Audio for sim racing: your best options

Headphones and speaker systems, find out the best of both and which option is best for your specific sim racing requirements.

Forza 5 Horizon and DiRT Rally 2.0 screenshots

by Chris Williams |

What sim racing gives us so far in terms of sensation is visual, audio, and to a degree, touch. The visuals are becoming incredibly realistic with Gran Turismo 7 and Forza Horizon 5 leading the charge.

Touch is making progress too, thanks to powerful racing wheels like the Thrustmaster T-GT II, direct-drive units like the Fanatec CSL DD, and the impressive haptic feedback offered in Sony’s PS5 DualSense controller.

Excellent audio is also readily available, but few of us use it to its full potential.

It’s worth understanding how to improve the audio of your sim racing experience if you’re wanting to improve immersion. In terms of hardware, you have headphones and speakers to choose from, and whichever you decide is best for you, also having the correct in-game audio settings is crucial to making the whole exercise worthwhile.

Headphones

Headphones are the option we would recommend for casual and serious sim racing alike. Recommended models provide powerful and clear directional audio for immersive racing. That headphones are more practical and affordable than a speaker system are valuable bonus benefits, too.

SteelSeries has mastered the art of wrapping up formidable power in an unassuming shell.

The huge frequency range, 10Hz to 40kHz, is roughly double what you'd expect from a standard headset, resulting in a sound profile that's truly a joy to experience. The speaker drivers deliver a sound where every single element is reproduced with an uncanny and truly immersive quality (a quality greatly enhanced by the inclusion of DTS Headphone:X v2.0 surround sound).

Dual audio allows both a gaming system and Bluetooth device to playback simultaneously, proving plenty of ways to chat and listen to music. The wireless transmitter base is a component that we particularly enjoy as, in addition to providing a strong wireless connection, it also offers a tactile element into the headset's control. Even the retractable microphone, a relatively pedestrian feature, has been designed with care.

The Arctis Pro won't leave gamers high and dry either, thanks to its dual-battery system, which always sees one battery charging while another is in use.

The Logitech Pro X is a remarkable headset, thanks to its accomplished design, immaculate spatial audio, and crystal-clear mic performance. It's hard to beat, even at twice the price.

We were blown away. The drivers deliver a powerful and organic audio profile, while the DTS HEADPHONE:X provides a wide surround sound experience, perfectly showcasing near- and far-field sounds. The mic is powered by BLUE VO!CE too, so you're in safe hands there.

Official kit can suffer from the law of diminishing returns due to its 'official' badge, but not here. Quite the contrary, in fact. You will be struggling to find better performance for this kind of price.

In terms of fit, this is a very comfortable, lightweight headset. The only caveat being those with big heads might struggle. The mic pops away neatly when you don't require it. The sound quality is superb too with the help of software such as Windows Sonic, Dolby Atmos, and DTS Headphone X. To adjust volume, you rotate the outer of the earcup. Nice touch.

Like the official Xbox headphones, these official PlayStation 5 headphones aren’t too hard on the wallet either. Straight off the bat, these aren’t as comfortable as the Arctis or even Logitech headphones. You can get an hour or two before the unventilated pads and rubber head strap starts to get annoying.

But...

The audio quality is amazing. It’s meaty with healthy bass and low-mid response, which adds a lot of depth without overdoing it. Sony’s Tempest 3D AudioTech is excellent too. When it comes to sim racing, the sound gets busy and having directional sound is important and the software in these headphones is fantastic.

Your onboard controls for power, mic mute, volume, and the like are on the left earcup. These wireless headphones are also compatible with PS4 and PC thanks to a useful (but surprisingly large) USB transmitter.

Speaker systems

Speakers are cooler than headphones, just like a club is cooler than a silent disco. If you have the space to wind up the noise, the right setup does offer some quality audio punch.

Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System

Best surround sound system
Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System
Amazon

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These speakers are tuned to meet THX and Dolby certification, meaning that cinema-quality sound is guaranteed. The five satellite speakers can be placed around the room to facilitate a true surround sound experience, while the 165-watt subwoofer sits and delivers some quality punchy bottom end. You won't just hear your audio, you'll feel it too.

The audio that's pushed out by the speakers impresses with both its volume and its quality. They’re ideal for all entertainment types, be it gaming, music, or film, though gaming and action movies are particularly elevated when heard through these.

The downsides here are that with many speakers comes a lot of cabling, and while you can’t question their performance, you can their aesthetics. At least the speakers are small.

Sonos Beam Gen 2

Best soundbar
Sonos Beam Gen 2
Amazon

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A simple, clean soundbar is an option for sim racing audio. Granted, it wonu2019t provide the same surround sound that multiple speakers or headphones provide but some models, such as this compact Sonos are very good in their own right.

Connected to your TV, this sleek soundbar produces sound waves of a remarkable depth and quality irrespective of the volume level. It has Dolby Atmos to help with surround sound, which pays dividends in games and movies.

In day-to-day use, the Beam has Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa so you can control it without lifting a finger. You can move into full surround sound with the Beam if you wish. All you have to do is add in some of Sonos’ speakers.

Logitech Z623 2.1 Speaker System

Best value speaker system
Logitech Z623 THX 2.1 Speaker System
Amazon

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Logitech. That Swiss-American brand appears everywhere like Dwayne u2018Logitechu2019 Johnson. Where the two differ is that the actor continuously plays the same character while Logitech has its fingers in many pies, and audio is one of them.

The Z623 is also THX-certified, so like its Z906 sibling so you have a reasonably good idea of what’s to come. The 2.1 surround system provides great immersion, especially in this price bracket. There is a multitude of inputs, so device compatibility is not a concern.

In addition to gaming, music fans will really enjoy these speakers.

Racing games with great audio

Chances are the racing game(s) you own already have great audio. You’ll realise that with some decent hardware and the in-game settings just so. Below are racing games that earn two thumbs up for audio.

Gran Turismo 7

Gran Turismo 7 screenshot
©Image: Polyphony Digital

Read our Gran Turismo 7 review | Watch our video review

Being the flagship racing game for PlayStation 5, Gran Turismo 7 supports Tempest 3D AudioTech and that is marvellous. It’s easily the benchmark for immersive audio. With it, not only can you hear where competitor cars are, but sound also reflects off objects. You can also hear rain tapping your car.

Make sure you set the audio settings to whatever is appropriate – 7.1 for a relevant surround system, two-channel for headphones – whatever. You can also tweak other things such as tyre screech.

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 screenshot
©Image: Playground Games

Forza Horizon 5 won The Game Awards 2021 ‘Best Audio Design’, which is a promising attestation to its audio credentials. The game is set in a part of the world where weather is quite a lot more intense than some Dorset drizzle. The audio developers for the game took this very seriously and have done their upmost to make something like a dust storm as realistic as possible just as much as they did a modified V8.

In both environmental and automotive, Forza Horizon 5’s audio is incredible. Like Gran Turismo 7, the nature of audio changes as you select a different view; similarly, soundwaves bounce back off nearby objects – and that varies depending on the type of object.

DiRT Rally 2.0

DiRT Rally 2.0 screenshot
©Image: Codemasters

Read our DiRT Rally 2.0 review | Read our guide to the best rally racing games

It’s been around since 2019 but DiRT Rally 2.0 still ranks high for many things including audio quality.

Codemasters managed to realistically synthesize car engine notes that do change when the engine is damaged or depending on your selected view. Likewise, environmental effects such as the flicking of stones under-car are crisp and distinct rather than a concoction of white noise.

Other solid efforts: Assetto Corsa Competizione, F1 2021, iRacing.

Read next:

The best racing games on PlayStation 5

The best racing wheels for nailing those podium finishes

The best racing seats: recline into immersive sim racing

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