The sound card will then synthesize the virtual channels as accurately as possible onto the two real channels. This is often better than traditional stereo audio.
    CS:GO can operate either way. The Source Engine uses DirectSound3D calls when snd_legacy_surround is set to 1, and multi-channel software cross-fade when it is set to 0. Note that you must have a Creative Labs or Asus Xonar sound card with EAX support to use the legacy surround calls; Creative Alchemy must also be used to patch DirectSound3D back in. The audio quality is not substantially different.
  8. This has actually really affected my decision, I am now thinking of getting an Audio Technica AD700x with a zalman clip on mic. This is $30 more expensive, but I think it will be worth it as this computer is to last me for years, and I doubt I will only use my computer for CS:GO, I love many games, and this is not even mentioning my love of netflix and youtube.

    I think I am making the right choice, but as always, open to suggestions! I might look into the Asus Xonar more, I think I might get it as I do not only game, and $20 seems a small price to pay for a good discrete sound card that I can use for years to come.

    Saying it too much now but thank you to everyone again, especially you Pinhedd more recently as you have helped me TREMENDOUSLY. Thank you so much!
  9. I suggest you test the audio technica first if at all possible.
    Positional cues are usually good in bass shy headphones, and those tend to be a bit boring in terms of enjoying music and games.
  10. ruledarkman said:
    This has actually really affected my decision, I am now thinking of getting an Audio Technica AD700x with a zalman clip on mic. This is $30 more expensive, but I think it will be worth it as this computer is to last me for years, and I doubt I will only use my computer for CS:GO, I love many games, and this is not even mentioning my love of netflix and youtube.

    I think I am making the right choice, but as always, open to suggestions! I might look into the Asus Xonar more, I think I might get it as I do not only game, and $20 seems a small price to pay for a good discrete sound card that I can use for years to come.

    Saying it too much now but thank you to everyone again, especially you Pinhedd more recently as you have helped me TREMENDOUSLY. Thank you so much!


    I did some testing over the past few days to try and get a better idea of how the surround sound in CS:GO varies as the options are changed.

    What I tested was the following:

    1. stereo vs 5.1 using snd_legacy_surround 0. This uses CS:GO's internal software cross-fade algorithm. No real noticeable difference. If anything, the stereo sounded a little bit cleaner.

    2. 5.1 using snd_legacy_surround 1 with Creative Alchemy disabled and enabled.

    With Creative Alchemy disabled, DirectSound3D uses a purely software positional algorithm. It appears to be quite similar to the cross-fade algorithm used by CS:GO when snd_legacy_surround is set to 0. I did find that the audio quality is cleaner and smoother than snd_legacy_surround 0 though.

    With Creative Alchemy enabled, DirectSound3D passes the processing off to the sound card driver. If a decent sound card is used, it will perform a full HRTF in hardware using positional information passed to it by the application. There are a few audio glitches in the game menus, but during gameplay itself it appears to be fine. I did get the feeling that I had somewhat better auditory depth perception when the processing is done in hardware rather than in software.
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