Throughout the past few decades in video gaming, soundtracks have told a story that characters and storyline alone cannot. Music has a special way of stirring and building emotions in us that we simply can’t experience through narrative alone. Imagine if a game, such as Red Dead Redemption 2, had no soundtrack at all? We’d still experience an incredibly well written story of Arthur Morgan, an outlaw cowboy committing heinous crimes in the wild west. But if you’ve played that game in its entirety, just how emotional would Arthur’s final ride be without the song “That's the Way It Is” by Daniel Lanois playing in the background? Sure, it’d still be a very heavy and distinct pinnacle moment in the game, but would the weight and gravity of this moment be remembered without music to encapsulate the final moments of this epic western saga? Let’s discuss why audio matters so much in gaming.
Developing the Story
Countless games such as Skyrim, Minecraft, Halo, and Ghost of Tsushima incorporate a soundtrack that expands their world beyond the invisible barriers that stop us from exploring the outer regions of the game. Music carries on the legacy of the characters and moments we experienced in these games, as we’re able to relisten to the music and recount the amazing moments we shared in these games, both with ourselves, and friends. A favorite gaming moment of mine comes from playing Grand Theft Auto Online, cruising in Los Santos, top down in my new ride customized at Los Santos Customs, and hearing “Swimming Pools (Drank)” by Kendrick Lamar come on as I’m on my way to my next bank heist. And nothing will ever be as epic or memorable to me as trying to defeat the Halo 2 campaign on Legendary, riding into a mission on a warthog, ready to gun down any grunt or elites standing in my way, as “Reclaimer” by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori plays in the background. The heavy electric guitar creates this epic and heroic entrance, and the magnitude of the situation grows closer and closer to me. My hands are beginning to sweat just thinking about the intensity of the moment, as I knew I couldn’t fail with such a valorous song accompanying me on my fight with Master Chief. It’s moments like these that are made so much better by the music involved, as it adds an extra layer of immersion that you can’t experience without it.
The Competitive Edge?
You know when a random NPC encounter happens to change your playthrough of a game completely? Well, hopefully this tidbit of information does that for you. There's actually no distinct advantage that a “gaming headphone” has over a headphone you use for listening to music. I know, crazy right? But seriously, other than some RGB lighting on the side, a gaming headphone isn't going to set itself apart from a regular headphone – and often isn’t nearly as good for the price. Any good headphone will allow for better awareness in games, such as a sense of where your enemies are coming from. I was originally going to give some recommendations for which over-ear headphones provide you with the best competitive edge, but quite honestly, a lot of this is personal preference. There are so many headphones today that provide excellent imaging, clarity, and detail retrieval, that if you have a good headphone at home that you like for listening to music, go ahead and use it for games. For this article, I wanted to try something new.
Funny enough, I’ve never played video games with IEMs before. I’m still quite new to the hobby, and never had access to quality IEMs like I do now. So, I went about and picked some IEMs that I thought would be perfect for the newly released Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. I played for a few hours with each IEM, and here are my findings. Let's get into it.
Best Detail Retrieval for the Price: Kinera HODUR ($299)
Next time you challenge your friends to a one v one match, throw these bad boys in your ears! With excellent resolution, HODUR is a no brainer to anyone looking for that true competitive advantage in multiplayer gaming. I was shocked at how clearly and quickly I was able to hear enemy footsteps with this, and would wholeheartedly recommend HODUR for any gamer who’s interested in an audio upgrade to their rig. A superb value.
Best All Arounder: NOBLE DXII ($599)
This is definitely a more fun tuned IEM. With a clear emphasis in the bass, and some well defined highs, I guessed that this IEM would be good for both immersion in the game, as well as enough detail to make sure I knew where other players were. And it did not disappoint. Grenades being thrown my way hit hard, and bullets whizzing by were sharp. Whether you’re looking to have some fun in campaign, or try to top frag in multiplayer, the NOBLE DXII has you covered. Certainly an excellent IEM for gaming.
Best for Singleplayer Immersion: Empire Ears Bravado MKII ($799)
I can’t necessarily say that this IEM is the best for multiplayer, but my goodness, you will feel like you’re on the battlefield with these. If a mortar strike is coming your way, you’ll both hear it and feel it. The bass impact and speed in this IEM makes for an awesome experience in any single player game you play. I certainly had a lot of fun with these in my ears, and would definitely recommend them to any gamer who has their next campaign lined up to beat.
As an audiophile and a gamer who loves both single player games and competitive online gaming, I cannot stress enough the importance of what upgrading your headphones/IEMs can bring to the table. Moments like becoming “Dragonborn” in Skyrim are so much more epic when a choir is singing of the legendary dragonslayer with HiFi gear in your ears. Multiplayer games are much more rewarding when you can outplay your opponent due to the sound coming from their movements and footsteps, allowing you to devise the perfect plot to gain the upper hand in your fight with them. Upgrading your audio setup is one of the absolute best ways to take your gaming experience to new heights.
Matthew DiFazio joined the Bloom Audio team earlier this year. He handles all the shipping and takes pretty dang good photos and b-roll. He can also be found regularly destroying his coworkers in ping-pong. While new to the audio hobby, he’s enjoyed immersing himself in it and jumps at every chance to listen to new stuff floating around the Bloom office.