Arctic Sound P531
Arctic is relatively new to the audio industry; the company is arguably better-known for its cooling products. Its premium surround gaming headset is the P531, which is only one of three products in this round-up to feature true 5.1-channel surround with discrete drivers for delivering positional audio.
The headset is attractive, though it doesn't suggest the use of high-quality materials. That's perhaps understandable, given its relatively low $50 price point. At 13.1 oz, this is one of the heavier headsets at which we're looking. Wearing it isn't fatiguing, though. The contact surfaces are both soft and comfortable, and they don’t squeeze much when worn. That's good for long gaming sessions. Arctic's ear pads are small, but just large enough to make me think I should be squeezing my ears inside of them, rather than wearing them on top.
The microphone boom rotates up or down, and it also bends into the curve shape you prefer. It has a good, deep response without much background noise, but it’s light on the high-end of the frequency spectrum.
Arctic includes real-time profiles to change the sound of your voice, as we'll explore shortly.
Each cup includes four speakers: one center channel, one for the front (left and right), one for the side (left and right surround), and a subwoofer. The front speakers are the largest and have the widest range, 40 mm drivers with a frequency response between 18 Hz and 20 kHz. The center and surround channels are both 30 mm drivers frequency response between 20 and 20 kHz. And the subwoofer is a 27 mm unit capable of reproducing sound between 10 and 400 Hz.
This is a unique arrangement. The other headsets with true 5.1-channel arrangements employ 30 mm drivers and a 40 mm subwoofer. Theoretically, it's nice to see the important front channels armed with larger drivers. Although the small subwoofers are cause for some skepticism, they still pack a modest punch.
The remote is a bit odd on that it doesn’t come with a clip to attach to your clothes. It's larger than most inline remotes, but too small and light to sit on a desk without getting knocked around. It has a microphone mute switch, level controls for each channel, and a master volume control. As with the rest of the headset, the remote doesn't seem very durable. It gets the job done, though.
The cable terminates with a USB connector, and there is no analog option for folks who'd rather have their sound card handle audio processing.
The Arctic Sound P531 comes with a driver that gives you a tray icon and access to output options. The Main Setting tab lets you choose system inputs and outputs. I’m not sure why you’d want to use anything less than six-channel output (Ed.: Perhaps for stereo material?), but it's important to set the right input to match the source you're playing back. You can also apply a virtual 7.1-channel speaker shifter that moves the perceived sound source.
The Mixer tab allows you to control line levels.
The Effect tab provides access to environmental effects and a graphic equalizer, which power users will want to fine-tune to taste.
Magic Voice is a toy used to disguise your voice in real-time based on preset profiles: monster, cartoon, male, and female. Key shifting and voice cancellation options are also available on this tab.
The headset comes with a pamphlet user manual and driver CD. It might not seem like a comprehensive bundle. But really, this is all you need. Plus, in light of the lowest price tag in this round-up, we don't expect a lot of frills.