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Headphones Test - Sound And Fury (Part 5)

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The others

Sifting through the 17 headsets that we got, we were a bit disappointed at the overall quality on offer. Take the CM Storm Sirus S for example; it seems to have a lot going for it, a funky design, an excellent control pod and a true 5.1 driver setup. Unfortunately, the audio from this set was so bad that we didn’t enjoy our gaming experience as much as we thought we would. The Sonuz by the same company did manage to redeem the CM Storm brand with decent audio and the ability to better reproduce the ambient noises in-game, but then the Ceres 400 pulls the name into the gutter with possibly the worst performance among all the headsets we tested, not the least of which was the awful mic quality.

The ASUS Orion and Orion PRO are absolutely identical, except for the fact that the PRO model comes with an ROG Spitfire USB adapter. Both headsets are pretty good and that’s about all we can say for them. The ROG Spitfire is a nice adapter to have if you don’t have a half decent sound card and if you do, the Spitfire isn’t worth the premium over the Orion. The Vulcan PRO is also a pretty good set and while extremely boomy and imprecise, manages to provide a semblance of a good gaming experience.

The Sennheiser U320 was another unpleasant surprise, retailing at over $173, the audio from this set was only slightly better than average. It does come with adapters for your XBOX and TV but even those don’t justify the exorbitant price tag. The volume levels were extremely low and bass almost non-existent and while we do understand that the lack of bass is compensated for by positional accuracy, the Steel- Series sets do a far better job at roughly the same price.

The Sennheiser U320 was another unpleasant surprise, retailing at over $173.5, the audio from this set was only slightly better than average

The Sennheiser U320 was another unpleasant surprise, retailing at over $173.5, the audio from this set was only slightly better than average

Among the better sets was the Corsair Vengeance 1500. This set seems quite massive but is quite comfortable. The default sound from this set is far too harsh and bass heavy, with most regular sounds in Quake not even audible during play. With some equalization using the bundled Vengeance software though, the set comes into its own and manages to provide an enjoyable experience in games and movies alike.

The Circle Wager and CM Storm Ceres 400 are a class apart. Not because they’re good, but because they’re by far the worst sets in the comparison. At less than half the price these sets might just be acceptable but at around $52 for each, they’re just not worth it. The Circle in particular struggles with heavy action and misses out on many of the all-important sonic cues in-game. The Ceres falls flat, literally, and at the very least, this reviewer’s ears were aching after just an hour of use.

CM Storm Ceres 400

CM Storm Ceres 400

The unusually named Cavimanus by Genius has only one redeeming feature and that is the rumble motors that it has. The headset feels very cheap when you consider the price tag and the audio isn’t worthy of a set selling for even half the asking price. The rumble motor is nice though, you can “feel” every shot and explosion and even though the vibrations have the nasty side effect of ruining the audio, some kid somewhere might get excited. Honestly, ignore this set, save up a bit more and get the ROCCAT Kave. The headsets from Creative were the more reasonable ones that we had in the test. The entire Tactic line-up is very boomy and has muddy bass that overwhelm other frequencies, especially when there is a lot going on on-screen, but the audio quality is quite good and we would say that these are among the best all-rounder headsets and will do reasonably well in all situations.

The Creative sets were good overall, but the exception here is the Draco. We would consider this to be one of the worst headsets if we were only judging these sets by their audio quality. Surprisingly, the severe lack of bass worked in its favor, generating audio that was lacking in tonal quality, but faithful in the reproduction of all the elements nonetheless.

Conclusion

This was quite a disappointing test overall. Despite playing with these sets for many days and despite impressing us with their designs and features, we couldn’t pick a set that we really liked. There was no set that we were drawn to or reached out for by default when we wanted to play a game. The SteelSeries sets came close, but when they retail here for about 30% more than their official prices abroad, they’re hard to recommend. They do sound good, but not $173.5 good. Manufacturers (other than SteelSeries and ROCCAT and maybe even Creative, if we toe the line a bit) seem to be spending more time and effort on creating funky looking sets rather than actually designing sets that sound good and do their job well. This needs to change, what’s the point of an $87 set when it sounds like a $17 one? It’s like driving a Premiere Padmini that looks like a Ferrari. Pointless

The SteelSeries sets came close, but when they retail here for about 30% more than their official prices abroad, they’re hard to recommend

The SteelSeries sets came close, but when they retail here for about 30% more than their official prices abroad, they’re hard to recommend

How We Tested

Audiophile-grade: For testing these audio pieces we got the ASUS Xonar Essence One headphone DAC and amp. Since we didn’t know which headphones will find their way into the test, we were expecting high impedance sets that are really difficult to drive. Secondly, we wanted the equipment to be as neutral as possible and both the Essence One and STX (our backup) are supposed to be as neutral as you can get in that price range. We did not use bit perfect or any software or hardware level up sampling. The other part of the puzzle was getting the right test tracks of the highest possible quality. Of course we used only fully uncompressed WAV files or tracks encoded in lossless FLAC. The sampling rate was mostly 44.1 kHz but we did have a few 192 kHz tones as well. But limited to non-optical primary source we kept the DAC by default to 44.1 kHz. As for track selection we used a series of tracks (some of which we’ve been using for years now) to test specific attributes such as stereo separation, vocal tonality, detail (when instrument density is high). As most of you know, we have a penchant for guitar driven music, but for this test we’ve diversified our genres. Apart from these performance tests the build, comfort and features were rated. Longer, woven cables for instance got a better score. We didn’t score attributes such as isolation, or the ability to fold the headphones as they don’t take away from the listening experience.

Wireless portable: To be honest, the wireless portable category formed as a matter of chance. We sent out requests for audiophile grade headphones and since many brands sent us wireless sets we decided to club them in. Unfortunately since most of these headphones didn’t have aux inputs our amp was rendered useless. We had to depend on low fidelity Bluetooth, which was in fact a realistic use case test. The rest was same except points were given for the ability to fold and wireless range.

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