As G35 shipments begin arriving around the world in the next month, I wanted to take this opportunity to tackle some common questions we’ve been asked about our new headset (e.g. console compatibility, audio latency, and what in the world we mean by “laser-tuner” speaker drivers). Also, does 7.1 surround sound work or is it all marketing hype? I’ll try my best to demystify the surround-sound technology used in the G35 and compare it to other options on the market.
How does G35 surround sound work?
Creating an enveloping surround sound experience with G35 starts with accurately reproducing in-game sound effects, music, and movie soundtracks through its laser-tuned speaker drivers. While most headsets are designed using only traditional acoustic measurements to optimize their performance, G35 drivers are designed using the latest laser measurement technology that helps us analyze the physics behind the mechanical motion of the driver and pinpoint areas creating unwanted distortion so G35 can reproduce your multimedia content in high fidelity.
Another way G35 enhances the listening experience is through its unique circumaural (around-the-ear) design that features a closed-back acoustic chamber to both increase low frequency (bass) response and improve noise isolation. Strong noise isolation minimizes both ambient noises from entering the ear cup and headset audio from leaking out.
With a great acoustic system in place, G35 is primed for surround sound. The headset captures up to seven discrete channels of audio data plus the Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channel—a combination otherwise known as 7.1 surround sound—from games and movies. Embedded in the G35 PC software is Dolby Headphone, an advanced psychoacoustic algorithm that perceptually positions each surround sound channel in the correct location. As a result, G35 users hear multi-channel content the way game developers and movie producers intended it to be heard.
For content that is not multi-channel, such as MP3 files and YouTube videos, G35 can add listening depth by first decoding the audio with Dolby Pro Logic II, a technology that detects the directional cues that occur naturally in stereo content to create a surround sound playback experience. Users most commonly describe this listening experience as sounding more natural because the audio seems to emanate from around your head instead of right on top of your ears.
G35 also includes a switch on the headset to turn off surround sound technologies for when standard stereo output is desired. This is particularly useful when talking in a game lobby or on a Skype call because without background music or sound effects, voices by themselves can become victim to too much reverberation (echo) applied by the surround sound technology.
Will G35 surround sound work for everyone?
Not quite everyone. There is a small slice of users who won’t hear the full effect of surround sound. Despite what other companies may claim, any technology trying to recreate surround sound in small enclosures like headsets or headphones will always face the fundamental limitation that no two people hear sounds in the same way. The reason for this is that each person’s auditory system is specially trained to localize sound waves bouncing off the unique shape of his or her ear, head, and torso; this is known as the head-related transfer function (HRTF).
A surround sound technology for headsets and headphones that accounts for all HRTF variations is not available today, but with G35, we address the vast majority of users. In fact, in our recent G35 beta test*, 96% of the participants (all of whom extensively played PC games) scored the G35 surround sound performance highly.
*Beta test conducted among PC gamers in January 2009.
How does G35 surround sound differ from other headsets with Dolby technology?
G35 is the first computer headset powered by second-generation Dolby Headphone technology that processes 7.1 surround sound. Some other computer headsets on the market use Dolby technologies only to interpolate surround sound from stereo (2-channel) content—a process called upmixing. Other headsets with an optical (TOSLINK) connection are limited in bandwidth to 5.1 and are not typically supported by soundcards, particularly on laptop computers.
How does G35 differ from other types of surround sound headsets?
The Dolby technologies embedded in G35 employ psychoacoustics—the science of how humans perceive sound—to position audio elements around the user’s head. Psychoacoustic algorithms work best when fed complete, discrete surround sound audio data. By capturing and processing more channels of audio, G35 can produce a more accurate and detailed soundfield than other headsets.
Other types of surround sound headsets that don’t use psycoacoustic algorithms contain multiple speaker drivers in each ear cup to try to recreate a surround sound speaker system on top of the ears. But because each speaker is only millimeters apart, the ears (and subsequently the brain) can have difficulty discerning between audio originating from in front, to the side, and behind the user. And people perceive directionality of audio by the slight difference in time it takes sound to reach one ear versus the other, an effect G35 accounts for but multi-driver headsets typically do not. Lastly, with such small drivers packed into a relatively tight space, the overall audio quality is often compromised with multi-driver headsets.
How do I set up G35 on my computer?
With G35, all you need to do is install the G35 PC software and plug in G35 to a USB port. No special sound cards, adapters or other hardware is required.
Most action games released today support surround sound output. After plugging in G35, start the game and select the 7.1 or 5.1 option if available in the game audio settings menu. Some games will detect the capabilities of the active audio device and automatically configure the audio output to the maximum number of channels supported.
Blu-ray Disc or DVD movies may require third-party movie playback applications with additional Dolby or DTS decoders necessary for a complete surround sound experience. Check the application developer’s website to find out if the version of your movie player includes multi-channel Dolby or DTS decoders for your movie.
Does the surround sound processing cause any audio latency?
No. The processing is virtually instantaneous. In our test labs**, surround sound processing occurred in less than 1 millisecond. Most people can only begin to detect audio latency when the delay is greater than 125 milliseconds***.
**Tested on computers with an Intel Core 2 Quad 2.66 GHz processor. 2 GB RAM, nVidiaGeForce 8600 GTS, and Windows Vista 32-bit Ultimate edition.
Will the G35 PC software affect my computer’s performance?
No. The G35 PC software and Dolby technologies are extremely efficient. Measurements taken in our test labs* conclude that there is no noticeable change in frame rate when surround sound processing is turned on. The G35 implementation of surround sound processing makes expensive external Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) completely unnecessary.
*Tested on computers with an Intel Core 2 Quad 2.66 GHz processor. 2 GB RAM, nVidiaGeForce 8600 GTS, and Windows Vista 32-bit Ultimate edition.
What else can the G35 PC software do?
In addition surround sound processing, G35 PC software includes real-time voice morphing. Change the pitch and timbre of your voice using one of six presets that can morph your voice to a Troll, Mutant, Alien, Giant, Cyborg, or the always-popular Space Squirrel.
G35 PC software allows you to customize the actions of the three G-keys located on the headset. You can control popular media players such as iTunes and Windows Media Player, send commands to chat applications like Ventrilo, tweak your microphone gain level, or enable voice morphing on the fly – all without leaving the game.
Audio parameters, including master volume, bass, treble, and microphone gain, can also be controlled in the G35 PC software.
What game audio technologies does G35 work with?
The G35 is compatible with all common audio APIs used by game developers, including OpenAL and DirectSound. EAX, a proprietary set of hardware-resident libraries is not supported by G35, however, for years now, games that include support for EAX also support one of the common audio APIs, and so G35 won’t miss a beat with surround sound playback.
What operating systems does G35 support?
G35 is fully compatible with 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista.