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Eight 5.1- And 7.1-Channel Gaming Headsets, Reviewed

Eight 5.1- And 7.1-Channel Gaming Headsets, Reviewed
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Surround sound headsets are often more practical than a home theater system attached to your PC. We compare eight premium models from Arctic, Psyko, Cooler Master, Logitech, Creative, Thermaltake, Corsair, and Razer to figure out who sells the top option.

If you live alone as a carefree bachelor or bachelorette, a powerful surround sound speaker system attached to your gaming machine is the ultimate way to enjoy the latest AAA blockbusters. Positional audio is a beautiful thing. Not only does it add to the entertainment factor, but it also helps you along, feeding audible cues from the environment, revealing an enemy's position, and delivering the soundtrack that intensifies before an important action sequence.

Unfortunately, the reality of roommates, family, and even apartment living make it difficult to crank the volume up on a full-scale surround sound configuration without annoying everyone around you (particularly if you game at night). The solution for most enthusiasts is a headset. In addition to bringing the action in closer to your ears, a headset simultaneously arms you with a microphone, perfect for coordinating with a team or trash-talking opponents.

A lot of PC peripheral vendors are taking their first steps into audio. We're putting eight premium headsets through a vigorous testing regimen to quantify the good, bad, and ugly of "multi-channel" personal audio. Some of these devices truly facilitate 5.1-channel surround sound using discrete drivers. Others employ software-approximated virtual 7.1-channel surround sound to get the job done. How effective are they all at achieving their purpose? Let's have a look at specifications before going into detail on each product:

True 5.1-Channel Headsets

Arctic Sound P531
Psyko Carbon
Cooler Master
CM Storm Sirus
Surround Type
True 5.1-Channel
True 5.1-ChannelTrue 5.1-Channel
Center Speakers
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 108 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Output Power: 200 mW
Driver unit: 30 mm (measured)
Frequency response: 10- 20k Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Gross specs for Headset
Front Speakers:
Frequency response: 18-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 100 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 40 mm
Output Power: 400 mW
Driver unit: 30 mm (measured)Frequency response: 10-20K Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Gross specs for Headset
Side SpeakersFrequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 108 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Output Power: 200 mW
Driver unit: 30 mm (measured)Frequency response: 10-20k Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Subwoofer
Frequency response: 10-400 Hz
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: 8 Ω
Driver unit: 27 mm
Output Power: 600 mW
40 mm (measured)Frequency response: 10-20k Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 16 Ω
Driver unit: 40 mm
Gross specs for Headset
Microphone
Sensitivity: 39 dB ± 3 dB
Impedance: 2.2 KΩ
Driver unit: 9.7 x 5 mm
Not provided
Uni-directional
Frequency response: 100-10k Hz
Sensitivity: -46 dB ± 3 dB
Impedance: <2.2 KΩ
Inputs
USB
Analog
Analog or USB
Cable3 meters
2 meters headset,
1.7 meters amplifier
USB: 3.4 meters
Analog: 2.1 meters
Control PodVolume, microphone mute, surround channel levels
Volume, bass, and power on inline amplifier; mic can be turned off by removing it from headset
Power, volume, microphone mute, and surround levels on tactical mixing console (software-only controls with analog); auto-mute on retractable mic boom
Software Settings
input/output channels, environment effects, equalizer, voice effectsN/A
Volume control, speaker settings, sample rate, EQ, environmental FX, 7.1 virtual speaker shifter, Flex Bass II, mic volume/sample rate/voice effects
Weight
13.1 oz
1 lb 1.4 oz
13.3 oz
Accessories
Driver disk, setup sheet
Amplifier, owner's manual
Tactical mixing console, analog cable, second set of ear pads, quick start guide, software download link
Price:
$49.99 on amazon.com$200 on psykoaudio.com
$114.99 on amazon.com
Warranty
Two years
One year, limited
Two years, limited
Virtual Surround Sound Headsets

Logitech G35
Creative Tactic3D Sigma
Thermaltake eSports
Shock One
Corsair Vengeance 1500
Razer Megalodon
Surround Type
Virtual 7.1-Channel Dolby
Virtual 7.1-Channel THX TruStudio Pro
Virtual 5.1-Channel DTS Sensation
Virtual 7.1-Channel Dolby Pro Logic IIx
Virtual 7.1-Channel Maelstrom Audio Engine
Center Speakers:
 Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Driver unit: 40 mm
Neodymium magnet
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 50 mm Neodymium magnet
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 114 dB ± 3 dB
Max. input: 100 mW
Driver unit: 40 mm
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: > 105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 50 mm
USB power consumption: 250 mW
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 102 dB ± 4 dB
Max. input: 200 mW
Driver unit: 40 mm, Neodymium magnets
Microphone:
Unidirectional
    Frequency response: 100 Hz – 10 KHz
    Sensitivity: -42 dB
    Test conditions: 3.0 V, 2.2 KΩ
Noise-canceling condenser
Frequency response: 100- 18k Hz
Sensitivity: -41 dB
Impedance: <2.2 KΩ
Bidirectional
Noise-cancelling condenser
Impedance: 2.2 KΩ
Frequency response: 100-10k Hz
Sensitivity: -45 dB ± 3 dB
Unidirectional
Noise-cancelling condenser
Frequency response: 100-10k Hz
Sensitivity: -44 dB ± 3 dB
Impedance: 2.2 KΩ
Unidirectional
Noise-cancelling condenser
Frequency response: 50-16k Hz
Sensitivity: -37 dB (user adjustable)
Inputs:
USB
Analog or USB
USB
USB
USB
Cable:3.05 meters
2 meters
3 meters
3.2 meters
3.3 meters
Control Pod:Volume, surround toggle, and mic mute on-ear; auto-mic mute also on rotating mic boom
Volume and
mic mute
Power, volume, mute, mic mute, illumination, and control lock
Volume and
mic mute
Surround toggle, surround levels, bass level, volume, mic mute/sensitivity/level
Software Settings:
Programmable G-keys, equalizer, surround mixer, voice FX
Sound levels, THX controls, equalizer, Voice FX, appearance
Environment effects, equalizer, levels, surround controls, timer
Levels, equalizer, surround controls
N/A
Weight:
12.3 oz
10 oz
11.2 oz
11.4 oz
8 oz
Accessories
Three swappable headband pads, quick start guide, CD with software
THX TruStudio Pro dual-mode USB adapter, quick start guide (software download link)
Set of cloth ear pads, velvet carrying bag, quick install guide, driver disk, warranty card
Warranty guide, (software download link)
Storage case, certificate of authenticity, master guide, quick start guide, product catalog
Price
$94.99 on amazon.com$62.24 on amazon.com$92.21 on amazon.com$84.99 on amazon.com$126.84 on amazon.com
Warranty
Two years, limitedOne year, limited
Two years
Two yearsOne year
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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    Anonymous , February 10, 2012 3:53 AM
    Thanks Toms for doing a review on 5.1 headsets. I been researching one for the past two weeks on other review websites, and online stores, but didn't feel satisfied. Could you guys do a review comparing these headsets you reviewed already to a dedicated audio card like the Asus Xonar Essence STX (with a pre amp) with a Sennheiser HD 598 Headphones (or HD 800)? I want to know if it is like night and day compared to these 5.1 headsets (also make readers see what they are missing from using onboard audio). I know its a few hundred dollars more, but i found out that i was more happy gaming with a $70 audio card than seeing 8x AA (using Nvidia Inspector) with a $500 GPU.
  • 13 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 4:02 AM
    bunnywannyCould you guys do a review comparing these headsets you reviewed already to a dedicated audio card like the Asus Xonar Essence STX (with a pre amp) with a Sennheiser HD 598 Headphones (or HD 800)? I want to know if it is like night and day compared to these 5.1 headsets (also make readers see what they are missing from using onboard audio).


    I like the idea, but it'll probably take a while to make it happen.

    Next up on the audio to-do list is a full-sized 5.1/7.1 surround system comparo. :) 
  • 13 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 3:32 AM
    xtreme5amazing stff.


    Wassat stand for... "Space, The Final Frontier"? :) 
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    xtreme5 , February 10, 2012 3:24 AM
    amazing stff.
  • 13 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 3:32 AM
    xtreme5amazing stff.


    Wassat stand for... "Space, The Final Frontier"? :) 
  • 7 Hide
    spookie , February 10, 2012 3:46 AM
    great read! Never thought virtual surround sound was that good
  • 3 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 3:47 AM
    spookiegreat read! Never thought virtual surround sound was that good


    Yeah, me neither. Surprised the hell out of me.
  • 15 Hide
    Anonymous , February 10, 2012 3:53 AM
    Thanks Toms for doing a review on 5.1 headsets. I been researching one for the past two weeks on other review websites, and online stores, but didn't feel satisfied. Could you guys do a review comparing these headsets you reviewed already to a dedicated audio card like the Asus Xonar Essence STX (with a pre amp) with a Sennheiser HD 598 Headphones (or HD 800)? I want to know if it is like night and day compared to these 5.1 headsets (also make readers see what they are missing from using onboard audio). I know its a few hundred dollars more, but i found out that i was more happy gaming with a $70 audio card than seeing 8x AA (using Nvidia Inspector) with a $500 GPU.
  • 13 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 4:02 AM
    bunnywannyCould you guys do a review comparing these headsets you reviewed already to a dedicated audio card like the Asus Xonar Essence STX (with a pre amp) with a Sennheiser HD 598 Headphones (or HD 800)? I want to know if it is like night and day compared to these 5.1 headsets (also make readers see what they are missing from using onboard audio).


    I like the idea, but it'll probably take a while to make it happen.

    Next up on the audio to-do list is a full-sized 5.1/7.1 surround system comparo. :) 
  • 4 Hide
    killeeeeer , February 10, 2012 4:03 AM
    It would of been great if you tested the Roccat Kave but other than that great review. Been searching for headset for long time , now ill go with the Corsair Vengeance 1500 for sure .
  • 3 Hide
    crysex , February 10, 2012 4:06 AM
    Thanks Toms so much for doing this review. I have been searching one for a long time. Ready to buy a good quality sound card + headset after my next paycheck!
  • -5 Hide
    iamtheking123 , February 10, 2012 4:32 AM
    I'll stick to my $100 stereo headphones instead of $20 headphones + $80 spent on fake surround sound and marketing. We've all tried virtual surround sound in PowerDVD or WinDVD and it sucks. Makes everything sound underwater and no where close to having 5 actual speakers set up throughout a room.
  • 3 Hide
    tomfreak , February 10, 2012 4:40 AM
    I am still sticking with more expensive traditional speakers, simply due to my ear need some air to breath. These headphone arent comfortable especially during summer.
  • 12 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 4:41 AM
    iamtheking123I'll stick to my $100 stereo headphones instead of $20 headphones + $80 spent on fake surround sound and marketing. We've all tried virtual surround sound in PowerDVD or WinDVD and it sucks. Makes everything sound underwater and no where close to having 5 actual speakers set up throughout a room.


    I disagree.

    As mentioned in the article, six blindfolded testers were consistently able to point out the source of virtually-placed audio behind them, beside and in front. Every single tester.

    That's hard evidence that cannot be ignored.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 10, 2012 4:53 AM
    Hi, Do you check current prices when you make these comparisons? The Logitech G35 is only $95 on Amazon.com and has been for several months. Seems like you should use current pricing to make the comparison.

    The Corsair 1500 is only $10 cheaper and im curious if the Logitech software extras and minimal price difference actually beat the Corsair headset? I have the Corsair set and im not to impressed with the bass on it. For 50mm drivers i would have thought it would have better bass. (yes i tweaked things in the equalizer and put the first 3 columns all the way up and its still not very bassy).
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 4:57 AM
    keylayHi, Do you check current prices when you make these comparisons? The Logitech G35 is only $95 on Amazon.com and has been for several months. Seems like you should use current pricing to make the comparison. The Corsair 1500 is only $10 cheaper and im curious if the Logitech software extras and minimal price difference actually beat the Corsair headset? I have the Corsair set and im not to impressed with the bass on it. For 50mm drivers i would have thought it would have better bass. (yes i tweaked things in the equalizer and put the first 3 columns all the way up and its still not very bassy).


    Well, in our tests the Corsair beat the heck out of all competitors except the Megalodon when it comes to the whole sound spectrum. There are some models with heavier bass, but it comes at a price as there are significant lows in other parts of the spectrum.

    Yeah, we check current prices, but I must have missed that Logitech $95 deal on amazon. I'll check again, might have to adjust the article a bit.
  • 1 Hide
    nikorr , February 10, 2012 4:58 AM
    Very cool. Great review Don Woligroski : ))
  • 1 Hide
    Earnie , February 10, 2012 4:58 AM
    wow!no roccat kaves,no sennhieser,no logitech 930's.....seems like the better ones were left out.
  • 10 Hide
    cleeve , February 10, 2012 5:21 AM
    Earniewow!no roccat kaves,no sennhieser,no logitech 930's.....seems like the better ones were left out.


    I understand that the Logitech 930's are simply a wireless version of the G35, so no difference there.

    Sennheiser refused our invitation to the roundup.

    Roccat, well... can't find them for sale in the USA, and this is a US-based publication. :) 
  • 4 Hide
    Eman25th , February 10, 2012 5:30 AM
    this was a great review, i received a pair of corsair 1500s two weeks ago and i love them. I was worried about the virtual surround sound at first because i have a Logitech 7.1 setup for home use, but the 1500s sound just as good, only complaint is that i cant hear teammates at LANs very well with them on, but then again i cant hear my wife either ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    jasonw223 , February 10, 2012 5:42 AM
    I've got a G35, and just so you know, the red light doesn't just come on when the boom is folded up. It's mainly meant so that when you push the mute button on the side of the one headphone (and the mic is in front of your face) - you don't forget it on. With my last headset I did that plenty of times and wondered why everyone was ignoring me...

    And secondly those 3 buttons are great for pausing music and changing tracks if you don't have media keys on your keyboard. Although I think playing Starcraft using your headphones instead of your keyboard would be pretty sweet.
  • 11 Hide
    mrkdilkington , February 10, 2012 5:44 AM
    iamtheking123I'll stick to my $100 stereo headphones instead of $20 headphones + $80 spent on fake surround sound and marketing. We've all tried virtual surround sound in PowerDVD or WinDVD and it sucks. Makes everything sound underwater and no where close to having 5 actual speakers set up throughout a room.
    You're a fool if you think 'virtual sound' in PowerDVD is even remotely the same technology implemented in these headphones.
  • 0 Hide
    Maziar , February 10, 2012 5:53 AM
    Great review,but it's strange that in a fairly older review of Megalodon,the writer didn't give it a good score overall(and only 7/10 for the Comfort)
    http://www.tomsguide.com/us/Surround-Sound-Headsets,review-1357-5.html
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