In the pre-release period, Sony put a huge emphasis on 3D audio alongside the DualSense when promoting the PlayStation 5. We’ve spoken at length about the next-gen console’s revolutionary new pad, and the kind of innovations it brings to titles like Astro’s Playroom and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. However, very few are talking about the Tempest audio engine that the company designed. So, does it live up to the hype or not?
Well, first a few caveats: we’ve been playing simulated 3D audio for a few years now, using Sony’s Platinum Wireless headset. In the case of select PlayStation 4 titles, like The Last of Us: Part II and Days Gone, the exclusives were even designed to support 3D audio when you had the headset attached. Similarly, we’ve experienced the technology in PlayStation VR, which had additional hardware baked into its Processing Unit specifically to handle positional sound.
That is to say: we haven’t really encountered a seismic shift from what we’d already experienced on the PS4, to be honest. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the quality of the audio and overall mix is outstanding in titles like Demon’s Souls. Here you really get sucked into the world of Boletaria, and you can sense the position of enemies all around you. This expands beyond traditional stereo panning, because you can also detect sounds from above, below, and behind you.
The same is true of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Perhaps our favourite example of 3D audio thus far is when we were playing the Moscow map in multiplayer. We could hear footsteps coming to the right of us, slightly below our ear position. We swivelled and saw an opponent approach up a staircase, and swiftly responded to get the kill. Obviously, the franchise has always had great sound, but this struck us as a step up from previous entries.
Even in DIRT 5, you get a greater sense of spatial awareness, as giant PA speakers bust out the release’s soundtrack from different positions around the track. There is more going on here than panning left-and-right; you really do get an idea of the exact location the audio is coming from, which all helps to ground you in the world. Astro’s Playroom, similarly, has a stage where futuristic cars are whizzing past you, and you can detect their location from the sound.
But it is more subtle than we’d expected thus far. Sony’s first-party games have always had outstanding audio, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Demon’s Souls is so darn glossy. Still, Mark Cerny talked about how he wanted to really improve the overall experience with earphones when he designed the PS5, but we’re still waiting for a real wow moment, as the improvements seem more low-key than the marketing led us to believe so far.
What are your thoughts on PS5's 3D audio thus far? Have you experienced anything particularly outstanding, or do your thoughts mirror our own thus far? Hear where we're coming from in the comments section below.