by Robert Tanner on October 1, 2010 in Audio & Media
The gaming market isn’t lacking of quality headsets, but it is lacking of any that seem to do anything unique. Psyko Audio looks to break that mold, by delivering a 5.1 gaming headset that defies convention. The speakers aren’t in the earcups, but rather the headband, and that results in quite an interesting aural experience.
While we would love to keep this succinct and to the point, there are quite a few points we need to elaborate upon before a potential buyer can make a well-informed decision. The steep cost of the Psyko 5.1 gaming headset only makes this all the more important, because with a $300 street price the user must be happy with their investment, and at that price they certainly are a long-term investment. Therefore we will go through some length to expand upon our experiences with this headset.
Build quality we consider to be good. Again these are primarily constructed of plastic, so if having a plastic feel is going to annoy you we wouldn’t suggest these. Personally we have had zero build construction issues so far and are not worried about the headset being delicate to use… we just wouldn’t recommend abusing it.
Besides build cost we suspect the primary reason plastic was chosen in the design was weight. The Psyko 5.1 PC gaming headset is a large headset, and only plastic would’ve kept the weight sufficiently down. Perhaps it is because of the design itself, but to our surprise we found that the headset overall did not weigh too much. Even after a marathon session of late night gaming wearing this headset did not become uncomfortable in the slightest. Personal results will always vary of course, but the amount of padding and flex in the design seems to have been spot on with both the headband and earcups.
Sound quality is going to be a complicated subject for primarily two reasons, sound quality and sound isolation. Psyko makes a point to advertise these specifically for gaming for a reason, and that is because the audio fidelity is not the best. Audiophiles would want the best, most accurate sound quality, and as such those that are looking for a headset to enjoy their music and movies with would not be happy with this one. The sound quality is sufficient for gaming, but not suitable for anything other than radio or medium bit-rate quality music. And just forget using these for FLAC files or Blu-ray movies!
With games we could only occasionally notice the sound variances, some sounds didn’t, well, sound quite right, but they were still clearly discernible and easy to recognize. Voice quality wasn’t an issue (let’s not even get into a discussion of telephone voice quality), and frankly neither is game quality. These headphones are more than sufficient for gaming, just not tasks that require high fidelity such as enjoying music, movies, or studio quality VoIP calls.
That aside, the headset’s purpose of providing direction sound was simply impressive. Although not CD quality sound, in game effects, speech, and other sounds were clear and immediately discernible by direction. The directional hearing of the high fidelity stereo headphones I use for music was a joke by comparison, so obviously fidelity is not everything. Even against my own 5.1 speaker setup the surround sound experience with the headset was very clearly better as long as there wasn’t any backdrop noise in the room. With the headset in some games I could clearly pick up on footsteps not just sooner, but also the direction they were coming from more quickly.
Admittedly the tougher part is the sound isolation. The Psyko 5.1 surround-sound headset is by design intended to allow room noise in, so that wearers can still easily hear other gamer’s cries of defeat as they explode (think LAN party) or simply hold conversations with others in the room. So if sound isolation is what is desired then the Psyko 5.1 headset won’t be a good match for you.
Personally I strongly prefer sound-isolation but realize this is a personal preference. For example, I have a window AC unit located in the same room with my gaming PC, and with it running it was not pleasant to try and use the headset due to the noise drowning out most of the directional cues and more subtle sound effects of the game. Naturally this problem exists with my 5.1 speakers as well, but the effect was more pronounced when using the headset. With it off however the sound was great and I could enjoy the full benefit of these headphones.
This brings us to the pre-amp. The primary reason Psyko designed it to be a part of this headset is to provide bass control. Psyko discovered during the design that the higher the bass setting, the less “surround sound” effect you will be able to audibly perceive, and is due to how the human ear perceives low frequency sound. To fully enjoy this headset and get the highest quality experience Psyko recommends keeping the bass set to the lowest setting, and I am forced to agree.
More than minimal bass would cause the same sort of interference as the AC unit would, it would drown out the directional cues and the sound would become more like stereo as the bass level was raised. To fully receive the 5.1 surround sound benefits the bass setting on the pre-amp needs to be kept low, which will change how deeper frequency effects will sound like and why this is advertised purely as a gaming headset.
In addition to providing quick bass and volume control adjustment the pre-amp does effectively increase the length of the cord. The headset has a good length of six feet, not too long but long enough for most situations. The pre-amp has a bit over five feet on of its own, allowing for plenty of creative placements especially if lots of length is required.
Lastly, while simply of a cosmetic issue, were the lights. The pre-amp has a LED display that lights up to show which sound channels are producing sound, and has a power LED to indicate it is plugged in and turned on. While the power LED was bright, the sound channel LEDs would never light up or light up more than slightly unless the volume was cranked to deafening levels. Still this isn’t a real issue, given any sound card or modern integrated sound offers a sound panel to test directional audio. Correctly setting the jacks to the proper outputs and configuring the OS (and also game) settings to use 5.1 sound, then using the 3D sound test is a great way to quickly test these headphones.