Pixels & Bits: Gaming on the Go

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posted 8/28/2012 by Dan Keener
other articles by Dan Keener
Platforms: AV
Welcome to Pixels & Bits, where the staff at GamingNexus will take a weekly look at the impact of audio and video products (as well as related gear) that enhances the gaming experience.  In this serialized article, we will discuss audio and video products, accessories and opinions on how these work within the confines of the gaming experience.  In this week’s article, we will take the second of a two-part look at “Gaming on the Go – Portable A/V”, which will touch on audio or video hardware you can take with you while traveling, no matter the distance.  This week in Part 2, we will go over some portable audio options that can enhance your gaming experience while you are away from home.

It has been a few weeks since Pixels & Bits went on vacation with Part 1 of our Gaming on the Go – Portable A/V article that looked at portable video.  In Part 2, we are wrapping up the article by taking a closer look at the portable audio options that you may want to consider when hitting the road with your console.  Just like with the portable video, I was able to break down the audio options into several different categories and provide some examples of what fits the mold:

Headphones – As with the portable video options from a couple weeks ago, there is a very obvious choice for gaming-on-the-go audio in headphones.  In addition to the standard headphone/microphone options available from the console makers, there are literally hundreds of gaming headset options that will plug and play right out of the box with your consoles.



If all you desire to do is hear and not speak, then any headphone you have should work and be able to connect directly to the console or TV to get you gaming audio.  These options include some of the higher end headphones available at big-box-retailers such as models from Beats, Polk Audio, Sony, JVC, Sennheiser, Able Planet and so on.  Conversely, you could also get away with a crappy pair of buds you found lying in the parking lot at a rest area in the middle of nowhere.  The point is that any headphone will suffice, but you can control the quality and audio experience based on the amount of money you put into them.


Portable Monitor Speaker(s) –The basics of a monitor speaker is that it has a bookshelf sized driver (5 ¼” or 6 ½” speaker) and a tweeter housed in a ported cabinet with an integrated amp and an analog audio connection.  That being said, it might be tough to get a hold of a portable monitor speaker even though they are most likely to have the best sound of the group.  A few years ago, many companies jumped into this speaker category when Rock Band and Guitar Hero were hot and several gaming branded monitor speakers were produced to beef up your gaming audio.  One of these was the Hitmaster from Polk Audio, which we reviewed and gave extremely high marks for its sound quality, price point and portability factor.



Unfortunately, a slew of underperforming and overpriced models also hit the market about the same time as the Hitmaster and none of the products gained a large foothold.  However, if you can track one of these down, they are excellent options not only for portable gaming, but also for use poolside, in a recreation room or on a patio outside.


Micro Speakers – There are several great qualities about Micro Speakers including their cost (usually inexpensive), size (small and easy to pack) and their ease of use in hooking up them up.  Unfortunately, they also have the stigma of being unable to deliver the robust audio that is expected by gamers.  With the goal of portable audio for gaming to be heard and enjoyed, micro speakers usually struggle to produce sound that is better than the average TV stereo speakers. 
 

However, when traveling and gaming, you don’t necessarily need to fill the entire room with audio so much as the immediate area that you are gaming at.  So using a micro speaker to juice up the game audio in a 5’ square area might just be an acceptable option.  Design changes in the last couple of years have allowed for better bass and a louder overall speaker.  We have also seen an increase in high-end versions of these that connect wirelessly via Bluetooth that provide excellent audio, albeit at a higher price.  So despite their size and perceived lack of sound, you should be able to find one brand of micro speaker at a comfortable price that gives you the audio you are looking for on the road.


Docking Stations – One of the most intriguing portable audio options is to utilize a docking station for an iOS (or other) device that also has analog audio input or Bluetooth connectivity.  While this might seem like a bit of an oddball suggestion, most of these docking stations are smaller than a portable radio, but big enough to have some sort of quality audio coming from the speakers.  Case in point is the Logitech S715i.  It s a three-way portable speaker system that can dock to most iPhone and iPod touches as well as sporting an analog audio input to connect your gaming system.  While it lacks super low-end bass, it goes deep enough to provide a full range of audio including superior mid and high ranges.  As a bonus, it has a rechargeable battery so it truly can go anywhere.
 

While the Logitech is an almost perfect example of the type of docking station that would meet your gaming needs, there are many other options and examples at tons of price points.  Companies such as Polk Audio and Beats have larger units that produce excellent sound, but at a much higher cost.  There are also units from Altec Lansing, Sony and so on that are cheaper and have lesser sound quality that also would work.  So while this is definitely a viable option, some research and budgeting will ultimately take you to your best choice if you want to go this route.


Portable Radio – This last category is the quick and dirty way to create portable audio, but it requires and input that exists on only a percentage of the product line.  Boomboxes from the ‘70’s and 80’s have long gone by the wayside, but we are still seeing a steady lineup of portable radios on the market that have functionality to match today’s technology.  This includes docks for iOS and android devices, as well as the all important auxiliary analog input to hook up your gaming console.
 

Unfortunately, the one fact of portable radios is that they sound like…well, a portable radio.  So while the sound might be louder than TV speakers, it may not be better in any way shape or form.  However, if you are in a pinch, this is the quickest way to “upgrade” your portable gaming audio on the fly.


The main thing to take away from this article is that your portable gaming-on-the-go audio choices are almost limitless.  Regardless of your preference on how gaming audio is delivered to your ears, there are any number of options to choose from to get you want you need.


About the Author:
Dan Keener has been on staff at GamingNexus since 2006 and specializes in Audio & Video gear as well as gaming accessories and has over 15 years of Home Theater consulting and sales experience.  If you have a question or comment for Dan or about the article, please leave it below.





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