A quick look at Psyko’s 5.1 PC Gaming Headset

I’ve done enough gaming on 5.1-channel speakers to believe that good surround sound can dramatically enhance a game’s immersiveness. Unfortunately, building the perfect speaker setup isn’t always easy. If you don’t have some flexibility with the furniture, getting each speaker into just the right spot in a room can be challenging, especially if you want to snake the associated cabling cleanly. And then there’s the matter of what to do during late-night gaming sessions when your your roomates, neighbors, parents, or significant other may not appreciate waking to the sounds of your l33t pwnage.

Headphones seem like the obvious solution to avoid disturbing others. Squeezing surround sound out of a pair of earmuffs is tricky business, though. Some implementations hang multiple speakers around each ear, while others keep the headphones at two channels and instead use virtualization algorithms to trick users into perceiving directional sound. Now there’s a new approach: Psyko Audio Labs’ 5.1 PC Gaming Headphones.

First things first: this is not another virtualization system. According to Psyko CEO James Hildebrandt, the algorithms used to virtualize surround speakers will only work if your ear shape matches the one used to develop the algorithm. Perhaps that’s why I’ve found some virtualization schemes to be more effective than others; my ears aren’t Alfred E. Newmanesque, but their shape has never been able to securely hold the sort of standard earbuds that seem to work for everyone else. Apparently, my ear canals fall outside the norm.

Rather than faking multiple speakers, Psyko uses real ones. And they’re not where you’d expect. Instead of sitting beside each ear like in conventional headphones, the speakers are placed on top of your head. Five 30-mm drivers spread out evenly across the headphone band to cover the center, front, and rear channels of a traditional 5.1 setup.

Gunfire and explosions don’t rain down from above, though. Instead, the headphones use PsykoWave technology to pipe sound down to your ears. Sounds generated by the headband speakers are directed to the ears via waveguides that also form the frame of the headphones. These waveguides are crafted from an almost rubbery plastic that’s stiff enough to support the headphones while still offering enough flex to accommodate oversized craniums.

Peering inside the earmuffs reveals waveguide outlets at the front and rear. These portals to the speakers above are designed to fire sounds towards your ear just like a real 5.1-channel speaker system would. As for the .1, each earmuff brings the thump with its own 40-mm subwoofer. The human ear can’t detect direction with low-frequency sounds, so there’s no need for these subwoofers to be attached to fancy waveguides.

Enclosed, fuzzy headphones tend to make my head sweat after extended use. Fortunately, the Psykos have optional ventilation. Each earmuff sports a plastic vent that can be tilted open to give one’s ears a breather. Cracking this vent also makes it a little easier to hear sounds around you, although you’ll hardly feel isolated from environmental noise when the vents are closed.

Overall, the headphones are actually quite comfortable. They’re a little heavy due to the extra speakers, but the weight didn’t cause me any undue fatigue or neck strain, even after several hours of continuous use. Psyko has done a good job of distributing the weight of the speakers evenly and putting plenty of padding between them and your head. The adjustable ear cups offer plenty of range, too, and they pivot slightly to ensure a snug fit.

If you’re into voice communication, the headphones also come with a detachable boom mic that plugs into a 2.5-mm audio jack. I’m actually shocked that a number of so-called gaming headphones on the market don’t include built-in microphones. Whether you’re discussing strategy for an upcoming round or raid, debating the next map to play, or just talking trash, voice communication is an integral part of online multiplayer gaming.

Because the Psyko headphones don’t resort to virtualized trickery, they’ll work with any sound card or motherboard that can output a 5.1-channel analog signal. Psyko does include an amp, which has 3.5-mm front, rear, center/sub, and microphone leads that plug directly into your audio source. The headphones have an identical set of cables that plug into jacks at the rear of the amp. Once everything’s connected and the amp is plugged in, tell your system it’s connected to a 5.1-channel speaker set, and you’re good to go.

A pair of knobs on the amp’s front panel provide control over the volume and bass. According to Hildebrandt, there’s a trade-off between directional sound and bass. Too much of the latter tends to drown out the former, which makes sense given that the headphones situate a subwoofer directly across from each ear.

To the left of the knobs sits an array of LEDs tied to the amp’s output channels. If sound is playing on a given channel, the associated LED will light up, providing a nice visual representation of directional sounds flowing through the headphones.

From theory to practice

The first thing I did after plugging the Psyko headphones into my gaming PC was fire up Windows’ speaker test. Sure enough, test tones generated on the rear channels did in fact sound like they were coming from behind me. So far, so good.

Next, I tackled a collection of games, including Modern Warfare 2, Bad Company 2, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead 2, Counter-Strike, and DiRT 2. I’ve probably spent more than a dozen hours playing those games on the Psykos over the last week or so. During that time, and always back-to-back with the Psykos, I also played a number of the same games on two alternatives: the 5.1-channel Logitech Z-5500 speaker setup in my living room and a virtualized surround config on a pair of Sennheiser HD 555 stereo headphones. The same test system and X-Fi Fatal1ty sound card was used in each case, but only with the Sennheisers did I enable Creative’s CMSS-3D speaker virtualization scheme.

The verdict? As far as directional audio goes, Psyko’s approach has definite merit. The 5.1 headphones don’t exactly replicate the experience of a proper speaker setup, but they come pretty close. More importantly, the Pskyos seem to do a better job with directional sounds than CMSS-3D. The X-Fi is certainly capable of creating a surround-sound headphone experience that’s more immersive than standard stereo output. However, to my ears, the rear speakers virtualized by CMSS-3D sound more like they’re positioned to my left and right. With the Psykos, I hear rear-channel sounds coming from directly behind me.

Distance appears to be a problem for the X-Fi’s speaker virtualization system, as well. With Creative’s drivers trying to outsmart my ears, sounds seem to play at the same volume regardless of their proximity. I suspect that’s an artifact of the CMSS-3D, because it’s not an issue for the Psykos or my Logitech speakers.

Psyko describes its approach to surround headphones as creating “The Perfect Room” around the user. That’s an appropriate analogy, I think, but it’s one that needs to be tempered with some clarification. First, the room’s a little small. I had my girlfriend listen to Modern Warefare 2 and DiRT 2 sessions with all three speaker and headphone configurations, and she commented that sounds on the Psykos seemed more immediate and closer than those played back on the living room’s 5.1-channel speakers. I’ve had surround-sound speakers spread out in larger rooms and arranged tightly around my chair in smaller ones, and the Psykos definitely approximate the latter environment more than the former.

Curious to have another set of ears take the Psykos for a listen, I also had Cyril play with them over the weekend. He noted that center-channel sounds seemed to come more from inside his head than in front of it. After some additional listening, I tend to agree. The front and rear speakers sound like they’re level with my head and maybe a foot or two in front of or behind me. The center channel sounds closer and higher, as if the speaker is hovering maybe six inches in front of my forehead and another six inches above it. Still, that’s better than CMSS-3D’s virtualized center channel, which feels like it’s lodged inside my cerebrum.

As it turns out, less-than-ideal center-channel speaker placement is the least of Psyko’s problems. These headphones carry a suggested retail price of $300, making the perfect room an extremely expensive piece of real estate. Given that lofty price tag, one might expect that Psyko has filled the perfect room with excellent speakers. But it hasn’t—not even decent ones.

Simply put, the Psyko headphones have atrocious sound quality. They offer little range in the middle of the spectrum, and while high notes sound somewhat better, my ears detected a distinct lack of crispness and detail throughout the spectrum. The lower ranges don’t provide much relief, either; the bass sounds muffled and soft, as if the subwoofers inside each earmuff have been stuffed with tiny cotton balls. Cranking the bass only invites distortion, and drum kicks don’t really hit hard at the maximum, anyway.

For the record, I’m not comparing the Psykos to ultra-high-end audiophile headphones. Sennheiser’s HD 555s sell for about half as much as the Psykos but offer signifcantly better sound quality throughout the spectrum. Even my folding Koss PortaPro headphones, which cost just $33, boast higher fidelity.

My ears aren’t the only ones that can easily hear the difference, either. Cyril had a similar reaction to the Psykos, noting that his fancy Sennheiser headphones and even relatively basic Plantronics headset have superior sound quality. Perhaps the most damning indightment came from his fiancée, who commented that the headphones that shipped with her Zune sound better. Ouch. But then I have a pair of Zune earbuds, and they really are quite good.

Music tends to highlight deficiencies in sound quality more readily than in-game effects. However, the Psyko headphones’ limited range is apparent in frantic firefights, during which individual sounds can easily get lost in a sea of noise. The headphones don’t do a particularly good job of melding in-game music and effects, either. One could even argue that the Sennheisers offer a more pleasurable listening experience in those situations. The virtualized speakers may not be positioned perfectly for my ears, but their dynamic range is much better equipped to deal gracefully with a deluge of simultaneous sounds.

Conclusions

It’s tempting to write off Psyko’s 5.1-channel headphones as an epic failure due to their dismal fidelity. I’m not sure whether low-rent speakers are to blame for the limited range or if the waveguides are somehow polluting the sound. Either way, the end result is a crime against music. Those who value sound quality over precise positional accuracy can do much better than the Psykos with just about any halfway-decent set of stereo headphones.

Discounting the Psykos completely would sell short a notable achievement, though. The sounds produced may be of questionable quality, but they’re coming from the right directions. Psyko’s novel approach to surround sound really does deliver the most convincing positional audio I’ve experienced with a set of headphones. To my ears, the 5.1-channel headphones are nearly as immersive as a proper speaker setup. They offer noticably more accurate positional audio than the virtualized surround sound provided by Creative’s X-Fi sound cards, too.

So, who might be willing to sacrifice a great deal of fidelity in the name of improved positional accuracy? Hardcore gamers with deep pockets, perhaps. A few hours with Counter-Strike really sold me on the appeal of these headphones for competitive multiplayer gaming. The game doesn’t have any music or much in the way of ambient effects, leaving me free to hone in on footsteps, gunfire, bouncing grenades, and other audible cues. In that kind of environment, the Psyko headphones offer a distinct competitive advantage over the speaker virtualization schemes I’ve used. A true 5.1-channel speaker is even better, but that’s not a practical solution for some rooms, nor is it portable enough for LAN parties and tournament play.

Without a deep discount or a huge upgrade in sound quality, though, I don’t see many more folks being enticed by Psyko’s 5.1 headphones. Maybe that’s why Amazon has already dropped its price to $228. Even that price is a stretch in my mind. However, the PsykoWave concept definitely has promise, and I’d love to see it applied with a greater focus on fidelity.

Comments closed
    • HeadPsyko
    • 10 years ago

    The Head Psyko here.

    The Psyko amp that comes with the Psyko Headphones have LED’s that show which speakers are firing. If you see only the top left and right LED’s lighting up then the sound source (game) is only putting out stereo. The Psyko Headphone system is just like a 5.1 room system and is best experienced with true surround sound turned on. Turn off the virtual surround sound systems in the audio card – you wouldn’t use that with a 5.1 room system. You should see all 5 LED’s firing when you have true surround sound coming from the computer and game.

    The virtual headphone systems are only meant for traditional stereo headphones – do not use them with the Psyko headphones (and you will only see the front 2 LED’s firing).

    For music it is okay to turn on the stereo surround option, that puts the left music to both the left front and left rear speakers, and the right music to the right front and right rear.

      • l33t-g4m3r
      • 10 years ago

      You don’t want to use virtual surround with any headphones, at least not while gaming.
      Watching movies that need downsampling is the only real use for virtual surround.
      Using virtual surround in gaming screws up HRTF, as you are not hearing native modes for headphones, but instead virtualized 5.1.

      I have been suspecting that the use of virtual modes on the non-5.1 headphones is a sponsored tactic to paint 5.1 headphones in a better perspective, and it certainly is looking that way.

      5.1 headphones are very overpriced, at around 200$ a pop.
      These headsets use cheap components, and cost way more than what the headset is worth, giving the company gobs of money to throw around.

      That’s why it’s highly suspicious to people who know how 3d sound works, to see review after review of 5.1 headsets claiming you get better positional audio, when the competition was obviously crippled.

      People with no knowledge of virtual surround are oblivious to how the wool was pulled over their eyes, and thus this marketing tactic makes sales.

      Using virtual surround in a gaming comparison is a rigged scenario, since regular headphones should sound better than a 5.1 headset under the proper configuration.
      Anybody who buys a 5.1 headset for gaming is a sucker, and that’s exactly who they are targeting.

    • Meadows
    • 10 years ago

    All right, I’ll give credit where it’s due. You have to wonder, however: gamers don’t really remember these things, right? That’s not what you call a historic move. Something must’ve been wrong. Maybe it was expensive, maybe it was irrelevant, or maybe the developers weren’t aware themselves. Anyway, it’s forgotten.

    /[

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      /[

      • l33t-g4m3r
      • 10 years ago

      First off, thank you for finally getting the initial gist of it.
      Now for the rest of the explaining.
      HRTF is not forgotten, irrelevant, deprecated, dead, or anything else you’ve claimed.
      Microsoft has merely moved it from hardware to software.
      HRTF is still there, and used in software direct sound.
      Nothing has been made irrelevant in today’s games. Nothing.
      It’s basically all still there.

      The “death” of EAX is greatly exaggerated.
      The only thing that changed was Microsoft allowing hardware accelerated sound over directsound.
      EAX is creative’s proprietary audio extensions, which ran over DS3d, but it can still run over OpenAL.
      However, OpenAL also has it’s own extension capabilities, which can be used instead of EAX.
      Same result either way.

      Now for explaining why TR’s headphone results are either accidentally incorrect, or outright lies.
      Whatever they are, they’re 100% wrong and here’s why:
      TR compared both headphones with the game outputting 5.1 sound.
      You got this so far? This is an l[http://www.3dss.com/features/articles/VirtualSurround/VirtualSurround.html<]§ Creative does not make this clear to people. Not only does creative not tell people the truth about what their feature actually is, they combine it with real features: MacroFX and ElevationFilter. But how can these features work properly when CMSS3D is downsampling 5.1 audio at the same time? It makes absolutely no sense. What's even worse is that creative seems to realize this under 4.0 speaker mode, and allows the features to be enabled separately. However, the features completely disappear when you use 5.1. It's just not there. So, the end result is: If you can't use MacroFX and ElevationFilter under 5.1, Headphone mode with CMSS3D disabled should sound the same. It shouldn't matter anyway, since all those features do, is extra HRTF effects, but you still get HRTF regardless of them being enabled, so what's the point? The drivers and feature modes are totally screwed up, and It's basically all done for marketing purposes. This stupidity is why people are so pissed off at creative.

        • Meadows
        • 10 years ago

        Let’s stop here for a moment: g{

          • l33t-g4m3r
          • 10 years ago

          l[http://connect.creativelabs.com/openal/OpenAL%20Wiki/OpenAL%C2%AE%20and%20Windows%20Vista%E2%84%A2.aspx<]§ r[<"In some cases, where a game specifically looks for a hardware audio path, it may even fall back to plain stereo output."<]r This doesn't mean HRTF can't be done in software, it means that the game developers decided to require hardware acceleration for performance reasons. However, not all games do this, and will still work in software mode. Sometimes there is even a force3d audio option, that will force hrtf to be enabled regardless of hardware acceleration. Also, if the source engine doesn't do 3d sound, that automatically throws out 3 of the games tested in TR's review: Team Fortress(2?), Left 4 Dead 2, and Counter-Strike(source?). Not only that, since creative does 3d sound in hardware, ALchemy has to be used in Vista/7 with directsound games. I never heard ALchemy was used in any of the games, did you? Ironically, using their configuration, TR would probably have gotten better results using a Xonar. But using 5.1 with headphones is still a no-no. One game I know that supports most 3d audio off the top of my head is Ut2004. Try using headphone mode with it. Also for other games, you'll probably need OpenAL or OpenAL Soft to hear full OpenAL on a software card. I'd use the regular OpenAL first, and only if that doesn't work try OpenAL Soft. §[<http://connect.creativelabs.com/openal/Downloads/Forms/AllItems.aspx<]§

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            I might try UT2004 and tell what I find out, but I don’t have high hopes.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Tried UT2004, and the effect is there alright. Used _[

      • HeadPsyko
      • 10 years ago

      The Head Psyko here.

      The Psyko amp that comes with the Psyko Headphones have LED’s that show which speakers are firing. If you see only the top left and right LED’s lighting up then the sound source (game) is only putting out stereo. The Psyko Headphone system is just like a 5.1 room system and is best experienced with true surround sound turned on. Turn off the virtual surround sound systems in the audio card – you wouldn’t use that with a 5.1 room system. You should see all 5 LED’s firing when you have true surround sound coming from the computer and game.

      The virtual headphone systems are only meant for traditional stereo headphones – do not use them with the Psyko headphones (and you will only see the front 2 LED’s firing).

      For music it is okay to turn on the stereo surround option, that puts the left music to both the left front and left rear speakers, and the right music to the right front and right rear.

    • tanker27
    • 10 years ago

    Nothing is better than a set of Sennheiser Audiophile cans and a Zalman Clip-on mic.

    I have spent more than enough on supposed good headsets and I finally dove deep and did what a lot of people were saying all along:

    Buy a good set of Sennheisers and get the Zalman mic. After breaking in the cans they will sound better than any 5.1 headset can provide!

    FWIW: I have owned Trittons, Barracudas,Medusas, various Logitch, etc. etc.

      • shaq_mobile
      • 10 years ago

      ^Bump

      My hd580’s have served me so well over the last 6 years. It’s awesome!

      I’ve had to replace the cord 4 times, but the last time I purchased the HD650 cord (its thicker and less fragile) and that seemed to solve the issue of the wire breaking at the base of the right/left headphone plugs. Since then, I’ve been a very proud owner. Also, they’re light enough to bike and even jog with when I have a buzz cut (the hair pokes against the ear pads to keep them in place, it doesnt work when I have long hair). So those late night summer jogs are great with some high fidelity Sennheisers (toss those earphones!)

    • bdwilcox
    • 10 years ago

    The headline picture looks like a muff (and not the kind for your ear…)

    • pedro
    • 10 years ago

    M-Audio FireWire Solo card running into a KRK 10S sub that powers 2 Yamaha HS80M monitors. Everything is active and the card is bus-powered.

    The sound is incredible! Especially for listening to music with loads of bass.

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 10 years ago

    -meant to reply-

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 10 years ago

    I noticed a lot of references to virtual 3d sound, but none about actual 3d sound.
    headphone cmss3d is a virtual 5.1 down-sampler, that ports 5.1 audio sources like dvds down to headphones.

    It is not meant to be used comparatively instead of eax/OpenAL in games that support it.
    If a game doesn’t support 3d sound, cmss3d is better than nothing, but otherwise you are not getting real headphone hrtf.

    I cringe every time I read 5.1 headset reviews, because there is usually a complete misunderstanding of 3d gaming sound, perhaps even done deliberately.

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      CMSS-3D wasn’t used instead of EAX/in-game 3D audio, but rather, in conjunction with it. CMSS-3D Virtual, which is the only CMSS-3D mode available if you have headphones selected as the output device in Creative’s current Windows 7 drivers, provides virtualized positional audio.

      None of the in-game settings changed–all were set to output surround sound to 5.1-channel speakers. In fact, while the Creative drivers were set to headphone output, Windows 7’s speaker setup stayed at 5.1 channels.

        • l33t-g4m3r
        • 10 years ago

        Exactly. You were using virtual 5.1, and not true stereo headphone mode.
        Windows and the game were outputting 5.1, and creative’s cmss3d was downmixing it.
        This is not the correct way to use headphones, as you are hearing virtual 5.1 speakers instead of true stereo hrtf.

        This bait and switch tactic is used again and again in almost every single 5.1 headset review, to point out flaws in virtual 5.1 vs real 5.1.

        If you are comparing movies with 5.1 audio sources, this tatic is fine, otherwise this is an outright scam in games that can natively support stereo headphones.

        Of course Creative doesn’t help things with their nonsensical marketing, and unclear or nonexistant directions either.
        Their drivers with automatic headphone downsampling make things that much more confusing.

          • l33t-g4m3r
          • 10 years ago
        • NeXus 6
        • 10 years ago

        I found that the proper way to get surround sound through headphones is to set it to 5.1 or 7.1 in the sound setting in Windows (be sure to set the speakers to full-range), and then use the Headphone setting in Creative’s Console app. CMSS-3D only works well with games; for movies it needs to be turned off.

          • l33t-g4m3r
          • 10 years ago

          *sigh*. This is the total opposite of how the feature is supposed to be used.
          Sure it works, but it’s wrong and leads to improper conclusions, like the above review.

          If you truly feel that you need to use cmss3d downsampling in games, then we have lost real 3d hrtf sound to stupid gimmicks like virtual 5.1 3d sound.

            • NeXus 6
            • 10 years ago

            It’s the proper way. You’re sending a 5.1 or 7.1 signal to the headphones. Setting it to ‘headphone’ in windows sound is only 2 speaker output.

            Audio is positional; I can detect sounds coming from all directions. If a plane flies over it sounds like it’s coming from the back and then over my head rather then dead center. Same goes for footsteps, explosions, etc.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 10 years ago

            AAAAH!! NO! WRONG!
            You can’t physically send 5.1 to stereo headphones, and virtual 5.1 doesn’t accurately reproduce sound.

            You don’t need virtual 5.1 downsampling, if the game supports stereo HRTF.
            Look this up RIGHT NOW. 5.1 headphones are a scam.
            §[<http://lmgtfy.com/?q=HRTF&l=1<]§ §[<http://tinyurl.com/2eo37om<]§

            • NeXus 6
            • 10 years ago

            §[<http://forums.guru3d.com/showthread.php?t=239405<]§ Question it all you want, but it sounds proper this way. I know you can't get true 5.1 audio through 2 speakers, but this is the way to properly set it up to get fake surround--and it sounds damn nice! Good headphones also make a difference, but avoid the 5.1 ones.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 10 years ago

            you are using a forum post as a source, and the author himself clearly states he does not know if he is doing it correctly, and no, he is not.
            “Am I using CMSS-3D Headphone correctly?” No, he is not.
            Somebody else actually mentions this later on:
            “Do NOT use 5.1 with headphones.”
            “your giving yourself a placebo effect if you think that THAT is working correctly.”
            “When you’re using headphones, your game/windows should be set to HEADPHONES.”
            “ALL of your speaker options should be set to HEADPHONE, *NOT* 5.1 or 7.1 ”
            “Exactly, you do NOT want 5.1 if you are using headphones.”

            If you need to use virtual 5.1 yes, but you should not want to game using virtual 5.1.
            Games should sound better in native stereo headphone mode, provided the game uses hrtf.

            It doesn’t seem like you’ve done any research, and instead found a random forum post that initially appeared to support your view, when in actuality it does not.
            It’s like that one guy says. cmss3d is a placebo effect.
            Yes it has a surround “effect”, but all it is doing is emulating 5.1 speakers.
            You don’t need to emulate speakers to have positional audio.
            Good article here: §[<http://tinyurl.com/2eo37om<]§ I am disappointed in TR's review not only because it was done incorrectly, but also because it somewhat encourages incorrect configurations and opinions. Pure disinformation.

            • NeXus 6
            • 10 years ago

            I quoted that forum thread because it’s what works for me. Using the method of setting it to ‘headphone’ in both windows and the Creative console makes everything sound hollow with CMSS-3D enabled. I might as well use my 5.1 speakers than listen through headphones if you’re telling me that’s the right way and that it sounds correct.

            • srilumpa
            • 10 years ago

            If I understand his argument correctly then CMSS-3D should be disabled and the 3D positioning should be done by the game as long as it supports hrtf.

            The difference would be like (with graphics) having a scaler upscaling your picture (CMSS-3D) versus having the game outputting a higher resolution (game outputting HRTF on two channel directly) except that here we are talking about sound and about downscaling from 6/8 speakers to only 2.

            It does make sense to me as the CMSS-3D can only use the data in the audio channels coming from the game and mix them differently into the two stereo channels to emulate how each ear would hear it if it was coming from speakers whereas the game knows precisely where each individual sound is in 3D space before they are mixed in the channels and thus can mix them more precisely into two channels directly (if it knows that the two channels are for headphones and not speakers) rather than mixing them into 6/8 channels that will then have to be further crammed down into two channels.

            Again, I want to emphasise that it is my understanding from his posts and links so I could be completely off base so take it with a big grain of salt.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 10 years ago

            Yes, you are correct, and yes cmss3d has to be off.
            I just tested this using ioquake3 with openal.
            Cmss3d makes the normal headphone audio sound absolutely horrible.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 10 years ago

            Like you said, “with CMSS-3D enabled”, cmss3d is the problem.
            You have to turn it off to get normal sound.

            Properly configuring headphone mode is a pita, and the only easy way to do it on a creative card is if you have the I/O bay, which automatically adjusts your settings to headphone mode, and mutes your speakers, when you insert headphones.
            Otherwise you have to manually change settings.

        • Meadows
        • 10 years ago

        §[<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_Blaster_X-Fi#CMSS-3D<]§ Are you telling that "CMSS-3D Headphone" was not an available mode? That's what leet-idiot is frothing about so incessantly. If the game properly supports DS3D (old) or OpenAL, then the X-Fi cards set to headphone mode are supposed to look at 3D sound information directly before outputting, and they'll apply custom filtering to each and every sound. This is meant to provide smoother transitions "between speakers", essentially giving you the illusion of a 360 degree circle of sound instead, /[

          • l33t-g4m3r
          • 10 years ago

          No. You don’t get it. Cmss3d is virtual speakers.
          It has to be turned off to get proper headphone sound in games.
          Otherwise, you hear sound based off emulating a 5.1 speaker setup, or some SRS-esque fake stereo expansion effect.
          Proper headphone setup doesn’t emulate 5.1 speakers, but instead you hear output specifically for headphones.

          Dissonance is saying the settings are set to 5.1 in the game, and they used a cmss3d heaphone mode to downsample to headphones.

          Completely the wrong way to go about doing things, since you don’t need virtual speaker downsampling with games, only movies.

          This is exactly why the 5.1 setup sounded “better”.
          The stereo headphones are misconfigured and they were hearing distorted virtual sound.
          The sound was not being played back correctly for headphones, since the game was outputting 5.1 and being virtually downmixed, not stereo with headphone specific hrtf.
          Of course the results are skewed.
          Seriously. How hard is this to understand?

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            You don’t get headphone effects without CMSS-3D.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 10 years ago

            Yes, you do. Just not the fake virtual stereo expansion effects.
            Creative is clear as mud in documenting what cmss3d actually does, but if you can read through the marketing speak, which is pretty difficult, you’ll find that that’s all cmss3d is.
            It upmixes stereo to 5.1, downmixes 5.1 to stereo, but neither is creating real 3d sound.
            It’s a marketing gimmick like crystalizer.

            Creative: crystalizer upmixes 128kb mp3’s to 24-bit dvd audio!
            Unwashed masses: Oooh! We believe anything you’ll tell us! More kool-aid please!

            Seriously, take creative’s marketing hype with a grain of salt.
            3d audio is about the only thing somewhat legit, but creative’s killed it by keeping it locked up, and the low quality of their cards and drivers have caused people to buy the competiton, regardless of creative now making somewhat better products. Can’t say I blame them either.

            The only thing you actually lose from turning off cmss3d-headphone is the stolen sensaura effects, which if you have previously owned a sensaura card, which I have, you’d know that creative implemented the features wrong.
            MacroFX and the Elevation filter are supposed to be used natively, not virtually, and should work in every speaker mode.
            However you don’t lose much by disabling it, since both effect’s were rather buggy, and proper hrtf should already handle it.
            Actually, using 4 speaker mode, you can independently enable sensaura effects and cmss3d.
            Some people seem to prefer 2 speaker mode vs headphones, and set the speaker location to match headphones.
            This all makes creative appear to not know what they are doing with their drivers, because of nonsensical configuration options, and low quality distorted sound, but what’s new.
            Anyway, turning cmss3d off is the only way to get working headphone sound at the moment.

      • d0g_p00p
      • 10 years ago

      I agree. I think the tech is just too expensive right now to do true DD to stereo output with proper support and audio clarity. I know it can be done. At work we have a $10K Dolby box that outputs 5.1 in real time to a pair of headphones and it works perfectly. This is over both XLR and stereo mini jacks.

      edit: it’s a Dolby Lake Processor. I don’t know the model off hand.

        • l33t-g4m3r
        • 10 years ago

        Look, where are you people getting the misconception of needing a downsampler?
        Downsampling 5.1 is completely unnecessary in games, no matter what software does it, dolby or otherwise.
        It is only necessary for pre-recorded soundtracks.
        Games generate sound ON-THE-FLY depending on your speaker configuration, using HRTF.
        There is a difference.

          • Meadows
          • 10 years ago

          Games don’t use HRTF. Where do YOU get THAT idea? There are /[

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 10 years ago

            Any game that uses DirectSound has hrtf. It’s built into the OS.
            We’ve had hrtf since windows 98. Where have you been?

            §[<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DirectSound<]§ "positioning sounds in 3D space (3D audio spatialization)" edit: let's go back in time to directx7 §[<http://www.3dss.com/features/articles/ds3d.html<]§ "What's new in DirectX7 In DirectX7 the only real change is that the new voicemanager and a new software 3D sound engine. The new 3D sound engine offers 3 modes, stereo panning, HRTF light, HRTF full. As the name suggests the first is just stereo panning while the 2 others are really 3D sound engines using HRTF filters just like Sensaura, Aureal's and Creative's 3D sound engines. All old games will end up using the stereo panning while new games can choose to use the light or full HRTF engine." Finally, CMSS3D is a virtual surround sound downsampler. This is meant for downsampling pre-recorded 5.1 audio to stereo speakers or headphones. NOT GAMES. §[<http://www.3dss.com/features/articles/VirtualSurround/VirtualSurround.html<]§ "To allow users only using 2-speakers or headphones to take advantage of the surround channels in DTS and DD 5.1 tracks several products features virtual surround technologies. As the name suggests they try to make it sound like you actually have a couple speakers behind you. How effective this is varies quite a bit and in general the headphone solutions are more impressive than when using 2-speakers, just like 3D audio virtualization for games. This is especially the case for effects being positioned behind you while sound effects to your sides are quite impressive both using headphones and 2-speakers. "

            • Tamale
            • 10 years ago

            I think this guy is right, everyone. It makes sense from a technical standpoint, and the facts in the articles linked can’t really be misconstrued.

          • d0g_p00p
          • 10 years ago

          My point was that it can be done. if you think it makes no difference what so ever you have never heard true 5.1 to headphones. That Lake processor I wrote about does just that and it works perfectly.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            His point is, virtual 5.1 speaker mode offers less granular immersion and some features, such as sounds coming from above/below you, are next to impossible as well.

    • Skrying
    • 10 years ago

    Advice: Don’t buy a headphone that claims to have more than 2 channels. Ever. Just don’t. Don’t even think about it. If you’re already done it try to return it as soon as possible. Next time do actual research before making a bad purchase.

      • moriz
      • 10 years ago

      perhaps you should mention WHY using surround headphones, especially those that have multiple drivers per ear cup as well as multiple analog plus, is a bad idea.

        • BaconatedGrapefruit
        • 10 years ago

        …because your ears require more than an inch of distance from the source to source it. Having more than one speaker so close to your ears won’t help. A better approach would be to use algorithms to accurately mimic the alterations the sound waves undergo as they enter your ears from different angles. Of course these would be incredibly complex to do (probably impossible with today’s technology) correctly, and of course the algorithms would only work on the one person for which they were designed (and possibly fairly well on his identical twin brother).

        I know my 10 year old headphone amp does process the sound to do this in a very, very limited sense (by adding a delayed, slightly altered waveform from the opposite channel to each channel), so I’m sure a lot of these “surround” headphones have something along those lines. It’s just that to accurately do it would be prohibitively expensive for the intended market, if it’s even possible.

    • fredsnotdead
    • 10 years ago

    I think you mean audible /[

    • Suspenders
    • 10 years ago

    A good soundcard and some Audio Technica ATH-AD700 headphones would be what I recommend…

      • NeXus 6
      • 10 years ago

      100% agree. These are the best sounding headphones I’ve ever owned. They’re great for music and movies, but are excellent for gaming because of the massive soundstage they produce.

      • HisDivineShadow
      • 10 years ago

      Love my ATH-A900’s. In fact, I bought them after I gave up on 5.1 headphone setups when the Razer Barracuda had such horrible sound quality.

      I expected better from the Psyko 5.1 speakers because of the price, but even that wasn’t enough. Its sad that anytime a company starts out to make a gaming headset the first thing to go is the audio quality…

    • Igor_Kavinski
    • 10 years ago

    Thanks so much for this review. I don’t have to worry about spending 300 buckaroos on these hyped headphones anymore. Now, all you gotta do is get your hands on the Logitech G35 and the Tritton AX Pro and put them through your gauntlet of listening tests 😀

    • SubSeven
    • 10 years ago

    Not to be pedantic but the conclusion statement of “why Amazon has already dropped its price $228” is incorrect. It should read “why Amazon has already dropped its price l[

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    No pics of Geoff (or the gf) wearing these headphones == fail.

    • MrBojangles
    • 10 years ago

    I picked up a pair of irock! 5.1 surround sound headphones around 4 years ago.Still haven’t heard a single home theater setup or alternate pair of headphones that sounded as good.Which to me is pretty sweet since i only payed around $35 dollars for them at my local microcenter.

    §[<http://www.engadget.com/2005/08/09/irock-5-1-theater-sound-usb-headphones-theoretically-um-rock/<]§ §[<http://www.mobilewhack.com/reviews/irock_51_theater_sound_usb_headphones.html<]§ sorry about the semi odd links they don't actually make or sell these anymore.Was all i could find on them.

      • Laykun
      • 10 years ago

      You must have listen to some pretty crap home theatre setups and headphones then.

        • MrBojangles
        • 10 years ago

        I’m assuming you’ve actually listened to or owned my exact model of headphones before right???Cause otherwise i have no ideal were your comment is coming from or why you would think it would be even remotely valid/accurate.

    • StuG
    • 10 years ago

    Wow…these are some ugly headphones

    • tay
    • 10 years ago

    I appreciate this review. TR is one of 5 sites i turn ABPro off for.

    • pjladyfox
    • 10 years ago

    Very nice review and you touched on the areas I was hoping you would; specifically the positional audio and music quality. I would be curious ‘tho about a comparison against the ROCCAT Kave, Medusa NX 5.1, and Razer Megalodon which are currently the only other true, true meaning actual 5.1 connectors rather than virtual via CMSS-3D or some other trickery, 5.1 headsets currently available. My current Barracuda HP-1’s are just about gone and I’m quickly getting desperate for a replacement set.

    Thoughts?

      • moriz
      • 10 years ago

      the megalodon uses a USB connector with its own built in sound card, does it not? therefore, it doesn’t have the actual 5.1 connectors at all.

      i think your best bet is to just get another barracuda hp1. i’m not entirely sure on this, but i believe the barracuda will end up with better sound quality, especially if its hooked up to a good sound card.

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