Drown Audio is a technology firm that probably won't have crossed your path before, and they are certainly new to us here at MMORPG. Take a deep dive with us as we get a hands-on preview with a potentially game-changing piece of audio equipment that might change how you feel about your music.
When I got an opportunity to wrap a pair of Drown Earphones around my lugs at this yea’rs Gamescom, I was more than a little impressed. The Drown Audio team were situated just off the edge of the UK IE industry booth but their brand new earphones managed to whisk me away to another world entirely. The Scottish development team describes Drown as a whole new audio platform and a tactile audio experience. What exactly does that mean? Drown uses a unique delivery system, which is most obviously viewed in the unusual shape of each earpiece, to trigger three distinct parts of a gamer’s auditory experience. This includes a tactile element that enhances the normally underutilized range of normal hearing, helping to guide players and trigger a more deliberate response.
What Sets Drown Audio Apart
To go just a little deeper, the Drown audio experience is described here, first hand, by the Drown team.
The first step is a traditional stereo acoustic wave from a high-end dynamic graphene driver. Years were spent designing a unique waveguide that sends sound waves through a tactile system that triggers spatial and physical awareness.
Spatial awareness is created by the nerves in your outer ear. This is how we perceive height, depth and distance. When sound design in a game uses object-based audio, Drown gives you the ability to perceive your surroundings with complete accuracy, as if it were a true physical space.
Physical awareness is created through bone and cartilage conduction, like what you feel in your chest from a big set of speakers at a concert. Drown lets you feel bass in the deepest sense possible and actually experience sounds below 20Hz, your normal low range of hearing.
Once you get over the unusual earpiece design, you might be forgiven for thinking that Drown earphones are similar to standard stereo earphones. The entire package can be connected to almost any audio system using a standard-sized 3.5mm jack. This is made possible by the unique design that relies on the waveform of the audio signal is projects rather than fancy post-processing. A sizeable cable connects each end of the jack to left and right ears meaning that everything from a mobile shooter to a top-end battle rig benefit from the Drown Sound. A slightly eccentric looking triangular plastic shell brings this cabling up form above the ear and a set of monstrous looking silicon seals channel the various audio sensations into your ear and surrounding senses.
While Drown provides a comprehensive guide on getting these fitted, the first 10 minutes was a tad confusing and the twist-lock insertion technique seems just slightly less complex than reverse parking. Like navigating anything, insertion is easy enough once you’ve succeeded the first Overall, the sizeable silicon pads that make contact with your ears mean that I found the Drown earphones a snug if unusual fit.
In addition to this package, owners of the final product will find a cable extension and a noise-canceling microphone in place. In line controls are included but the prototypes we got to try don’t have these options included.
With the little initial discomfort over, the Drown Audio earphones can get to work. A pair of high-end graphene drivers push audio from any game into the ears and from the first moment that the shooting starts, Drown stands out. I tested Drown out across several gaming experiences from the last few years and where these earphones really excel is in combat. I gave Drown some serious time in both Apex Legends and Wolfenstein where both held up astonishingly. Audio is crystal clear with little noise leakage thanks to the earpiece design. Volume is surprisingly powerful thanks to the audio systems in place and I would not recommend starting at 11. More than this, however, audio has a real sense of depth. While I found this to be true with Creative’s SXFI system, both tech seem to take bone structure into account. While the SXFI manages to give a sense of depth, the physics behind Drown design means that the impact of a gunshot has a definite presence.
The Drown Gaming Experience
The first time a gun goes off or a mortar shell lands, there isn’t just a feeling that noise has direction but that it is in your line of fire. You feel each explosion as hit hits your ear. This type of tactile enhancement is not like HD rumble but more like an accompanying jolt as the shock of an explosion comes into contact with your ear. The enhanced audio design seems to provide a subtlety that also adds a directional experience without the need for systems like Windows Sonic or Dolby. While Drown still advises it’s down to physics and design, it’s hardly believable that contorting waveforms and tweaking bass up to any level can make this sort of difference.
While Dobly or Windows Sonic only seemed to degrade the overall experience, using a good quality post amp like the Cyrus Soundkey to clean up any audio output does make a massive difference and highlights the fact that the Drown headset, for all its wonders, is still subject to the quality of audio coming into its 3.5 mm jack.
Video games and films like Dunkirk, all media that provide a deliberate attack seem to work best with these headphones, exploiting the tactile element and heavy bass that and pulls you towards the source of a sound. Lighter and less definitive audio scores certainly feel clearer with a good rich atmosphere, but the need for that immersive experience is questionable if it isn’t something you’d normally indulge in.
In the first instance, this is something that would take some getting used to, but it has definite advantages. In a portable situation, the Drown audio experience gives great overall soundscape that is at least as good as most virtual surround sound systems without the additional hardware. These do not carry additional post amps, extra wiring, fancy software, or a bunch of superfluous drivers. The single driver system and the aforementioned design make for one of the most unique audio experiences I've ever had.
While we didn’t get the final product, the prototypes that Drown provided gave a sampling of the final capability of Drown and I’ve got to say I was impressed. Audio clarity is impressive and for a pair of jack powered earphones, the Drown Audio experience is exceptional. Bass is enhanced and full while the rest of the spectrum feels vibrant. When getting into battle the tactile elements of the Drown earphones redefine how sound feels and provide just enough of an edge to make me feel vaguely competent in a shoot first ask questions later scenario. If you want to find out more about Drown Audio and pick up the earphones, then their IndieGoGo page isa good resource or check out the official website for more about the specs behind this system.