Have you ever heard about the paradox of choice? Here’s the gist of it: the more choices you have, the harder it becomes to make a satisfying decision. This is slowly becoming a reality in the world of voice communication because the number of available programs is rising. Which one is the best? Which one should you use?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing a number of voice communication software, most of which were specifically designed with gamers in mind. However, though you may not be a gamer yourself (or just a casual one at that), these programs can still be useful for general social activity over the Internet like chit-chatting with your friends. All you need is a microphone, and you’ll be good to go.
Join me as I compare the best of the best offerings to see which ones excel, which ones fall short, and which ones provide the best overall experience.
Razer Comms is actually the newest voice chat gaming program on this list – so new, in fact, that as of writing this article it’s still in open beta status. The best way I could describe Razer Comms is that it’s like Skype meets Steam: it’s like Skype because there’s a centralized server that manages everything and you can create your own group chats, but it’s like Steam because it integrates with your games and acts as a game launcher.
The Pros: Despite how you might feel about their products, Razer has been an integral part of the gaming scene for many years. This gives them a good edge in knowing what gamers want from a voice communication program, and I think it shows. The centralized server, the friends lists, the group creation and administration, the chatrooms, the voluntary microphone toggles that let you choose whether or not you want to participate in a voice chat at any given time, the game launcher – the features list is wonderful on paper.
The Cons: The downside to Razer Comms is that it’s in open beta, which means subpar performance and the occasional bug. Some windows might lag or take inordinate amounts of time to load. There might be a feature that you think is crucial but not yet implemented. I have a high tolerance for beta software, but I know I’m in the minority, so before you give Razer Comms a try, make sure you quell your expectations until it’s out of beta.
If you’d like a full overview of this program, check out my review of Razer Comms.
Overall: B+ in current state / A- when beta issues are fixed
I instantly fell in love with Mumble when I first discovered it back sometime around 2009. At that point, it had been around for about four years (first launched in 2005), and proved to be so much better than all of its competitors. The main point that drew me was the freedom it provided, particularly in being able to host a free server without a user cap.
The Pros: Mumble is entirely free in all senses of the word – it doesn’t cost you a cent to use it as a client or host as a server AND it’s open source. It’s cross-platform too, which is great for those of you who have friends that span the gamut of operating systems. The program is extremely lightweight, the latency is fast, and there’s a plugin system that allows you to play around with positional audio depending on where your friends are standing in a game.
The Cons: Since Mumble is designed in a server-client way, you’re out of luck if you don’t have a friend who can set up the server properly. In that case, you’ll have to rent a Mumble server, which typically costs $0.30 per month per user slot. Mumble has an automatic voice normalizer that is great in theory, but can prove annoying, especially when you want to manually adjust someone’s volume and you can’t. The voice pickup algorithm for non-push-to-talk is subpar.
If you’d like a full overview of this program, check out Chris’s Mumble review.
Skype has gained a bit of notoriety ever since Microsoft decided to buy it out. Perhaps Microsoft really is ruining the once-great Skype, or maybe it’s all a placebo effect, but there’s no denying that Skype is constantly evolving. It’s most known for its ability to call phone numbers around the world for low prices, but it does have user-to-user voice chat, group voice chat, and even video chatting.
The Pros: The centralized nature of Skype, where you log in with an account on Skype’s servers, instead of having to host your own individual servers, is extremely convenient. It’s easy to build a list of friend contacts on Skype and just call them for a voice chat whenever necessary. Plus, Skype is pretty popular amongst gamers and non-gamers alike, so you’ll rarely need to convince someone to “download Skype so we can voice chat.” Big bonus there.
The Cons: Skype is a terrible resource hog. When idling, it requires upwards of 100 MB of RAM. When in a voice or video chat, it requires even more, which can be problematic when you’re playing a game that’s also hard on the resources. Voice quality can fluctuate a lot depending on your location and your ISP, sometimes so much that dropped calls become a frequent occurrence.
With a name like TeamSpeak, you might think this program is too hardcore for you. But really, it isn’t. While it was originally built for competitive teams who needed fast and effective voice communication during matches, TeamSpeak has evolved into a robust program with broad appeal. Like Mumble, TeamSpeak does not run on a centralized server, so you’ll need to host your own.
The Pros: Easy-to-use and intuitive interface make it easy to pick up. TeamSpeak’s voice quality might just be the best out of all the voice communication programs on this list. In addition, TeamSpeak is available not only across Windows, Mac, and Linux, but also as apps for Android and iOS. Now you can speak with your friends no matter where you are.
The Cons: The default free hosting license only allows up to 32 slots on a server, though you can bump that up to 512 if you register with TeamSpeak as a non-profit entity. If you can’t host a TeamSpeak server yourself, you’ll need to rent one for approximately $0.30 per month per user slot.
RaidCall is a gaming voice communication solution that focuses on the user experience and ease-of-us over flashy graphics. With the help of competitive gaming team Fnatic, RaidCall has slowly but surely placed itself on the map as an effective means for not only voice chatting but community building as well.
The Pros: RaidCall is very light on the resource usage, which is great considering how many features it has. With RaidCall, you create your own groups, which are like individual servers, except groups are hosted on RaidCall’s servers so you don’t have to worry about hosting. Groups are further divided into channels, and there is a group-wide chat so you can chat with people even if they’re in other channels.
The Cons: Since groups are hosted on RaidCall’s servers, you’re limited to their locations: US and EU. If you live anywhere else, you’re out of luck, or you’ll have to deal with increased latency. The program itself has some great features, but it sorely lacks in proper interface design, which won’t be a problem for too many people, but it was a problem for me. Though RaidCall isn’t resource-intensive, it still feels bloated with superficial features that are more distracting than helpful (such as channel levels).
If you’d like a full overview of this voice chat gaming program, check out my review of RaidCall.
If Razer Comms could fix all of its beta performance issues, I would be very tempted to call it the perfect gaming voice chat solution. Alas, it probably has three to nine months ahead of it before it reaches that point. Until then, I’m going to say that Skype is the best solution if you want a centralized service and Mumble is best if you don’t mind hosting your own setup.
What do you think? Which of these programs do you like the best and why? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
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