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Surround Sound Headphones

#1 User is offline   waldojim 

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Posted 03 January 2013 - 09:59 PM

So yeah, went out and paid $80 for a pair of "gaming headphones", and another $130 on a surround sound processor... and thought it was worth sharing the experience.

For what it is worth guys, this is a very valid means of going "surround sound" on multiple platforms. And for anyone who has looked, this is a damned hard thing to find. Basically, it works out like this. With 5.1 surround sound, you actually hear things out of each speaker with both ears - just at differing amounts. This is why surround sound speakers and true 8 speaker headsets have such differing end results. Basically, a true 8 speaker (5.1) headset ends up with sound coming from the right direction, but without the needed pointers from the other side. Essentially, you get part of the experience, but not quite all of it... at least from the reports I have seen, this is true.

The "fake" surround sound used by many of the SS gaming headsets actually works out a tad better. Basically, you get the cues from the left AND the right sides that help locate the sound. While this may sound disingenuous, think about the way you listen to every day sounds.You only have two ears after all!

There is one other benefit that comes from this setup; you can use ANY headset you want on ANY system! It doesn't get much better than that does it? So here goes - two parts to this system I wanted to talk about here.

First and foremost we have the center of the system, the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Recon3d. Model Number SB1300. This is a USB / Fiber surround sound device. This device is the brains behind the operation. So, lets get this out of the way. It ONLY supports USB and Fiber. This can be a problem depending on your configuration. If you need analog connections, or coax, look elsewhere. The device itself is extremely straightforward. There is a large 5 button circle on the top, as well as a connect button. The circle has 4 functions, volume up and down,a mute button, a THX mode button as well as a Scout mode. The last two are lit depending on which is active. THX mode essentially converts the 5.1/7.1 signal to two channels without modifications. The Scout mode is basically a fancy EQ bumping up the tonal region for footsteps, gunfire, and weapon reloads. This is actually a DRASTIC EQ change, and it most certainly does what it states. If you want an edge in games, this will do it.

During my initial testing, I used my trusty JVC HA-DX3 to get an idea for sound quality, and see how it drives slightly less than efficient headphones. In short, if your headphones are high impedance, or demand a lot of power, this device is NOT for you. These headphones have a 90ohm impedance and have about a 98db sensitivity. All things considered, these sound decent with nearly anything, but a REAL amp will open these up and allow them to sing. In this case, the sound was ho-hum. Volume was acceptable (at full volume) with very little discernible distortion. On less demanding sets (details shortly) it does exceptionally well, driving them to ear splitting levels.

Surround sound effects vary widely from one source to the next. In movies, it was easy to spot exactly where things were supposed to be, and the effect was quite believable. In games... well that all depends on the game. In Farcry 3, the animal sounds and peoples movement were quite clear once the music was turned off - prior to that, the game music was far too loud to actually listen for it. The positioning wasn't nearly as clear as I had hoped, though part of that was due to location in the game. In Call of Duty Black Ops 2, MOST of the sound effects aren't positional. Footsteps, and weapon reloads are highly positional, though weapon fire is not. Basically, you have to listen very carefully for the necessary sounds.

The recon also has multiple mic sensitivity settings, though they don't seem necessary. Only the highest setting was used - as the rest were far from sensitive enough.

So now, a quick note on headphones. The JVC set mentioned above is my reference. I use it to grab an idea for sound-stage, quality, amp characteristics, etc. It works well for a test, but really has no business being used for gaming. If for no other reason than there is no mic! :D So for the trials, a pair of Razer Kraken cans were picked up. In the end, this set will be returned - but only for a slight manufacturing defect. A cable in the box was defective... sadly an important one. That said, listening functions were all quite available. Even some mic tests due to the laptop having support for exactly the type of single, multipurpose connector they decided to use.

So, what is the verdict with headphones that are far more sensitive? About the same... The Recon still does its job just about right. For anyone interested in the Krakens themselves, they are decent enough for the money if you are not looking for them as a gaming headset, but as a more all-purpose set. The ear cushions use a synthetic leather that is not uncomfortable. The extra ear cushioning helps here. Actually, the overall effect from the phones, band etc, are quite pleasing. They are also incredibly light, making extended use not only possible, but pleasing. Sound quality is decent, not quite as smooth as the JVC, but with far more low end on these less powerful amps like the Recon. In fact, the bass is almost overwhelming at times - and not quite as in-control as I prefer. The highs certainly aren't as pronounced as other high end cans, but are hardly necessary. The only disappointing part was listening for footsteps. As these are gaming headsets, they should have been a focus in the design. Instead, they were empty, and footsteps were impossible to hear until they were on you.. unless in Scout mode. The problem with scout mode, was the relative distortion that came with it.

So guys, here is the end result:
The Recon3d does its job amazingly well. It doesn't play well with demanding headphones, but this is something I have gotten used to. ;)
The Razer Kraken sound decent enough, and are pleasing to use. But as I gamer, I don't really care for them. They don't have the sound profile I expect or need from a gaming headset. I don't need bass so loud it takes out my eardrums, I need solid mids to hear my enemy. Not to say I don't want a little bass - but it doesn't need to be as in-your-face as the Razers are.

If anyone has questions, feel free to ask.

EDIT: I didn't realize it, but there is actually a significant difference between the Kraken, and the Kraken PRO. Remember that all of the above applies to the PRO version. I did not test the other.

This post has been edited by waldojim: 03 January 2013 - 10:27 PM

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#2 User is offline   waldojim 

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Posted 04 January 2013 - 09:15 PM

Well, another edit - even though I cannot edit. :)

BOTH devices ended up being returned. The Recon3d device does NOT handle microphone per-amplification if you are using the XBOX 360. For anyone considering this device, remember this! Some mics may work perfectly fine on the 360 controllers without a dedicated pre-amp. The Razer Kraken Pros do NOT work. This will be a problem with devices that don't have mics meant for the 360, it will be nearly impossible to tell ahead of time what mics do and don't work.

For what it is worth guys, I am currently testing the Triton AX Pro with true surround sound. It was a tad easier to set up, but so far not nearly as impressive sounding. In fact, positional audio does work, but it is hard to pin-point rear audio locations. Also worth mentioning is that footsteps are near impossible to hear on these... Not sure if this is a poorly balanced EQ issue yet, or a problem with speaker balances. I will be testing this out as I find time.
"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" -- Isaac Asimov

Steam Machine: MSI 970A-G46, AMD Phenom 955 @ 4.0Ghz, 8GB Gskill ram @1600mhz, 128GB Plextor M5s, EVGA GTX 550Ti
Laptop: Alienware 14, Intel i7-4700MQ, 8GB DDR3 ram, Nvidia GTX 765M 4GB DDR5, Plextor M3 256GB SSD, 1080P IPS display, Killer GigE, Killer 1202 wifi
Hackintosh: Gigabyte H61m-HD2, Celeron G1610, 4GB Patriot ram @1333Mhz, Asus GT210, WD 1TB Black, Silverstone ES50 500watt PSU, OS-X Mountain Liion
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