Dolby Axon Voice Chat Review
Ventrilo, Skype, Team Speak, or built-in voice chat, no matter what your preferred flavor it never quite replicates the feel of sharing a room or sitting on the couch next to your partners and opponents. Dolby’s Axon offers a different approach and a unique solution to the multi-person game chat problem.
When playing online with friends it is often very difficult to discern who is talking, and in many voice chat programs the lack of discrete sound segregation often leads to a muddled mess of chatter. Players talk over one another and in the midst of combat the tool meant to make your gaming more efficient ends up just making things worse.
Dolby’s Axon addresses this problem by offering a chat service built with gamers in mind. Axon includes features that allow players to more realistically reproduce that LAN party feel or the effect of a crowded room. Thanks to the use of simulated positioning, it is now possible to converse with buddies and actually hold multiple conversations on the same chat channel.
The Axon client is a free download and creating a user account is also free. The software runs in Windows and supports common headsets and microphones. Once users have a Dolby login it’s a pretty simple process of adding friends and creating a dedicated voice channel for your friends.
Once you have chosen a chat partner or partners, you’ll find that unlike other clients, there is a very important visual piece to the Dolby Axon interaction. Users in a shared channel see themselves represented visually on a grid. This is the most literal version of a chat room you’re likely to experience. The user icons represent the player’s place in the room as well as their virtual facing. Adjusting your positioning affects sound delivered to that user’s headset when someone else speaks.
The Axon chat uses these locations to simulate speaking in an open space that is very unlike the telephone-like performance of other voice services. Position also becomes a way to filter or focus conversations and interactions with other players.
Imagine positioning the scouts on your Modern Warfare team in front with the support folks in the back while the commander or leader sits square in the middle. Everyone can hear the conversations around them, but the program gives preference or emphasis to those nearest or facing toward you. Additionally, the chat creator can create subdivisions of the room to allow private conversations where only a few team members could plan or blather on.
Users can also set up permanent chats. These channels become persistent across sessions and are ideal for weekly clan matches or raid communications with a floating attendance list. All chats using the client are invite only, so it’s not like anyone can wander in. Chat creators can give invite power to assigned friends for those occasions when they aren’t around.
During testing of the product the positional effects were quite impressive. Even with three people in the same room talking at once it is fairly simple to move your icon and in real-time have the positional bias change to suit your needs.
You might wonder why Dolby would be offering this service for free. There has to be a catch, right? The catch is that while the core of Axon’s features are available for free users, the company offers a $19.99 yearly subscription called “Surround Pass.” This subscription allows users to set up 5 “permanent chat” channels (Free players cannot make permanent chats) Positional sound is also a subscription feature, but it’s enabled during new users first 30 days.
Surround Pass subscriber chat rooms support up to 50 users and allows you to partition the room into sections. One of the best parts of the subscription model is that once a subscriber enters a chat room, all users in the room can take advantage of the enhanced features while in that room. Similar voice clients charge considerably more for similar hosting and features.
While testing the Axon client we tested the positioning and room division features and found them to live up to expectations. Moving your icon is simple, the sound changes rapidly, representing your new location compared to the speaker and using rooms to chat allowed us to focus the conversation and filter from a more general conversation.
The only real quirk we experienced was that while in the large room the sound often felt “too roomy.” Sounds were more expanded than with normal headset conversations. Moving into the divided room however had a noticeable effect as did positioning speakers closer together and with the correct “facing.”
Considering this is actually one of the features of the software and not a sound bug, we chalked it up more to us needing to adjust to a voice chat system that really replicated a space for our voices to fill. Those who find it too distracting can always create a smaller room and the results will sound more “normal.”
Dolby is offering the Axon API to developers, so it’s likely that in the near future games will natively support these features.
Dolby Axon is a free download. Users are required to register and create an account to use the software. An upgraded subscription service is available for $19.99 a year. You can find more information online at http://axon.dolby.com
- True positional sound changes the way you chat
- Ability to set up permanent chat channels for friends (with subscription)
- Reasonable yearly subscription rate
- Takes a little getting used to the simulated room effect
- Currently requires a desktop client running outside your games
The Verdict: 90/100