Best possible global sound settings in Windows Vista/7/8/10
[ Detailed Guide ]

If you are unsure about what are the most optimal sound settings for various scenarios - playing music, playing games, watching movies, recording gameplay - then I created this guide specifically for you. I hope that by this guide you will have all the useful advices about all the recommended sound quality settings in one place. I divided it into categories to make it easier to use.

Games - recommended sound settings

If you won't understand some of the terms used in this guide - don't worry and please check out the Prologue and Understanding The Perfect Sound sections! [ links will open in a separate tab ]

Game audio files parameters

Most common audio file parameters which may be used in modern games include, but are not limited to:

Sample Rate: 22050 Hz (22,05 kHz)
Sample Rate: 32000 Hz (32 kHz)
Sample Rate: 44100 Hz (44,1 kHz)
Sample Rate: 48000 Hz (48 kHz)
Bit Depth: 16-bit
Audio Channels: Mono
Audio Channels: Stereo
Audio Channels: Quadro (4.0)
Audio Format: OGG
Audio Format: WAV
Audio Format: MP3
Audio Format: Prioprietary (Non-standard)
Audio Bitrate: from 30 kb/s to Lossless

Be aware:

These are the parameters of actual game audio files (sounds saved in the game's files on the disk). Not the parameters of whole combined (mixed) audio output on your device, operating system and coming from your game - this is a whole different story.

Why so many of them?

Because they are never static, and are always different depending on the game engine (type and version), external APIs and tools used, developer, the particular game needs, the particular usage case (sound effect, music, ambience) even from the platform the game ships (consoles will use often different formats/standards than PCs).

One game can almost never have all audio files saved in just one specific set of parameters.

One game can have files saved in all these formats and parameters. And even some different ones too. There is no one specific rule here. It just depends on the game.

Then what settings to use in games?

It depends on the game, your audio gear and your specific usage case. But if you have no specific needs, you only use headphones and/or Stereo speakers you can safely use the same settings as you use for listening to music, that I mentioned in detail here: Music - recommended sound settings

Because in that guide I already stated detailed instructions how to set your Windows system audio settings (step by step with screenshots), I will not repeat them, and only shortly list the parameters now.

Recommended default audio settings in Windows for playing games

Sample Rate: 44100 Hz (44,1 kHz)
Bit Depth: 24-bit+
Audio Channels: Stereo
Enhancements: Disable all enhancements
Volume: 0.0 dB (100%)

Best possible global sound settings in Windows Vista/7/8/10 Detailed Guide for games screenshot

Disable all enhancements is recommended. Only enable them, if a particular game requires them for proper work (Forza games are the only example that I'm aware of) or if you really need a particular effect that those functions provide.

Best possible global sound settings in Windows Vista/7/8/10 Detailed Guide for games screenshot

More than Stereo speakers (4.0, 5.1, 7.1)

If you have more than 2 speakers/headphones setup, you will want to select exactly the same setting appriopriate for the speaker setup you are using. For example, For 5.1 speaker setup, configure your audio settings to match 5.1 setup settings (instead of Stereo). Remember also to turn off any "Upmixing" options if you have it turned on on such setup (Upmixing is a sound card option which "clones" Stereo/Mono audio sources into all your speakers).

Warning: Some games support maximum 5.1 audio output!

Recommended default audio settings in Windows for recording games using NVidia GeForce Experience (Shadowplay)

The only change here is the Sample Rate set to 48 kHz instead of 44,1 kHz.

GeForce Experience records audio in an AAC audio format (using a built-in Windows AAC Codec) in 192 kb/s and 48 kHz. This is static and currently unchangeable.

Using any other sample rate than 48 kHz in Windows in this case will result in massive sound quality reduction in the final recording due to very poor resampling algorithm used in the realtime conversion.

Sample Rate: 48000 Hz (48 kHz)
Bit Depth: 24-bit+
Audio Channels: Stereo
Enhancements: Disable all enhancements
Volume: 0.0 dB (100%)

Best possible global sound settings in Windows Vista/7/8/10 Detailed Guide for games screenshot

If you use a Microphone to record your voice, remember to also change your Microphone's Recording Sample Rate in Windows to the same 48 kHz:

Best possible global sound settings in Windows Vista/7/8/10 Detailed Guide for games screenshot

Important to remember while recording game audio

Think mainly about your viewers' experience! If you are recording a game with any recording software - please remember to turn off all special effects, equalizers and other software enhancements before starting the recording. This will ensure that your viewers will appreciate the sound quality most close to the original, with as little sound processing as possible.

If you are using any software processing during the recording, the sound after processing will be also recorded on the video's sound track. Keep in mind that viewers with different and/or better audio hardware than you might not enjoy your particular subjective "enhancements" that you applied to the original audio.

About resulting audio quality in games

Because the audio file quality from one game to another (and even from one in-game sound to another) can be so vastly different the resulting audio quality in games will depend at the software level mostly on the developers' choices and the built-in resampling quality in Windows Audio Mixer on the particular Windows system that you are using.

Any special effect or option present and active in your sound card's drivers (like Equalizer, 3D virtualization, Bass/Treble Boosts, corrections etc.) will also affect the resulting sound quality in games.

Games with high sound quality (examples)

Through my gaming journey I remember many games with very good overall audio quality that stand out the most. This doesn't necessarily mean highest audio file bitrate, but rather the overall audio recording quality, processing and generally overall pleasing to the ears sound experience in the game resulting from all this combined.
Here is a short - and totally subjective, like with all audio - list of examples:

  • Assetto Corsa
  • Assetto Corsa Competizione
  • GRID 2
  • Dirt Rally
  • Dirt 4
  • All Assassin's Creed games
  • Diablo III
  • StarCraft II
  • Battlefield 3 and up
  • Quantum Break
  • Mafia II
  • Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
  • Overwatch
  • The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
  • LIMBO
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Tomb Raider (2013)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • NieR:Automata
  • Raceroom Racing Experience

If you know any other games with good sound experience worth attention - please let me know about them, I will gladly check them out some day :)

Links and useful resources

Useful links and resources used in conjunction with sound, software and programming experience to create this guide:

  • Microsoft's official developer references for Windows audio stack
  • Old article in polish about improving audio quality in Windows systems
  • Creative's official manuals (really more people should read them)
  • ...and maaaany years of testing sound cards in games/movies/music on various headphones, DACs and sound cards.

Thank you for reading

Feel free to share a link to this information page to help more people in having the best sound experience possible.

Written by rezno[R].
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I'm open for any suggestions of improvements in this article: contact information.