Not everybody who plays Battlefield looks at the vagaries that are the audio options. However, as badly documented as they are, it’s still worth doing so.
More specifically, in Battlefield 3 I’m referring to the audio options that are labelled as “Your Speaker System” and “Enhanced Stereo Mode” and the two options in Battlefield 4 named “Speaker Type” and “Speaker Configuration”.
Your Speaker System (BF3) / Speaker Type (BF4) has 5 possible options…
- War Tapes
- Home Cinema
These options alter the dynamic range immensely. From what I can tell, from lowest to highest dynamic range, the settings are as follows: War Tapes, TV, Hi-Fi, Home Cinema, Headphones (same order as listed in game and above). There is a huge difference between War Tapes (extremely compressed/low dynamic range), TV (less compressed, a bit more dynamic range), the rest (not compressed, good/high dynamic range).
A high dynamic range means the loud sounds (e.g. nearby explosions) will be loud, while the quiet sounds (e.g. wind blowing in the trees) will be fairly quiet. A low dynamic range means the loud sounds (nearby explosions) will be loud, and the quiet sounds (wind) will be slightly less loud. Perceived volume is incredibly important for sound localization, so choosing a low-dynamic range option (e.g. War Tapes) will sound loud and impressive, but you will lose a lot of information because all the sounds will be loud at the same time. This makes it seem like a chopper is directly overhead when it is really about 150 meters out. You’ll definitely be able to hear it coming, but you won’t have a clue where it actually is.
So what is the point of all these different options? War Tapes sounds loud and impressive, TV is a bit more realistic but will account for the terrible speakers integrated in your TV. Also, choosing either of these options will keep your volume at a more steady level, reducing the likelihood you will annoy those around you; there won’t be any sudden loud explosions because everything is already loud. The rest (TV, Home Cinema, Headphones) give a much more realistic/useful dynamic range; far explosions will actually sound far and close explosions will scare you like they should. These three do seem almost identical (with regards to dynamic range) so there may be some minor EQing differences here rather than straight dynamics.
Additionally, I suspect the Headphones option may include a stereo crossover function (some of the left side gets sent to the right side and vice versa, to emulate the crosstalk you would get from speakers), although I could be wrong on this. You may notice the Headphones mode give a slightly higher minimum volume than Hi-Fi/Home Cinema. This may be evidence that the aforementioned stereo crossover effect is real.
In addition to these options, Battlefield 3 has an Enhanced Stereo mode which corrects the audio for non-surround systems (e.g. 2 speakers, 2 speakers and sub, or basic headphones).
For PC owners there is additional aspect that you need to bear in mind. For Battlefield 4, for example, an entire core/thread will be dedicated to the rendering of sound effects. Depending on what you choose will determine the impact on your system – Home Cinema and War Tapes will have a greater impact on system performance.
So many people, when they try War Tapes, leave it on this option as it sounds as if you’re in the middle of a war movie. Unfortunately, for sound localisation and realism it’s not very good; everything sounds like it is literally right on top of you. So is the TV sound mode. Use either Hi-Fi, Home Cinema or, if you’re actually using headphones, Headphones. Enable “Enhanced Stereo Mode” (BF3) or select Stereo in “Speaker Configuration” (BF4) if you don’t have a surround system/headset.
However, it has to be recognised that many people prefer War Tapes – it is certainly possible that some people will gain greater advantage by hearing every tiny squeak as clear as day from 50 meters away. However, if this article does nothing else, it is hoped that it will make you try out other possibilities.
The video below demonstrates the difference between sound options in Battlefield 3. Each sound mode includes a demonstration of (in order) inside, front grenade, rear grenade, outside and left grenade. The settings (again, in order) are Hi-Fi, Home Cinema, Headphones, War Tapes, TV and Hi-Fi with Enhanced Stereo Mode off.
Hi-Fi | HC | HP | WT | TV | HF no ESM
0:04 | 0:46 | 1:27 | 2:09 | 2:49 | 3:30
0:12 | 0:55 | 1:37 | 2:17 | 2:58 | 3:39
0:19 | 1:01 | 1:42 | 2:23 | 3:04 | 3:45
0:25 | 1:08 | 1:49 | 2:30 | 3:11 | 3:53
0:33 | 1:15 | 1:55 | 2:36 | 3:18 | 3:59
Finally, the following interview with Battlefield 3’s Audio Director is of interest in learning what they’re trying to achieve with the game’s audio…