Corsair recently announced a new addition to its gaming headset lineup: the Void Surround. This $80 headset slots in between the $70 Void Stereo and $100 Void USB. The Corsair Void lineup is a relatively new branch of Corsair’s arsenal of gaming gear, so I was pleased at the opportunity to get my hands on one of these headsets.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the chassis. The Surround is mostly finished in black, along with some red accents on the earcups and mic. The headset sports a sturdy plastic-and-aluminum frame, along with a couple strips of artificial leather around the ear cups for cosmetic purposes. Overall, the Surround feels robust yet flexible. The earcups swivel ninety degrees for comfort when resting on the wearer’s neck and to save on space when the headset isn’t in use. Each side of the headband has nine notches to accommodate various head sizes.
The headset is fitted with a four-pole 3.5-mm jack, which allows it to be used with mobile devices and consoles along with a PC. Compared to the Void Stereo and Void USB, that makes the Surround more versatile. It also comes with a Dolby Headphone USB adapter for Dolby 7.1 virtual surround sound, which we’ll dive into later. The six-foot-long cable is just lengthy enough to provide ample maneuverability at the desk without hanging way down when using the headset with a mobile device.
A mute button and a volume wheel are located on the left earcup. Both the location and nature of the controls are fantastic design decisions. Quickly reaching up and adjusting the volume or muting the mic is so much easier than fumbling with the cord to find the tiny in-line controllers that most headsets come with. Oftentimes, a lot of headset controls also have up or down volume buttons that need to be repeatedly pressed to adjust the volume. The Surround’s volume wheel is a much better alternative, as it provides a wide range of adjustment with minimal effort.
The final nail in the coffin for standard headset controls is how difficult it is to tell whether the mic is muted or not. The Surround’s mute button, however, has a nice click to it and slightly depresses into the headset when on, providing for a quick and easy mute check. As simple as these features may sound, they are major strengths of the headset.
The Surround sports a pair of uniquely-shaped earcups that house 50-mm neodymium drivers. Those cups are supported by a forward-slanting headband. For those of you worrying about the the cups fitting around your ears, the inside of the earcups is a little over one inch deep, two inches tall at their farthest points, and slightly over one inch wide. Corsair calls their earcup shape a “true form” design, as they are supposed to fit perfectly around the human ear. However, other than the unique aesthetic, I don’t think the cup shape provides any practical advantage. The design actually seems to limit ear space compared to more traditional oval earphones. The cups fit my relatively small ears just fine, but others might have trouble.
The cups are padded with a combination of microfiber and memory foam that I find fairly comfortable. After an hour or so of use, however, a bit of annoying pressure sets in. The problem here is that the Surround is heavy for a headset, especially considering that it’s meant to be used on the go with mobile devices. Even so, I highly doubt that most people will be lugging around a gaming headset with a non-detachable mic.
Even at my desk, the bulk of the Surround is still an issue for comfort. I found that if I loosened up the headset’s grip a bit in order to alleviate the pressure, the forward-slanting headband would let the headset slide forward if I looked down at all. Something as simple as checking my phone became a frustrating experience, as I would have to reposition the headset every time I looked back up again. Even if the weight stayed the same, I think this issue could be fixed by sticking to the conventional headband design of most other headsets.
The user experience
Now that we’ve analyzed the design of the headset, let’s actually get into what it sounds like. In my time with the Surround, I listened to a wide variety of songs from different genres, including the obligatory classic, Bohemian Rhapsody. Throughout my listening sessions, the Surround exhibited a neutral character. No flaws really stood out to me, but this headset doesn’t do anything to put a polish on music, either. To be fair, as a gaming headset, the Surround isn’t supposed to be an audiophile’s dream. I wouldn’t purchase the Surround expressly for listening to music, but it can function as a good all-rounder for a gaming PC.
Corsair’s CUE software manages all of the bells and whistles of the Void Surround. After downloading and installing the software from Corsair’s website, CUE loaded up and greeted me with a fairly friendly interface. I can say from experience with Corsair’s old mouse software that CUE is definitely an improvement.
The CUE software features an equalizer with five preset modes: Pure Direct, Bass Boost, FPS Competition, Clear Chat, and Movie Theater. The levels on all of these can be customized to your own personal tastes. For most purposes, I found Pure Direct to be the best mode. Bass Boost, however, goes well with electronic music. The CUE software also allows owners to adjust the mic and sidetone levels.
I do have one small complaint about the software. Every time I unplug the Surround from my computer, a CUE window pops up, telling me that there isn’t an audio device connected. This window won’t go away until I manually close it. I don’t really think I need to be notified that I just unplugged the headset.
The most important feature of the CUE software is the headset’s namesake, Dolby 7.1 virtual surround sound. Unfortunately, I had a rather mixed experience with this feature. When Dolby Surround is off, gunfire and explosions are clear and crisp without being piercing, but once surround is on, it’s as if a blanket has been thrown over the signal. This is an unfortunate side effect of Dolby Surround. However, I don’t want to knock on it too hard, as it does give you a great sense of immersion and positional audio.
When I first jumped into Planetside 2 with surround sound on, I was instantly surprised by an aircraft flying overhead. I could tell where it was in relation to me uncannily well. At one point, I heard gunfire behind me, and was able to turn around and shoot the guy before he was able to get the jump on me. It almost felt like cheating, and for a moment, I was really excited about Dolby Surround. It’s worth noting that Planetside 2 already has semi-positional audio built in that works with all headphones, but the Dolby dongle is still impressive. I had a similar experience with Star Wars Battlefront. I felt as though I was really enveloped in an intense battle thanks to the Dolby features. Even so, the somewhat smothered tone of the Dolby surround emulation is a letdown.
For comparison purposes, I also installed Razer Surround, a free utility that works with any pair of headphones. I was immediately able to tell a difference between the two solutions. Razer’s surround simulation sounded much clearer while still providing a sense of scale and immersion. Unfortunately, Razer Surround doesn’t play nice with CUE, so I had to choose between keeping CUE or the Razer software installed. The one downside of Razer Surround is its lack of an equalizer, but I never really touched the CUE equalizer anyway. At the end of the day, I think Razer Surround is the better-sounding surround simulator.
The quality of the built-in microphone is critical for any headset. Unfortunately, the Void Surround’s mic falls flat. A series of pops and puffs accompanies any speech from the Surround. I was honestly surprised by the below-average signal quality from the Surround the first time I tried the mic out. For an $80 headset, the microphone is rather disappointing. It would work fine for in-game voice chat, but anything outside of that is a stretch. Streamers will find that this is not what they are looking for.
The mic on my $30 off-brand gaming headset sounds pretty darn good compared to the Surround’s mic. Listen to this clip of the Surround mic followed by my off-brand headset’s mic for comparison.
Corsair’s Void Surround offers Dolby 7.1 virtual surround sound, universal device compatibility, and a snazzy red-and-black color scheme that no other Void headset offers. All of these features come as upgrades over the $10-cheaper Void Stereo. In absolute terms, though, is the $80 price tag of the Surround worth the reward?
Unfortunately, the microphone on this headset is a disappointment thanks to its pops, puffs, and radio-host-y sound. The design of the earcups and headband seems to favor form over function. The slanted headband caused the headset to slide off my head if I looked down at my phone or desk. Tightening the headset to fight this problem only caused further irritation by creating uncomfortable pressure on my head. More conventional earcups and a centered headband would likely have worked better here, less-distinctive aesthetics aside. The Dolby surround sound dongle also falls short by adding a muffled quality to in-game sound. Not an ideal showing for the Void Surround’s headline feature.
Even with those complaints, there are still things to like about the Void Surround. The headset’s aluminum-and-plastic frame is sturdy and reliable-feeling. The neutral tone of the Surround doesn’t add unpleasant emphasis to any aspects of music, and it leaves room for adjustment to taste through the CUE software’s equalizer. I came away plenty satisfied with the Surround’s audio quality, even if it’s not revolutionary. The earcup controls are a welcome feature of the headset. They’re easy to find during a game and easy to use. The Surround’s universal compatibility across consoles and mobile devices is also nice to have, though I doubt I’ll ever be wearing a gaming headset out-and-about.
All told, the audio quality of the built-in microphone drags the Surround down, especially at the $80 asking price. I would be more willing to recommend the Surround if Corsair improved the mic’s clarity. As it stands, though, I would direct potential customers to look elsewhere in Corsair’s headset lineup.