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Speedlink Medusa 5.1 and Sennheiser HD555
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by Nate Marion on July 2, 2007 in Speakers/Headphones

The choice between stereo and 5.1 headphones can be complicated, so we are taking a look at a popular sub-$150 offering of each type to see which one will come out on top. As we find out, the choice can make quite a big difference depending on what you will use your PC for most.

Final Thoughts



So what should you buy? That depends on what you care most about.

The people who argue that $150 divided by two speakers will buy you better quality speakers than $150 divided by 8 speakers certainly have a valid point. The superiority of the HD555s when reproducing audio (and particularly stereo audio) is not arguable. As redundant as it is for me to say it, if you’re looking for a headset to make your music sound better, the Medusas do not warrant consideration.

However, for those of you who watch a lot of movies, making a recommendation is a little harder. I had to weigh the superior general reproduction of the HD555s against the superior surround effects of the Medusas, and the Medusas have earned my recommendation. There’s a reason that a lot of 5.1 headphones are on the market for ~$100-$150 – many consumers simply can’t detect the decreased quality that you get when you go from $60/speaker to $15/speaker, and if they can, it’s no big deal. I’m one of those people for whom the decrease in sound quality is no big deal considering the additional surround effects I get to hear.

For first-person shooters there really isn’t any advantage to slightly more detailed gunfire and cleaner dialogue – what matters is knowing where your enemies are before they start filling you with pointy metal bits. To this end, it isn’t very surprising that a surround sound headset should be preferable to a stereo headset – but you may be surprised at the difference it makes in your game.

People have said that a 5.1 headset can never hope to sound as good as a 5.1 speaker/sub setup, and I’d have to plead ignorance – I have neighbors on the other side of my wall, and thus I don’t have the luxury of turning my Logitech speakers up to the volume level where I’d actually be able to hear all of the quieter cues well enough. What I do know is that the Medusas are the headset I want to be using when playing my first-person games.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve got ~$150 USD to spend on a headset and you enjoy watching movies and playing first-person shooters on your PC, I would heartily recommend picking up the Speedlink Medusa 5.1 headphones. The connectivity options you get with the Home Edition mean that you can also use them to watch movies on a home entertainment center, however I would hesitate to recommend these headphones specifically for your living room – their value will be most appreciated by gamers.

If gaming isn’t a large part of your PC diet, then I would tend to steer you toward the HD555s. There’s no question that they sound better for music, and they sound good enough in movies that you’ll definitely be happy with them, especially if you can find them for up to $40 less than the Medusas.

Medusa 5.1 Home Edition

    Pros

  • Surround sound is very effective in movies and FPS games
  • External amplifier makes wiring easy and eliminates the possibility of noisy USB power
  • Sound quality is good, extremely good with 5.1 sources
  • Included microphone is very convenient and performs well
  • Cable lengths are generous and many adapters are included
  • Headset is comfortable to wear
    Cons

  • Some audio quality is sacrificed for more speakers; it’s not as noticeable as many forum posters have claimed, but the Medusas are best used where 5.1 sound in emphasized
  • Although many extras are included, the $150 price tag is higher than some other 5.1 headsets available

Sennheiser HD555s

    Pros

  • Audio quality is fantastic; the HD555s are a great general-purpose headset
  • Cable length is generous
  • E.A.R. is no gimmick; this headset is extremely comfortable and won’t move around on your head or shake loose
    Cons

  • Retailing at anywhere from $100 to $150, there are many less expensive alternatives for stereo headphones, including the Sennheiser HD515s.

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