Audio Quality, Analyzed
Comfort is well and good, but audio quality needs to be up to snuff, too. The HS1 offers a variety of listening modes, from pure stereo to Dolby Headphone-enabled virtual surround sound. In direct stereo, the headset sounds as good as the excellent Steelseries Siberia V2 (which also uses 50 mm drivers) and nearly as good as a pair of dedicated Sennheiser HD 580 headphones...and the Corsair unit is more comfortable than both. The overall effect is mostly neutral, with a little bit of forwardness to the vocals. The 50 mm drivers deliver excellent detail, with subtle nuances audible in complex music material. We listened to renaissance music from the quartet Palladian Ensemble and Loreena McKennitt’s Live from the Alhambra CD, and could hear all instruments, even those barely audible at low levels.
Bass is less robust. Even with 50 mm drivers, there’s only so much you can do. Mid-bass content from rock music, like Green Day’s American Idiot and The Crane Wife from the Decemberists is solid, but deep bass effects from Blu-ray movies lacked punch.
Once we were satisfied that the stereo reproduction was up to snuff, we moved on to virtual surround in both movies and games. No virtual surround technology is perfect, and Dolby Headphones is no exception. The default settings for 7.1 seemed a little conservative, and the overall surround effect wasn’t particularly noticeable. However, Corsair’s basic-looking but easy-to-use control panel allowed us to spread the effect out a bit, and the overall sound stage did emerge from between our ears and at least across the desktop. Note that, like many similar technologies, Dolby Headphones uses HRTFs (head-related transfer functions), which tend to affect listeners differently, so your mileage may vary. Some users can’t hear HRTF effects at all.
Even in 7.1 virtual mode, the HS1 seems to retain its ability to project excellent detail, although volume levels drop a bit. However, Corsair’s headset offers a lot of dynamic range (up to 93 dBA), and a few clicks of the large, tactile inline control boost volume to ear-shattering levels without maxing out volume. We could hear every crunch, gunshot and effect during the combat scenes in Kick-Ass, but subtle background noises, like those from the quieter passages of the Band of Brothers boxed set, were clearly audible.