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Any professional gamer will tell you that having good audio equipment is almost as important as having a good video card. Ideally, you’d want a good 5.1 surround sound setup, as most headphones can’t achieve true 5.1 audio. Unfortunately most people can’t have a perfect surround sound system for their gaming. Usually there are other people in the house that really don’t want to hear you mercilessly slaughtering masses of people. Thus, many people do turn to headphones. When you still want the best audio possible, where do you turn? Psyko Audio thinks they’ve got exactly what you need.
The Psyko Audio 5.1 Surround Sound Headphones have been shown off at the international CES (Consumer Electronics Show) for the past two years, and even snagged one of their coveted CES Innovation Awards. Naturally, there’s a lot of hype around these headphones, and with a $300 price tag, one has to wonder if it’s worth it. The guys over at Psyko Audio were nice enough to send us over a pair to check out. Naturally, I’ve spent the last few weeks playing a lot of games to see if these live up to the hype.
When you first take a look at these, there’s a lot to take in. First, they’re huge. The five speakers on top and extra-large earpieces make these dwarf every other pair I’ve owned. In the box you’ll also find an amp, which will also serve as your master volume control, as well as letting you adjust your bass. A removable mic is included as well.
The headphones themselves look stylish, with a nice gray/silver look with red trim. You will look a little funny with them on, as they stick up a good inch and a half from your head. (Don’t worry though, no one’s going to laugh once you start playing.) There also appears to be a lot of cushioning, both on the earpieces and below each of the speakers, so you don’t experience any discomfort while wearing them.
One other little detail you’ll notice is that the earpieces each have a piece of clear plastic in the middle. These actually open up to provide ventilation. If you’ve ever worn headsets for hours on end, this is something you’re going to appreciate.
I try to avoid wearing headsets for prolonged periods while gaming. Generally my speakers do an adequate job of providing sound, and most headphones aren’t much better at true directional audio. Of course, the main reason I avoid them is because of comfort issues. After an hour or two, most of them start to hurt. Be it from pressing down on my ears too much, or any number of other things, most headphones just aren’t that comfortable. I have to say that this is one of the rare instances where I really don’t mind.
The earpieces were designed so that the cushions sit directly against your head, and don’t even touch your ears. This is a concept lost on most other manufacturers for some reason. This alone makes me very happy. The earpieces are adjustable, like most other headsets on the market. Also, the insides of the earpieces do provide great ventilation, as I pointed out earlier. Opening these up can get some much-needed airflow to your ears when you’ve had them on for extended periods.
One thing I will point out is that these suckers are top-heavy. When I first started using them, this seemed uncomfortable, and I worried that it would detract from my enjoyment of the game. I was right for a little while, but it’s something you get used to. Thankfully the cushions below the speakers do a good job of holding the headphones in place, so you don’t actually have to worry about them falling off. I think this is one of the main reasons I was originally bothered by the weight, as I kept thinking that they surely must fall forward at any moment. Now I don’t even notice it.
So what exactly is it that separates these headphones from the others on the market? The main difference is that while other headsets can only simulate true 5.1 surround sound, these deliver it. This is accomplished by having five individual speakers along the top of the headset. The sound is then delivered to the earpieces by “PsykoWave guides.” These are small tubes that are supposed to carry audio waves very well.
So why exactly are the speakers located on top of your head? The idea is that now the sound waves have to travel along the tubes to reach your ears. Think about this for a moment, if an explosion happens to your left, it’s not actually going to reach both ears at the exact same time, right? Well that’s exactly what this is simulating. Not only are the sounds delivered to the correct area of your ear by these pipes, but they also deliver the correct timing.
While comfort can make or break any pair of headphones for me, the audio quality is what really has to sell these. After all, I’m not going to spend $300 on a pair of comfortable headphones with mediocre sound. Thus I have spent a lot of time playing a variety of FPS titles to get a good feel for them. I chose FPS games because they are going to make the most of the 5.1 audio.
To give you an idea of the games I’ve played, they include Battlefield 2: Bad Company, Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Borderlands. Between the four games, I felt I could get a great idea of how the headphones would perform in most other FPS.
Overall, the headphones worked exactly as advertised. In Battlefield 2 and CoD4 I could actually sit somewhere and pick where each shot was coming from. In games like this, you might only have a single shot to figure out where your opponent is. These headphones make sure that once that shot has been fired, not only can you move out of the way, but you can turn around and find your man very quickly. The effect it had on my scoring was incredible to say the least.
Left 4 Dead 2 was a whole different animal. In this shooter, you depend a lot on sound while creeping through various areas. You want to be able to pick off a zombie from as far away as possible, or know that one is lurking just around the corner. Worst of all, you want to know exactly where the witch’s cry is coming from. No one wants to stumble upon her by accident. Needless to say, I was able to pick off the undead much quicker, simply by hearing them before they were even in sight.
I can’t stress enough how much of a difference the true directional sound makes when playing these games. It adds a completely new dimension to your gaming. Think about the experience you have when watching a great action movie in the theater, where their surround sound system is setup perfectly. You can hear every footstep, and know where the person is. That’s what it’s like playing with these on.
It does have a detachable mic, which works just fine. I’ve had no issues where people have any trouble hearing me, so there are no complaints there.
There are a few things I want to touch on before I wrap up the review. First, the headphones are specially tuned for gaming. Audiophiles won’t want to rock out to their favorite tunes with these on, as the mix will not sound right. It won’t sound terrible, but if your ears are trained, you’ll pick up on it. This may be disappointing to some people, especially when you’re dropping $300 on a pair of headphones. But again, this is for the hardcore gamer, not the audiophile.
I do tend to use my desktop speakers most of the time, which presents a problem when using these headphones. You connect them to the three correct stereo jacks in the back of your computer where your speakers would normally be plugged in (plus an extra one for the mic). This means I’d have to crawl under my desk and swap out plugs every time I want to switch between speakers and headphones. But instead, I’ve routed my speakers to the front headphone jack of my PC. A minor annoyance, yes, but one worth mentioning. I wouldn’t mind seeing a future version that takes advantage of the optical output that goes to waste on my motherboard.
If you’ve got a spare $300 burning a hole in your pocket, buy these, plain and simple. It will change the way you play games. Until 3D technology makes a few more leaps in the right direction, this is probably the best thing you can do to change your gaming experience. It’s a purchase that you won’t regret.
[ Psyko ] VIA [ GamerFront ]
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