Discuss Your Gaming Environments and AV Setups
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Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by Erik_Twice Fri Mar 04, 2016 3:06 pm

Most of the discussion surrounding retro game setups is centered on how to display the games with very little in the way of sound. I, for one, know absoutely nothing about this so I ask:

1) What do you look for in a retrogaming sound setup?
2) How do you connect everything up?
3) Is it worth investing into good sound given the poor sound quality of some old consoles?
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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by bmoc Fri Mar 04, 2016 3:43 pm

Since I use a PVM that doesn't have speakers, I feed my audio into some Klipsch Promedia 2.1 speakers. All my retro consoles are connected to a SCART switch. The SCART switch outputs into a Sync Strike which has RCA audio breakouts. Then a RCA to 3.5mm Y-cable + female coupler to the PC speakers.

I don't have an optimal area for surround sound at the moment so I think that works pretty well for the space I have.

One day I hope to try out SNES Jurassic Park's surround sound for the lols.
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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by isiolia Fri Mar 04, 2016 3:50 pm

Erik_Twice wrote:1) What do you look for in a retrogaming sound setup?

Same as I tend to go for in general. I prefer to use an amp or receiver along with home audio speakers over using built-in TV speakers or things like computer speakers. For retro gaming stuff, I simply use my old home theater receiver, which was replaced in the living room due to not supporting HDMI/etc.

2) How do you connect everything up?

My older consoles are largely hooked up via A/V switches that are in turn connected to a couple inputs on the receiver. That lets me do composite or s-video, plus stereo audio.

The exceptions to that are the PS2 and X-Box, which in that setup I use over (non-progressive) component and optical audio (they can also go in the living room for progressive scan/etc). I don't have a switch box that handles those, so I just use individual receiver inputs for each of them.

3) Is it worth investing into good sound given the poor sound quality of some old consoles?

I think that'd really come down to the consoles in question. Personally, I think it's easily worth it for 16-bit and on. You do have a smattering of SNES games outputting Dolby Pro-Logic, for instance (the Jurassic Park ones, as mentioned), and CD games often made use of recorded audio or even Redbook audio for soundtracks. Things only got better from there.
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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by Ziggy587 Fri Mar 04, 2016 5:26 pm

I brought this up in the PC build thread. Everyone always focuses on and talks about video quality but never audio (I was talking about how no one has dedicated sound cards anymore since every PC has bottom of the barrel integrated audio).

There's also this thread: http://www.racketboy.com/forum/viewtopi ... 28&t=47529

isiolia wrote:I prefer to use an amp or receiver along with home audio speakers over using built-in TV speakers or things like computer speakers. For retro gaming stuff, I simply use my old home theater receiver, which was replaced in the living room due to not supporting HDMI/etc.

An old receiver is what I would recommend as well. You can get a new 2.0 or 2.1 receiver, but there's plenty used ones to be had for cheap. Any 2.0 receiver with some nice full range speakers is going to be a million times better than TV speakers.

You can even use a 5.1 receiver in stereo mode (use it as 2.0 or 2.1). There's plenty of used 5.1 pre-HDMI receivers to be had, and you can easily get them with composite, S-Video and component inputs so they work well as switch boxes too. Really, the only reason NOT to use a setup like this is if you don't have the room.

Erik_Twice wrote:2) How do you connect everything up?

I split my set up between modern and retro.

I use a 5.1 receiver for my HDTV and run everything through it. I don't use the TV's speakers at all. I have a sub but I hardly ever use it, so it's really a 5.0 setup. I have floor standing full range speakers in the front L and R positions, so I turn the sub off and send the full range to the floor standings. All the modern stuff is fed into the receiver via HDMI, with a single HDMI connection to the TV. I got the receiver for the better sound, but it's nice never having to switch inputs on the TV or mess with switch boxes.

Even though this is my modern setup, I still have a few retro consoles included just for convenience. My PS2 connects directly to the receiever via component (which is the only time I ever have to switch inputs) and I use the S/PDIF output from it. I use an XRGB Framemeister for the rest of the retro consoles, and my SNES is modified for S/PDIF output (although I haven't been using it).

My "retro room" is a little odd. I have a spare receiver, but no room or desire for more speakers. Since this man cave is also set up for jamming, I have a PA system down there. So instead of using a home audio system, I can use two full range loud speakers (pro audio). The only problem is that there's no remote for volume! I've been thinking about re-arranging this room though, so I'm reconsidering everything right now.

Erik_Twice wrote:3) Is it worth investing into good sound given the poor sound quality of some old consoles?

In my opinion, absolutely. Some TVs can sound OK, but you're usually missing a lot of frequencies. So even though these old game consoles don't have the best audio compared to 2016 standards, you can still be missing a lot of detail. It's usually mostly the low end that you're missing, but some TVs just sound awful no matter what. To me, it's almost like asking if it's worth playing on a color TV or just stick with a B&W.

Also, what I was talking about above, you can cobble together a nice 2.0 setup for not a lot of money. I always come across floor standing speakers for free or really cheap (side of the road, garage sales, thrift stores, craigslist). I got mine for free, as well as my first receiver. The only reason NOT to is if you don't have the room.

I would rather use 2.1 desktop speakers than TV speakers at this point. I have $25 Altec Lansing 2.1 desktop speakers for one of my PCs, and they sound WAY better than most TV speakers.

Audio quality aside, one thing I really like about using something other than the TV speakers is the better sound separation. Stereo effects are hard to detect when the speakers are so close together. But when they're further apart, you notice it lot more.

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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by CRTGAMER Fri Mar 04, 2016 7:27 pm

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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by RyaNtheSlayA Fri Mar 04, 2016 11:49 pm

I use adapters to pump everything to my ATH-M50Xs.

I prefer headphones for many reasons. Mostly so I don't have to hear what's going on around me and I'm not bothering anybody else either - and there's no worrying about acoustics or anything like that.
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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by Anapan Mon Mar 07, 2016 10:23 pm

I'm pretty picky about audio quality. I can hear a slushiness in cymbals in most MP3s, as well as muddy sub-bass sounds. Bluetooth sounds really shoddy to me no matter what.

Headphones are almost always the best way to get the best experience. Even cheap ones can deliver better clarity and usually even better bass than the best TV speakers.

I definitely prefer almost anything over internal TV speakers. Sega Genesis, SNES and later consoles have some excellent tunes that benefit from having a mid-to-low end boost. The Genesis FM Synth can produce some great low-end bass that needs to be heard through a good sound system to be fully appreciated.

If you can hear anything when you crank the volume on your sound system while no sound is being played, you need to fix that problem - it's shielding, faulty hardware or other interference. That's why you want to improve your audio setup. Any audio coming out of the back of a TV is likely to have some signal noise. This is the main reason to use external speakers from a console.

For the longest time I only ever used Altec Lansing PC 2.1 computer speakers that cost less than $75 - I've ended up buying 4 different models of Altec Lansing 2.1 speakers over the years and still consider them to be pretty decent. Just having a properly boxed and piped lower-end speaker, and properly wide-separated stereo makes a world of difference compared to any TV's built-in speakers. The first time I hooked a set to my Genesis I was blown away.

Having gone through too-many revisions over many years, the clarity from my current setup is as good as I want to get. I gave my dad the hardware from my bigger, louder setup in trade for clarity and almost 0 signal to noise ratio at any volume level.

My current setup:
Most SD consoles -> 2X Keene SCART Switch -> X-RGB Framemeister -> Monoprice HDX-401TA -> Optical input of Harman Kardon AVR 340 -> Bose Acoustimass 10 speakers.

Newer HD systems with Optical output built-in are connected directly to the AVR 340.

Sega Genesis/CD/32x is connected directly to the AVR 340 via analog.

PS2 is connected to Plasma directly through Component video, and the AVR 320 through optical for audio (no amount of modding can get proper 240P scanlines and 480P for the others for any substantial amount of games. Waste of too much time. I emulate when necessary).

PS3 is connected directly to the Plasma via HDMI, and the AVR340 via Optical (does not play well with any video hardware).

PC is running a Sound Blaster Z into optical input of the AVR 340.

All HDMI systems except PS3 run through Monoprice HDX-401TA with optical breakout to the AVR 340.

This setup I built is very specifically set up so I can be playing any game - even DMG Alleyway (Game Boy launch title), and it's filling my entire field of vision, the video has nothing that would make me stop and try to tweak it for something better, and the audio can be cranked and enhanced with a preset to make it fill the room with clear sound.

Mission accomplished - yet there's much to be done.

A schematic would simplify explaining the audio setup. I haven't built one for years because the situation changes too often. That's also the reason I don't have a dedicated topic on this forum for my game room. I keep planning to tidy my wires up, but it's seriously a Serial Experiments Lain endgame scene all-the-time. Utilitarian over aesthetics is not my goal, just the solution to play all the games faster and easier. At least it impresses my friends when they come over to game. I'm always amazed that everything works when I go and add something to the rats-nest.

Having a high-capacity Logitech Harmony remote is very useful after things are no-longer connected directly and switches are involved.

Playing Shadow of the Colossus with the volume cranked on a 5.1 surround system with a large subwoofer is really cool because you can feel them. My niece and I sometimes borrow my father's den for a few boss battles since I gave him my 12" subwoofer coffee-table thingy and hooked up his 80's Celestion surround speakers. Even clubs don't make that much bass anymore as it's become unpopular. Still, It's so cool to feel the battle. The neighbours haven't complained, but I watched a couple walk out to see what was happening as we took on some colossi.

I think the quality of the sound has more to do with the speakers and amp being used than anything else. As far as digital vs analog goes, I've tried to find a difference between good thick analog cables and digital audio and have not been able to detect any difference on the consoles and other systems I tried it on as far as stereo audio goes.
Granted, I have not heard any digital-audio-modded consoles, so i'm also interested if such a mod makes any large difference. I can certainly see the benefit if your console is far away from your audio receiver.

Handhelds are another thing entirely - they often have badly shielded audio hardware or in Game Boy Mono all the way through the GBA's life, the CPU power-saving bleeds into the audio output - you can actually hear the CPU working as white noise. In those cases, I'd definitely recommend a prosound mod if you value the audio fidelity.

I've been fortunate to get a couple of high-end 5.1 AV receivers for incredible prices simply because they didn't have HDMI input or output.
The simple fix is a HDMI switch with digital audio breakout. I'm using this Monoprice one.

The only other thing I can add here is that there's a definite audio quality difference between the "High Definition Graphics" Sega Genesis and the later models. I really didn't know until a few years ago that the "Seeegaaaa!" bootup could sound clear on hardware. After hearing it for myself, I can't believe I never noticed the difference before considering a couple of my friends had the better model, and I always cranked the volume when Chemical Plant Zone came on.

Re: the comparison video in the above link - I've never heard a genesis sound *that* bad before. I think that guy's system needs a cap replacement or something. That CDX is broken.
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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by KalessinDB Wed Mar 09, 2016 1:29 am

For you Sega fanatics out there, there's the MegaAmp mod that can make any Mega Drive/Genesis sound like the HDG Model 1 version. Well worth it if you love your Genny and (like me) prefer the look of the Model 2 Genny/Sega CD combo.
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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by chuckster Wed May 11, 2016 11:18 pm

Yeah, most/all of RGB monitors have mono or no speakers at all, so even SNES and Genesis benefit from some sort of additional audio equipment. I have my systems split between modern and retro displays. Everything hooked to the HDTV is patched through to the cheap Logitech 5.1 system (Xbox, 360, PS3, PS4, PC), and the CRT systems (Wii, GC, Genesis, SNES, PS2) are patched to an old Sony bookshelf 2.1 system I got free from a family member. It's not especially hifi, but it gets the job done when I need to bask in the glory of SoR or Comix Zone.

Some day I'll upgrade to the Pioneer Andrew Jones 5.1 system and some compact monitor speakers like these little guys. I just can't afford to invest in anything pro level or audiophile.
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Re: Enough about picture quality, what about sound?

by ApolloBoy Tue May 17, 2016 10:25 pm

I use a 1981 Pioneer SA-520 paired with a couple of Pioneer CS-520s.
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