By: Michael Mercer & Miles Stratton
Miles has clocked plenty of game-time since Part I of our Bass for Miles column here at OccupyHifi. So I thought it was time to head over to Fort Miles (a.k.a Miles room at his mothers house, where his first-rate PC Gaming lair is located) and speak with Miles in his element. Admittedly, I had other motives: Like experiencing Star Wars Battlefront on Miles gaming system with my beloved Audeze LCD-X open-back planar headphones with the SubPac S2 radiating low-end through my bones as I waged war against the Dark Side. I haven't been a PC Gamer since I was a tween, so it was time to immerse myself in the contemporary gaming environment. Watching Miles and his brother Dylan play games on their computers and consoles (utilizing big screen TVs for monitors) has been truly mind-blowing, especially if you're a Gen Xer like me. I came up in the midst of the PC explosion, and our games were beyond archaic compared to the simplest of games available today. The realism of the graphics, coupled with the ability to play with others in real-time (online - so your geographical location is rendered meaningless) enables these kids to completely lose themselves in the gaming reality - and that "gaming reality" looks more and more realistic as computing technology continues to advance. The faster the CPU, the more dimensionally convincing the background scenes look; and with lower latency, the actions of the characters are seamless at times - making the games movie-like . It feels, at times (there's still room for improvement of course) like you're playing a role in an on-going epic feature film! What does ANY of this have to do with music and sound - and why are we covering it here at OccupyHifi?
Miles is utilizing the same components, including his gaming PC (though we audiophiles use ours for music playback of course) that many of us in the personal audio hobby use every day. He relies on headphones and his trusty SubPac S2 tactile bass system to deliver the sound of his games. He also incorporates a pro-level microphone typically intended for studio use in order to achieve high quality talk-back so he and his gaming teammates can communicate clearly and effectively. So while his destination may differ from many of us, though I've recently heard from a few readers who are also PC gamers (which I'm glad to hear) our collective journeys, when it comes to sound, are not so far apart. Of course the PC gaming experience requires video, but in the end Miles cans, SubPac, and microphone play roles in his gaming experience that are just as important as the visual landscapes. So I thought it would be interesting to continue exploring this new sonic frontier here at OccupyHifi. Perhaps a PC gamer who doesn't know what its like to incorporate high fidelity into their systems will find this and give it a shot. Or, vice-versa: Maybe an audiophile will read this and decide to check out PC gaming! In the meantime we're havin' a blast, and I feel very fortunate to be able to help Miles enhance his gaming experience. The kid takes his PC gaming seriously. Well, at least he takes his gear and set-up very seriously. When it's game-time however, I see how much fun he has, and I think we could all use a lil' bit of that joy he gets from his chosen hobby.
As stated above, I decided to bring my Audeze LCD-X open-back planar magnetic headphones to Fort Miles this time, along with my Audioengine D3 USB DAC/headphone amp. During Part I of this series we introduced Miles to the magic of the SubPac S2 Tactile Bass System, so I thought it appropriate to provide him with high performance cans too, along with a better DAC and headphone amplifier. I gave him the gear for his grand system upgrade, and the results were mind-boggling!
As I type these words I'm glancing over at Miles. He's in the midst of a gaming marathon, hunkered down in his gaming chair, SubPac S2 and Audeze LCD-X's rockin'. He's sportin' an ear-to-ear grin that's contagious. He built his own gaming paradise here in Fort Miles. As we discussed in Part I, Miles has spent considerable time and money lacing-up his PC Gaming Center. He utilizes dual-monitors, so he can monitor online chats and music without being distracted from his primary objective: Having an utterly immersive PC-Gaming experience! Once we added the SubPac S2 into the mix Miles realized his gaming experience could be even more engrossing than he originally imagined. You can check out his commentary on how the Tactile Bass System of the S2 enhanced his situational awareness within the gaming experience in Bass for Miles Part I. This time we decided to take things to another level: Substituting his Monster Pro DNA over-ears (splendid cans in their own right - especially where price vs. performance is concerned) with my Audeze LCD-X; and drive those with my handy Audioengine D3 DAC/amp for improved D-to-A and more power. Because the LCD-X is the most efficient of the Audeze LCD-series, I figured that was a good place to start. We'll be exploring just how far we can take this in upcoming Bass for Miles columns. In the meantime, I'm here checkin' out his PC-Gaming station, eager to find out how utilizing my Audeze LCD-X and improved DAC/Amp changed his gaming experience!
MM: Miles, this is some set-up you got here (only saw it in pictures last time) - what's your favorite part of your new PC-Gaming system, and why?
MS: This is difficult to say which part I prefer the most since I believe that a setup is only the sum of its parts. But I will say the SubPac has had the greatest affect on it. The whole idea of feeling the experience is just as important as playing it, and so far the SubPac has been the only peripheral that has been totally capable of doing this.
MM: During the last column you were dealing with some office chair issues (lets leave it at that) which inhibited your ability to utilize the SubPac S2 as often as you would've liked. Now that you got that sorted, tell us: Is it even an option to go back to PC-Gaming without a SubPac?
MS: NO...Just, no...
MM: I believe the S2 is far better suited for PC-Gamers like yourself than the SubPac M2. If you agree, would you care to elaborate?
MS: Yes in its current version, the SubPac works perfectly with PC Gaming simply because its plug and play. There's no fancy set of adapters you have to get and no loops to jump through. Also, it's important to realize that the computing power available to sound design on PC is far better suited to the SubPac than it is on console platforms.
MM: Since we published Bass for Miles Part I we've seen the release of Star Wars Battefront! I know you've been spending time battling with or against the force. Tell me: How's the game? Secondly: Tell me about the experience utilizing the SubPac S2 and Audeze LCD-X planar magnetic headphones! Have I created a monster?
MS: Many have argued that the game is bad because it is simple. However, I believe that this simplicity is what makes it stay Star Wars and not Star Battlefield 5 or something. Despite the games faults, the sound design work and the environments that you are thrown into are not just familiar to die-hard Star Wars fans. But also immensely exhilarating and fun to play for a casual FPS (first person shooter) player like myself. Having gotten some decent play time with the LCD-X's and the subpac. I definitely find the usefulness in having such a dynamic sound range and it staying clear in the highs and lows. However, having only just switched to them, I'll need more time to get used the weight in comparison to for example my steelseries or the monster dna pro's. (I.E. Can I PLEASE PLAY WITH THEM SOME MORE???)
MM: So, you've been enjoying my Monster DNA Pro over-ears during the past few weeks. Today we set you up with my Audeze LCD-X planars. I figured it would greatly enhance your perception of the gaming environment, especially since the LCD-X are open-back headphones. Are you happy with their performance? What stands out, and thus far, would you prefer to use these cans for PC-Gaming, or go back to closed-backs?
MS: Both Headphones are superb. However I think I need a little more time on the LCD-X's before I can draw a fair conclusion between the two. The light-weight of the DNA-Pros appeals to me simply because I play for long periods of time but the extra umph generated by the LCD-X's is just staggering. The dynamic range of the sounds makes them really nice for interpreting direction of sound.
MM: Finally, for now, if you could sit down with the designers at Subpac now and offer them some advice with regard to the implementation of their Tactile Bass System: Namely, the S2, what would you say?
MS: My biggest issue with the SubPac right now is the inability to set the base intensity regardless of volume. I would like to feel that I don't have to kill my hearing to get the proper bass out of the SubPac you know? If they were to implement some sort of switch on the control panel that allowed you to do this I would say that at least technically, it'll be good to go!
In closing: We're lookin' to see how much further we can take it over at Fort Miles! I think switching things up to MrSpeakers ETHER open-back planar magnetic headphones would be a wise choice; given their light-weight and incredible dynamic range (which Miles mentioned above when describing his impressions of the Audeze LCD-X). This way Miles could experience PC gaming with open-back cans for a longer period of time. We've also been discussing upgrading his DAC/headphone amplifier, and we're going to try a unit with two headphone outputs. This way I can provide a dedicated output to his SubPac S2 and another to his headphones: Giving him the ability to control the bass separately from his headphone volume, per his wishes. Plus: I've already witnessed Miles walking around with the Monster DNA Pro headphones I lent him for gaming - but he was using them for music as well. Hey, maybe we've inadvertently converted him into a hi-fi freak after-all while on this PC gaming odyssey! Stay tuned to find out!!
I couldn't believe what I was seeing, hearing and feeling when Miles put me in his seat and played the trailer for Star Wars Battlefront! I felt like I was a part of the film. Technology is WILD: