Thursday, 15 December 2011

Gaming Headsets Review!

Selection of the most popular headsets!

For today’s reviews I have a bunch of gaming headsets and headphones that I’ll be putting to the test. The 5 headphones under the spotlight are


So it’s quite a big line-up with all major gaming brands pitching in with its own option of gaming headsets. We have a mix of USB and Analogue inputs so both types will be tested. Now before I get into it all, I should state that I am and have been a music producer for the past 11 years, so when it comes to Audio, I know all the technical ins and outs and can pick a good set of headphones from the bad easily.

For testing purposes I will be using my workstation PC which has Dual Xeon X5650 Processors, 16GB Memory and an nVidia QuadroFX 4800. So it’s got more power than majority of your gaming PC’s. For sound card I have opted to stick with a Generic sound card. The reason being I can test the headphones on an ordinary sound card and listen how well the headphones can perform. Remember these high end specs as it’s going to come into play later.

Each headphone will go through a routine of the same audio tests to see how well each fairs up. These tests will range from Music, Movies & Gaming and of course Comfort. The music tracks I’ll be testing will be the following with the different types of compression and quality rates:

Above & Beyond – Sun & Moon – 320kbps MP3 Variable
112 – Dance With Me – 128kbps MP3 Constant
Britney Spears – Criminal – 320kbps MP3 Constant
Extreme – More Than Words – 160kbps Constant
Skrillex – First Of The Year – 320kbps MP3 Variable
Tatu – Not Gonna Get Us – 192kbps MP3 Constant
Wolfgang Gartner – Wolfgang’s 5th Symphony – 320kbps MP3 Constant
Original Track – Uncompressed WAV
Cubase 5 Track Playback – Uncompressed Original

I chose these songs because they roughly represent a broad style of music genre’s and each have a unique sound about them with different compression and quality rates.
Two movies I will be testing are Rango and Red Riding Hood in both Stereo and 5.1 (Where the headphone supports 5.1). Gaming wise it will be Call of Duty MW3.

Razer Banshee Starcraft II
  • Circumaural Design with 50mm Driver Units
  • Volume & Mic Control Buttons on the Headset
  • APM-Lighting System
  • 10 preset EQ
  • Detachable Microphone Boom
  • Dimensions: 183mm(L) * 90mm(W) * 200mm(H)
  • Inner Ear Cup Diameter: 60 mm / 2.36”
  • Cable Length: 12.13 m / 7.0 ft
  • Approximate Weight: 297 g / 0.65 lbs
Headphones
  • Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 32Ω at 1kHz
  • Sensitivity (@1kHz, 1V/Pa): >102dB at 1 kHz
  • Drivers: 50 mm, with neodymium magnets
Microphone
  • Frequency Response: 100 - 10,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity (-42 dB ± 2dB @1kHz, 1V/Pa)
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >58 dB
  • Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
So the specs show it be relatively decent looking headphone. The Banshee is a USB type headset, meaning plug it in your computer and it’ll install itself and you’re ready to go. The problem with this is you need to download additional software to control the sound. So let’s get a move on with testing this thing.

Firstly, it looks and feels massive. The ear cups are square in shape as is its plastic housing. It has the Starcraft logo on each side and illuminates when plugged in. There are also Mic volume control on one side (Microphone side) and general Volume buttons on the other. There are a few lights around the edges and bottom of the headphone which give it a cool look to it. Fancy thing about these lights are, once you download the software drivers for it, you can change each colours light, pretty nifty I might say!

Comfort:
I must say they are great. The velour pads ensure long headphone sessions without discomfort and sweaty ears, the closed dynamic sound is pretty good with insulation with exterior interferences and your head looks like a disco ball once you get the lights going, so brilliance with that! The one downside is due to the fact it is so big, it does weigh a bit on your head. Though I can’t see it being a problem, if you’re a small 10year old, keeping this thing balanced on your head could strain your neck muscles!

Music:
First off, out of the package the bass was just overkill on these headphones. I love bass, but prolonged use with that much could be very discomforting and even damaging in the long run. The problem is by default the headphones are loaded with the Equalizer on. I really hate the use of Equalizer and I will tell you later on in the article. So after downloading the software and turning the EQ off gave me a much better flatter sound. Music was relatively good. Low bass sounds come through very well as do midrange vocals and sounds. The higher end seemed to lack a bit of punch though, which I think is caused by the powerful bass drivers in the headphones. Almost sounds like the bass is eating out the higher end. However most people won’t be distracted by this as it still gives a nice clear solid sound. What was also good is that it performed very well with all the different typed of compressed audio files however come uncompressed and original tracks I noticed the bass powerful headphone amplified the music too much and didn’t give me a nice flat sound I was expecting it to. Turning up the volume did stuff things up a bit though, I was noticing the bass come through too much and slightly distorting, even though I had all the EQ’s turned off.

Movies:
Both movies feature good midrange vocal parts while each providing their own music styles making each movie a unique experience.
Rango: In Stereo, the sound was average. Nothing about made it pop or excite me. The good bass of the headphones though I must admit made the experience quite pleasant. It was an almost cinematic feel to the sound.
Red Riding Hood: The scary nature of the movie made the soundtrack and bassy sound effects come through beautifully, however like I mentioned previously, the lack of higher end made vocals sound a bit more muffled and not as crisp as I would have liked.

Games:
Being a stereo headset gaming was normal like any other headphone. However with gaming I didn’t notice the higher bass and lack of higher pitched sounds being a problem in game. Somehow it managed to be quite good and sounded even. There were no muffling or tinny sounds and it general performed well

Conclusion
Solid built Solid bass. Where the headset lacks in music and movies it makes up for in gaming, after all it is a gaming headset. However I am inclined to tell you, throughout the length of my testing, I did get quite a lot of crackles and pops, especially while doing CPU heavy things on the computer which is extremely frustrating since there is enough power in the PC than most others put together. I blame this on the USB feature which I will go into detail later on. One downside thing to this in terms of design, Is the Starcraft branding on the headphones. You’re going to look a bit silly going to a Call of Duty Competition wearing Starcraft headphones, however if you don’t mind and need a headset specifically for gaming, this could be a wise choice.


Corsair Vengeance 1500

Headphones
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Impedance: 32 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Dynamic Range: 95dB (A-weighted)
  • Drivers: 50mm
  • Cable Length: 3m
  • USB power consumption: 250mW
  • Connector: USB Type A
Microphone
  • Type: Unidirectional noise-cancelling condenser with adjustable, rotating boom
  • Impedance: 2.2k Ohms
  • Frequency Response: 100Hz to 10kHz
  • Sensitivity: -44dB (+/-3dB)
Average specs, nothing about it pops out and makes me look twice. This headset is also USB and requires you to download additional software to take full advantage of it. Opening the unit I got a bit worried. It makes a lot of creaking sounds while moving it around and adjusting the headphones. The unit doesn’t come with any control on it. There is a volume controller attached to the wire not too far from the headphones. Not sure if I like this too much as you’re going to constant have something in your way and you’ll be thinking about where to stuff the control so it doesn’t get in your way.



Comfort:
Putting it over my head I was afraid it was going to break. All the creaking and plastic shell just does not feel very well built. The headphones also can rotate at slight angles to each side which means while carrying it around they will be swaying around a bit. When I put on the headphones I tried to adjust the height with great difficulty. While one side would slip out easily, the other side was quite rough and took my both hands and a bit of strength to adjust it, very frustrating. A positive side to it is the velour cups which sit very comfortable on your head, I was quite impressed with the overall comfort of the headphones.

Music;
Struggled with music I must say. There was a lack of bass all around and the headphones sounded like those old cheap computer speakers you’d get bundled with the PC. Even with the software EQ enhancements, the headphones just did not produce a very good sound. Bit disappointed really, these headphones had a bit of hype around them and they seem to really lack oomph in the music department. A good side to these was putting up the volume did not cause distortion or discomfort; it handled higher volume much better than the Banshee.

Movies:
Rango in stereo was quite pleasant to be honest, after the disappointment of music listening, it was good to hear the sound of the film in comfort. Surprisingly the lack of bass didn’t let down the overall feel of it. In 5.1 the headphones excelled. I had to set the headphones setting to Dolby Cinema Surround and it gave it a very cinematic feel to it. Watching your movies in surround on the headphones is definitely awesome and the Vengeance 1500 shines in the most unlikely of scenarios.
Watching Red Riding Hood was equally pleasing in both Stereo and 5.1. It’s quite amusing actually, where the headphone lacks in music power it definitely makes up in movies.

Games:
While playing Call of Duty I found that I had to go through a bunch of settings in game and through the software to find a good sweet spot. The 7.1 feature of the headphones didn’t justify itself and sounded very similar to a good pair of stereo headphones. It was a bit disappointing really.

Conclusion
For around the $90 mark, there a quite a few headphones out there that do a much better job than this. Overall I am quite disappointed with the performance and build quality of these headphones. Although it sits comfortable on your head, it lacks importance performance speed bumps along the way which could leave you not so happy about the purchase. A good outcome with this headset was no crackling and popping whatsoever.

Steelseries Siberia V2 (Black & Gold Edition)

Headphones
·  Frequency response: 18 – 28.000 Hz
·  Impedance: 32 Ohm
·  SPL@ 1kHz, 1 Vrms: 112 dB
·  Cable length: 1 + 2 = 3 m (9,8 ft.)
·  Jacks: 3,5 mm
Microphone
·  Frequency response: 50 – 16.000 Hz
·  Pick up pattern: Uni-directional
·  Sensitivity: -38 dB

Finally, in the mix is a good ol’ fashioned Analogue headset. No software driver needed for these, just plug in and you’re ready to go. The headset has a mic controller and even its own Volume controller on the cabling. I found that setting the volume on the controller to about 75% gave me the best sound result. With wiring, it comes with a 1m cable plus a 2m extension cable. So if your sound card is close by, you don’t need to hide away 3m worth of cables which is just clever design. The microphone is wrapped inside the left ear piece and you simply pull it out and can be easily adjusted to suit the position of your mouth.

Comfort:
This is probably the most comfortable one I’ve used today. The pleather cups cover your ears nicely and the brilliant auto adjusting feature using those unbreakable wiring you see in banks for tying pens down to the desks. This makes it easy to slide over your head for automatic adjustment so you don’t need to sit there and play with the adjustment.


Music:
By far the best of today’s line up so far. All the tracks produced amazing low, mid and high range sounds. Even producing music on the Siberia V2 proved to be very ideal. It is slightly amplified meaning it does boost the lower end sounds a bit while producing, but it is minimal enough to overcome after getting used to it. Overall music was a fantastic experience on the Siberia V2’s.

Movies:
Once again the Siberia V2 proves itself, this time with Movies. The stereo headset produced very quality levels all around. Don’t be fooled by its lack of 5.1, this stereo headset provides a bigger punch than the 5.1 headsets I’ve used before.

Gaming:
Gaming on the Siberia V2 was definitely exciting. It packs a massive punch of bass and treble with pure clarity. Quite frankly the sound output of this totally dominates in terms and performance in today’s review so far. I want to keep playing with this headset but other headsets are waiting.

Conclusion
I really could not find a fault with this unit. I would have liked to see velour pads over the pleather to help in longer headphone sessions and no sweaty ears. But performance wise this is the cream of the crop so far. An amazing all-round good performance in a well built and solid unit.

Plantronics Gamecom 7.1 Dolby Headset
  • Dolby® Headphone technology delivers a virtual 7-channel audio experience.
  • Dolby® USB sound card is the only way to get the 7.1 experience.
  • Open-ear design keeps you connected to the game and your surroundings.
  • Concealed mic boom stays hidden until you’re ready to use it.
  • Specially designed earpods redistribute pressure for maximum comfort.
  • In-line volume and mic-mute controls allow for easy audio adjustment
  • Noise-canceling microphone lets you communicate clearly.,,
  • Rugged, military-grade design and extra-strength cables make your hardware hardcore.
I was a bit surprised not to be able to find technical specs of the unit. Bit strange. Firstly, I am quite pleased that these are Analogue headphones, which have an additional USB plug for Dolby sound processing. This is a useful feature for those who would rather stereo analogue headset over digital surround sound. The headset feels solid and well-built and sits quite comfortably on my head. Adjusting the ear pieces was easy as I just pulled down as I slid it over my head.

Comfort:
The velour pads ensure good prolonged use without the sweat and discomfort. The unit is lightweight but is rugged and bulky. I think this comes from the cheap plastic feel of the unit.

Music:
Fantastic. The headphone produced a fantastic all-round sound with good solid bass. It lacked a bit of punch in the higher end but I think most people will find that a bit more comforting. Turning up the volume was very comfortable and no distortion whatsoever. All the tracks at different quality rates proved to work just great. Uncompressed audio didn’t fare as well as compressed. I’d say the lack of quality within the speaker is to blame for this.

Movies:
Not quite sure about the movies. In stereo it doesn’t have the same excitement as music. It just lacks a bit of oomph about it. Sounds very flat compared to the Steelseries Siberia V2. After attaching the Dolby USB processor and setting to 5.1 audio, the movies definitely improved a lot.



Gaming:
Gaming also lacked a bit punch and flare. It just wasn’t as exciting as the Siberia V2. The Dolby attachment did improve the enjoyment a bit but it wasn’t as good as I expected. I wanted a bit more out of this in terms of gaming.

Conclusion
A promising headset, and with a price tag of around $70, it really is worth its weight in entry level headsets. Well balanced for music players and a relatively positive outcome for gaming performance. The comfort and rugged design make this a great choice for newcomers to the headset category.



Razer Megalodon
Headphones
  • Frequency Response: 20 - 20,000 Hz
  • Impedance: 32 O at 1kHz
  • Sensitivity (@1kHz, 1V/Pa): 102 ± 4dB at 1 kHz
  • Max. Input Power: 200 mW
  • Drivers: 40 mm, with neodymium magnets
Microphone
  • Frequency Response: 50 - 16,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity (-37 ± 4dB @1kHz, 1V/Pa): Variable (user adjustable)
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 50 dB
  • Pick-up pattern: Unidirectional
Audio Processing Unit
  • Master volume, center speaker, front speakers, side speakers, rear speakers, bass level, mic sensitivity, mic leveling, mic mute, Razer Maelstrom on/off, active/standby toggle, reset
  • Cable: 3.3 meters, Braided Fiber Sheath
  • Connector: Gold-plated USB

Firstly, love the packaging; it comes with a big box that has cushioned interior, foam manual holder and a big hard case zip bag which houses the headphones. I was quite excited by the packaging alone! It’s not every day you get yourself such elegantly packaged headphones. Once out you’ll find yourself the headphone unit and a ‘maelstrom audio engine’ device attached to the wiring. This is pretty much the heart and processing unit of the headphones. You have the ability to control every aspect of the headphones through the device wether its bass, treble or even surround sound features. Quite the nifty unit to have in hand. For testing purposes I had the volume, bass and treble sliders all set to their maximum in the blue light. Once you go over a certain amount the level indicator goes red. So I’ve set it to a nice flat level.





Comfort:
The velour pads once again prevail in comfort ability. The pads sits nicely around the ears and adjusting was very simple as the adjustable rails are very slick and glide easily.  The light weight nature of the headphones makes it barely noticeable on your head and help with prolonged use.

Music:
Probably the best of the day, slightly edging out the Siberia V2. My reasoning for this is the Megalodon provides a more flat sound. What makes ‘flat’ sounding headphones is that it gives you the sound at a level it was made at, and allows your control how much extra oomph or tsss you want in your music. Putting up the bass level on the unit didn’t muff out the audio but still provided a good solid kick to the music. All the mp3’s sounded fantastic and enjoyable to listen to. Uncompressed WAV files were please but original production didn’t fare as well. One of the problems with the control wheel is that, as you may have noticed by the photos, it is a complete fingerprint magnet.

Movies:
Watching movies in 5.1 or Stereo are equally fantastic, just remember, you don’t need to set the maelstrom to 7.1 to enjoy 5.1 movies and I’ll explain this later. The surround on the headphones was excellent providing a great listening pleasure. Bass and quiet scenes with conversations and music came through with great clarity and performance.

Gaming:
Gaming was very good on the Megalodon when set to 2.0 setting on the maelstrom. 7.1 made the sound very muffled and added slight distortion. At 2.0 gunshots were whizzing by and my own weapon was packing a massive sounding punch. I was impressed with the headphones 5.1 setting through the game but when I set it to 7.1 on the maelstrom, things just got bad. 

Conclusion
For a price tag of around $190, I’m not quite sure if there is really that much of a difference between this and the Siberia. I think the flamboyant packaging and dedicated processing unit gave Razer a good opportunity to bump up the price on it. It does perform well but I hear not a lot of improvement for the price from the other headphones.

So there we have it, each headphone tested out individually, so let’s take a quick rundown over the final results and pick out the winners:

Best Music Headphone: Steelseries Siberia V2
Best Movie Headphones: Razer Megalodon
Best Gaming Headphones: Steelseries Siberia V2
Most Comfortable: Steelseries Siberia V2
Best Wow Factor: Razer Banshee

Clearly, the winner out of today’s test was the Siberia V2. Don’t be fooled by the lack of 5.1 or 7.1 support, the Siberia V2 has outstanding performance all-round in an insanely comfortable headset. So now that we have our headsets all through with, I want to go over some technicalities of headphones that can be misleading and misinterpreted.

USB vs. Analogue.
Analogue wins this hands down. Ask any audio enthusiast, analogue audio is always preferred over its digital counterparts. USB headsets have a few problems:
1) Being USB, it can be affected by your computers performance and create crackling and popping sounds. It is also perceptible to interference from electronic devices. This can also cause crackling & popping.
2) USB Headsets are in a way, their own soundcard. They all have audio processors either in the ear pieces, or like the Megalodon, in an external unit attached to the wiring. The problem with this is if you already have a decent soundcard in your system (a $60 Creative soundcard would be suffice) it is going to be rendered completely mute due to the headsets own processor. That means, your amazing and powerful soundcard that you have paid a deer amount for is completely useless with a USB Headset.
3) The audio processor in the headsets (its own soundcard) is very inferior to the quality of dedicated soundcards. Think that your headphones have a fully built soundcard in them somewhere. Something has to be sacrificed to fit it all in there.
4) Analogue will always sound better. Analogue headsets don’t have digital processor in them that can manipulate the audio that comes from the soundcard.

Stereo vs 5.1/7.1
Let me just start by saying 7.1 headphones are currently are a bit of a gimmick. The problem here is to utilize the 7.1 function of the headphones; you need audio recorded in 7.1. Playing MP3’s with the 7.1 setting enabled doesn’t upgrade it to 7.1. That is actually impossible for headphones to do. Think about it, a MP3 has 2 channels of audio, a left and right. 7.1 has 7 channels plus a subwoofer channel. That means there are individual bits of audio on each of the 7 channels, and all sub audio are within the .1 sub channel.
5.1 on the other hand is plausible. Current games and High-Definition video comes with 5.1 audio, so a 5.1 headphone is more than capable of playing back 5.1 naturally without any processing.
With gaming, a good stereo headset, will still manage to playback the 5.1 audio very well. Matter of fact, the difference is too small for majority of people to notice the difference.

Microphones
You'd notice by now ihave talked about the microphones of the headsets. This is because they all have very similar chipsets and microphones to one another. The difference in sound is going to come from how much you pay for the headset, so the more you pay, the better quality the processor in the mic is.

EQ
I'm not a EQ user and i will never use it. The reason for this is, the music that you hear from iTunes, to Movies to Games, has already been professionally mixed, mastered and EQ'd to a level perfect for that sound. It is already at a perfect level.

So there we have it, hopefully i have provided enough information for you to select your next headset with a bit more knowledge.

By Sahin Selvi
sahin.s@centrecom.com.au

The benchmark results may differ from user to user depending on what background software you are running and versions of benchmark software. These results aren’t portrayed to be seen as exact performance figures but merely as a rough estimate on the performance of the machine. These results are in no way bias to any company or person and are here to provide the end user in depth details and to provide extra assistance of potential purchases. All information on this page is subject to copyright. Please do not copy any parts of this article.

4 comments:

  1. Very nice review and well thought out. I did worry in the beginning with your use of compressed audio. I completely agree with your explanation of USB vs Analogue, 5.1 headphones and use of EQ. I would add a slight point about EQ. While I agree the music/movie etc has been mixed the way the author intended and the EQ shouldn't be used to change the sound it could be used to compensate for equipment or environment that doesn't produce a flat sound.
    Overall, I find most 'gaming' headphones to be slightly gimicky. I would be very interested in seeing a comparison of 'gaming' headphones versus dedicated stereo headphones from Sennheiser, Shure, Beyerdynamic, AKG etc. I realise most of these companies don't make headsets with microphones but I have a feeling they could be better than anything in this review for audio quality. Also not sold at Centrecom ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Thommo,

    Thanks for your comment.
    In regards to EQ, i guess it comes down to a bit of personal choice as well. Some people may enjoy fiddling around with the levels be it for extra bass or louder high sounds where i personally don't touch the EQ and let a good set of headphones do the work.

    Let me tell you from personal experience, my own Sennheiser headphones i use on a daily basis produces much better audio response than these gaming headsets in all the different areas tested.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I usually play with an EQ for about 5mins before turning it off. The distortion it can cause just isn't very nice especially in computer software or other sound systems.
    It would be nice to always have perfectly balanced headphones or speakers but that isn't always possible so the EQ can help balance out those problems like the common one of too much bass and not enough high end. Because there is more to music and movies than thumping bass despite popular opinion.
    I was also thinking of my experiences in live music environments where EQ can be incredibly important but I guess doesn't really apply since in that situation the audio does need to be mixed live as well like prerecorded audio which would also have some form of EQ applied during mixing but doesn't need further tinkering by listeners.

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  4. Thank you for this excellent review! I've been tossing up between 13 different brands of headsets and many more models, and after getting it down to four (Logitech G35, Planatronics 780, Corsair Vengeance 1500 and the Steelseries Siberia V2.) this review really helped me narrow it down further. After reading many reviews, I found a general concensus that the Corsair was overall better than the G35, and as the G35 cost a notable amount more, this made me lean towards the Corsair. However, the Corsair didn't look like that great a product and this review helped me to narrow out the G35 and Corsair. At the moment, I'm stuck between the Steelseries and Planatronics (I'm not sure if it's the same one you reviewed as I realise I'm posting on quite an old thread.).

    I'm purchasing the headset as a present for a mate, who plays a lot of games and listens to a fairly diverse range of music, but especially hardstyle so exceptional bass is important. I was wondering if you'd be able to point me in a direction of which one to go for?

    Once again, thank you for producing an excellent review! I like how you've set a benchmark to compare the products as opposed to using them on different programs and files like most reviewers seem to do, which gives a really balanced overlook on the products. The ways you've set it out and the sub ratings you've given the products with their own benchmarks really make this review stand out. Lastly one last thanyou for comparing such a diverse range of headsets! I've had trouble finding much about the Steelseries and Corsair in Australia, so for one place to review and compare them as well as with other products fills a huge niece in a market that usually only focus' on mainstream gaming products so kudos for going the extra mile and sourcing some alternative choices. Once again, great review!

    ReplyDelete