As far as gaming voice chat programs go, there are plenty of great selections out there. You could go with the tried and true offerings of Teamspeak and Mumble or you could go with something newer and more experimental like Razer Comms or RaidCall. Or you could go for one of the lesser known alternatives, such as this one that flew under my radar for the past few years: Dolby Axon. How could I have not known about this until now?
If you’re wondering whether the “Dolby” in Dolby Axon is the same as in “Dolby Surround Sound,” then the answer is yes. Axon is a voice chat program from Dolby that utilizes surround sound to give you positional voice communication. When voice chatting, Axon will take into consideration your position in the actual game and alter player voices to match their positions. It sounds like a gimmick, and perhaps it is, but it’s a cool one.
Yet even if you ignore the positional audio gimmick, Axon proves to be a great voice chat program with all of the core features you’d expect, without hogging up all of your computer’s resources. Keep reading to see if Dolby Axon is right for you.
Note: Dolby Axon is only available for Windows and Mac. If you’re looking for a voice chat solution for Linux, you may want to check out the alternatives mentioned above.
Like mentioned before, Axon’s most unique feature is its positional audio, which is featured in their promotional video shown above. The video is a bit cheesy – okay, it’s a lot cheesy – but it gets the point across: Axon is a legitimate VoIP solution for those of you who play any of its supported games. (The positional audio feature will not work in all games.)
To get started, visit the Axon site and create a free account. This will be the account used by the program. I hate having to create new accounts for stuff like this, but thankfully the process was extremely short, and I got it over with in just a few minutes. Once you have the client downloaded, installed, and you’re log in, you’ll see something like this:
I was surprised at the minimal styling of the Axon interface. I came into it expecting a big, bulky sort of program with lots of flare and eye candy (perhaps that was a judgment made after watching the horrendous video above), but the compact and efficient design was a pleasant surprise.
As it turns out, the interface is intuitive and easy to learn. There’s a simple buddy list system that you can organize using groups and sorts. You can chat with people one-on-one or in group chats, both with text and voice. The real innovation lies in how Axon handles its chatting, which we’ll see later. I had no trouble navigating the interface and I have no complaints about it.
Axon supports user-created permanent chats, which are group chats that persist even when the original creator logs off. This is a fantastic feature for stable groups of friends or gaming communities that like to hang out around the clock since it alleviates the responsibility for any one person to be “hosting” the chat, so to speak. Each account is allowed up to 5 permanent chats.
When you’re in a chat, you’ll be presented with a position overview of everyone in it. Depending on your distance from other people and the direction of your voice, they’ll hear you differently according to the rules of surround sound. The chat can even be divided in multiple zones so everyone isn’t forced into the same “room.”
In terms of resource usage, Axon is on the lower end of the spectrum. When I’m idling, the program uses no more than 30 MB of RAM and no CPU at all. When in an active chat, the difference is negligible. It’s definitely a viable alternative for those of you who have weaker computer systems.
As far as customization goes, Axon doesn’t offer any new innovations but it doesn’t skimp out on the important ones either. You can set an avatar, edit your profile, and play around with various client options – like key bindings and audio controls – to better improve your experience.
Some other features you might find useful:
- Popups and Notifications. Axon will let you know of important events, such as when friends sign on and off, through popups and sounds. You can set where they appear and how long it takes for the popups to fade in and out.
- Overlays. Axon has the option to provide an in-game overlay that displays all of the users in the current chat while you play. It lights up whenever someone speaks, which helps identify voices when there are unfamiliar faces in the chat. The position and appearance of the overlay can be altered in the options.
- Skins. If the default theme for Axon doesn’t suit you, then you can download and install different skins to alter the appearance of the whole program. If you’re skilled enough, why not try your hand at creating your own skin?
All in all, I really like Dolby Axon. I probably won’t be using it on a regular basis because all of my friends prefer to stick with their voice chat program of choice, but if you’ve been searching around for something other than the mainstream Teamspeak/Mumble/Skype trifecta, then you ought to give Axon a try. It’s worth a taste, for sure.
Have you used Axon before? What did you think of it? Would you recommend it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
Image Credits: Kelly Via Flickr