Sony’s PS4 Headphone Surround Sound Tax

Do you want proper headphone virtual surround sound out of your PS4? Okay, you have three options:

  1. Buy a Sony Wireless Gold Headset (Normally $99, on sale for $79 through this week as part of an E3 promo).
  2. Buy a Sony Wireless Platinum Headset ($159).
  3. Buy a third party headset with a special base and an optical audio connection. I’ve never seen wireless ones go for less than $200, and you could spend much more than that! You could also buy a standalone wired optical surround DAC. Good ones are around $150. Oh, and you can’t use optical connections at all on a slim PS4. So you have to go with option 1 or 2.

Want headphone surround out of an Xbox One or Windows PC? As of the most recent update, that’s free and built into the OS. Just turn it on and go nuts with the headphones you probably already own! And you can upgrade to Dolby Atmos for just 15 bucks more. And on PC, you can use great cheap/free third party options like Razer Surround.

This is silly, right?

I’m not even trying to slam Sony’s headsets here. I think they’re both decent, and I think they’re both priced reasonably well…

At least until you realize they’re holding headphone surround sound hostage behind premium purchases.

I get it. Headphone surround sound isn’t for everyone. Some people don’t like it. Maybe most people don’t even care.

But Microsoft just made it free for their users on the software side. So now there’s an obvious disparity where there wasn’t one.

I like the Gold Headset. I think it’s slightly more comfy for long sessions compared to the Platinum headset, thanks to its use of a proper headband pad instead of a rubber strap. It’s a little plasticky, but it’s an okay value.

When HyperX released the Cloud Revolver S recently, I thought “Great! Finally a USB-based well-built product that’ll provide virtual surround out of a PS4! I mean, they say it supports PS4 right on the box.”

While that’s technically true…it turns out it’s still using stereo audio as the source. That’s why I didn’t talk about PS4 surround in my review. The PS4 limits third-party USB sound connections to stereo. So when you hit the big Dolby button on the Cloud Revolver S, it’s just simulating surround from that stereo signal.

On Sony’s headsets, and with Microsoft’s solution, you’re getting the full surround audio signal from your game or movie properly virtualized through your headphones.

This stuff is achieved through software processing. Granted, at least on the Platinum headset, Sony is doing some additional 3D processing inside the big dongle that comes with it. But the PS4 is more than capable of doing this processing entirely on its own and then sending it through your controller’s headphone jack.

But Sony has decided you should have to pay them.

I’m probably the only person bothered by this. But as of right now, it’s a feather in the cap of Microsoft.

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