With playing a great new action shooter game comes great responsibility. This is especially if the responsibility comes in the form of 3 other roommates who absolutely despise witnessing the audial carnage of anti-tank RPGs ramming against steel panels of a tank at full force. While it may have been true that they could hear it from the floor below, and while it may have been true that it was 3 o?clock in the morning, I couldn?t understand why they were complaining about my 5.1 system being ?a bit too loud?.
So it was time to find a new pair of headphones for these late-night rampages – but I was soon faced with a multitude of choices. As a sound engineer in the film and entertainment industry, I take accurate sound reproduction and spacialization seriously, and because of this, I was very picky on technical specs that most users tend to look over. It?s important to note that headphones of a ?gaming headset? are normally built differently than ones built for studio reference or music listening, but I?ll dive into that further later in this review.
A couple months ago, Corsair was gracious enough to offer me a test-drive of their new Vengeance 1500 7.1 Gaming Headset, the top-tier model in the audio line of their Vengeance gaming peripherals. Right out of the box, I could tell that this USB circumaural (around-the-ear) headset was different from the others, with its refreshing design. With its firm construction complimented by a brushed-metal trim above each ear cup, it simply feltsolid, a feeling that I believe other headsets of this gauge have lacked.
Even the packaging was all product and no frills. Other than the included brief warranty notices, the unboxing immediately invited me to plug in and start listening. The 1500 headset is attached to a generous 3m (9.8 ft) sleeved USB cord, anchored by a standard illuminated in-line volume and microphone control unit. This simple unit features large and evenly placed buttons, highlighted by either a blue or red LED, depending on the mic?s mute. The attached mic is fully adjustable, and is also complimented by the same brushed-metal trim. Corsair advertizes the mic to be noise-cancelling, finely tuned to the the human voice, however I haven?t had a chance to test it out in a noisy environment, such as a LAN party or a construction site.
Getting it to Work
Installing the 1500 was very simple, in fact after Windows 7 recognized it, the headphones were able to run just fine through Sound?s playback device setup in the Control Panel. The setup displayed options for both 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, and I was good to go. However, because I wanted EQ options, I needed the official drivers, which were readily available off Corsair?s website. But after loading up some FLAC music tracks, right off the bat it everything sounded heavily post-processed. It turned out the Dolby codecs within the official drivers were somehow automatically enabled to ?expand? my stereo content to all channels. While this is possibly beneficial for a system larger than two physical speakers, it doesn?t make sense for a pair of headphones. Anyway, these effects were easily disabled through the utility.
But enough about music, this is a gaming headset! Video games are the most inventive outlet of creation a sound designer can find him or herself in, and after following the DICE sound team?s work over their Bad Company series, I was stoked to see what they could accomplish in Battlefield 3. They delivered, and with a much more realistic design, compared to the exaggerated cinematic style heard in Bad Company 2. Paired with the visual effect of ?suppression? in the game, the danger of bullets whizzing and cracking by in surround sound has never been more nerve-wracking.
After setting BF3?s in-game audio preset to headphone mode, the 1500 headset brought out the most of these effects. With its clean lows, broad mid-range, and crisp highs, these cans have one the best reproductions of any gaming headset I?ve tested so far. Spacialization, or the placing of a sound?s ?location? based upon your interaction in an environment, has been very impressive with this headset.
The option for having emulated Dolby 7.1 surround is a nice addition, but this ultimately depends on how well the game or application utilizes its sound processing. Games that already have Dolby codecs may use this feature better, but I believe there is minimal advantage to running surround headphones in 7.1 compared to 5.1. All of the information is being pushed through two speakers anyway, at a very close distance from your ears.
Of course, it helps that BF3 was built from the ground up to accommodate a surround experience, so I tried playing a couple matches of Starcraft II, and even that was a treat with this headset. The spacial effects and music are placed in the surrounding channels, while important information, such as needing more pylons, is prioritized front-and-center. Also, watching movies that have surround sound may seem a bit too in-your-face with any pair of headphones, because movies are mixed with the intent of distance between loudspeaker and listener.
There?s a science to this magic, but I?ll keep it brief. The reason why accurate sound reproduction is crucial in games is to make sure no important information is left out. The range of human hearing is similar to perfect eyesight – 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The ideal headphone will reproduce this full range, but without emphasis or loss of a band of frequencies, i.e. too little or too much bass. This concept is called frequency response. The quality of the driver (speaker) makes a big difference, and with the large 50mm drivers on the Vengeance 1500, you?re able to hear more information without distortion.
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As I?ve mentioned at the beginning of the review, this is still a gaming headset, meaning the mid-range frequencies (dialogue, footsteps, and gunshots) are favored over lows (rumbling of tank, distant explosion) and highs (nearby handling/movement, silenced gunshots, whizzing bullets). This may give you a competitive advantage in game, but may not be ideal in case you were expecting to also use these for studio monitoring, such as video and sound editing.
On top is a graphical example of the Corsair Vengeance 1500?s frequency response, and below is an example of film industry-standard Sony MDR-7506 professional headphones, for comparison. You can see a dip in the tail end of the low range, and ?bump? in the mid range, when compared to the nearly flat response of the 7506.
According to market research in 2010, the average time video gamers spent doing what they do best had risen to 8 hours per week, with specifically PC gamers ?pwning? at an average of 6.6 hours per week . So it?s good news that the 1500 headset is designed for long periods of wear, however I had mixed feelings about the implementation.
The headphones are keystoned by a large head rest padded with a foam-like material. Unlike other models I?ve tested, which feature rests that only accommodate for the top-most portion of the head, this headrest spans evenly across the entire band. The felt-padded headphone cups are circumaural, meaning they fully engulf my ears when wearing them. Although the phones fit well around my head, the back of my ears sit up against the inner hard plating of the driver shield, which starts to irritate me after more than an hour of use, without a break. This could be because I have large ears, so it may come down to trying it for yourself.
Overall, Corsair?s Vengeance 1500 has still been a great pair to get the full audial gaming experience I needed, when using my 5.1 speaker system was not an option. At an MSRP of $99 USD, it?s a strong contender to other surround sound competitors, such as Logitech?s G35, or Thermaltake?s Shock One. The 1500 brings players back to the basics. What it may lack in extra buttons, shiny doo-dads, and sponsored nam1ng schemes, it makes up with delivering clear and consistent performance, and keeping the gamer focused on what matters most – the game.