Date: April 13, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
Finding a gaming headset that offered 5.1 audio used to be a total rarity, but today, they’re commonplace. While some 5.1 headsets out there don’t do the best of jobs with delivering the aural experience we’d hope for, some do, if the driver alignment and software is spot-on. Read on to see which camp the Sonar 5.1 Championship sits in.
The saying is true; you never forget your first time. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was excited and scared at the same time. I had not put myself out there for anybody to see like that before. After a while of showing interest, I got up the courage. The two of us had talked about whether or not I was ready, but then the big day came. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and before I knew it… Rob published my first review here at Techgage.
Well, what did you think I was talking about?
Like the product in my first review, this one is also about a 5.1 surround-sound gaming headset; only this time it comes from Cyber Snipa. The Sonar 5.1 Championship headset seems to borrow many traits from the previous headset I looked at, Arctic’s P531, so much so that I thought they were carbon copies. But, looks can be deceiving.
The headset itself is USB-based, meaning, while it is plug and play, it requires drivers to take full advantage of the options when it comes to configuring surround sound. Inside each cup are four separate speakers comprised of the front (30mm), center (40mm), rear (30mm) and subwoofer (27mm). This configuration allows the different channels to be presented separately to help with positional awareness and depth of sound.
After opening the retail box, users are presented with a black canvas bag that contains the headset. It sports the brand and product names in red and will be a nice little perk for those who take their gear on the road.
Opening up the case shows off the headset itself so I’ll start at the cups and work my way around.
The cups are large enough to fit over my entire ear and look to have openings to allow outside sounds to get through. The soft padding that rests against the head is covered by a plush-like fabric and the inside of the cups have more padding to stop any high spots on the ears from hurting under the pressure of being pushed back.
The outside of the right cup features the brand and headset name in red along with both showing off red accents behind the open area. Thanks to the way they are connected to the headband at three separate points, each cup can swing 180 degrees outward but also swivel 90 degrees in the opposite direction.
The third range of motion allows the cups to fold up into the headband to save space. Each cup is also labeled with a red L or R near the hinge to ensure they are worn on the correct ears, although given the position of the microphone as mentioned below, I’m not sure how one would make this mistake.
The microphone is attached to the left cup and allows for a good range of movement. From a 90 degree straight-up position, it can swivel down about 130 degrees. While rotating the mic, there is just enough notched resistance to keep it in place without making it hard to move in the heat of battle. The arm of the mic is very flexible allowing it to be adjusted to just the right angle in order to best pick up the user’s voice. At the end, the red accented, noise-cancelling mic should keep most noises from the immediate environment filtered out, such as some loud case fans, a clicking keyboard or the pet cat; Mr. Fluffington who is looking for attention while a player is on a kill streak.
Moving to the headband, the sizing is changed by pulling or pushing on the cups. When extending the headband, each side is numbered and much like the mic, features notched resistance to keep everything in place. The outside top of the headband features the Sonar name while the inside has some additional padding to help reduce the weight that the headset will place on the top of the head.
Last but not least, there is in-line volume control. Just shy of a meter down the 3m cable leading from the left cup, the volume control gives users the ability to independently set the volume of each set of speakers. It also features an overall volume control and a switch to mute the microphone. When no sound is playing, a yellow LED bar stays lit and flashes off and on when sound is being delivered.
Included in a separate zippered section on the back side of the bag that stores the headphones is a mini-CD containing the audio driver and an instruction manual. Users will find information on how to connect the headset and use the included software.
The software seems to be the same that has been used with surround sound headsets that we have reviewed in the past so let’s have a quick look at that next.
As mentioned near the beginning of this review, those who really want to dial in the sound being produced will want to install the included drivers from the mini-CD. After restarting the system, a small red icon will be displayed in the System Tray while the headset is connected. Double-click it and up comes the options, which avid readers of Techgage may be familiar with right from the start.
The audio engine used here is from Xear 3D and the GUI of the driver is broken up into different sections. The main settings allow users to switch between how many channels make up the initial input and then how many channels they want it to be broken into as output. 2 channels should be enough for music while movies and games can be setup to take full advantage of the surround sound capabilities.
Another feature available is 7.1 virtual surround sound, which adds two additional bass channels and allows users to set the virtual position of each speaker to tailor the output that much more. On top of that, each channel can have the volume increased or decreased.
The driver also features a mixer section to increase or decrease the levels of the playback and recording devices or mute them all together. Whether done through the driver or within Windows, the end result is the same. The Effects tab yields an equalizer that features some preset configurations as well as the ability to load or save any custom settings. There is also the option to add effects, which to me simply seems like a gimmick. Clear sound takes precedence over making it sound like the signal is coming from a bucket.
Speaking of gimmicks, there is also a Karaoke and Magic Voice option. The most notable feature is the ability to increase or decrease the pitch of the user’s voice. Yes, it might be fun to sound like there is a helium leak or that you are the illegitimate love child of Darth Vader but the novelty would wear off quickly, for me at least.
So far the Sonar 5.1 Championship headset looks solid so I’ll wrap this up with some music, movie and gaming tests.
Starting with comfort, I love this headset. I’m 6′ 3″ and have a fairly large head and ears but I felt no fatigue after wearing the headset for a 3 hour gaming session. The cups, while small by comparison to some models, are large enough to cover my entire ear and the padding does an excellent job of absorbing the clamping force of the headset.
The microphone presented excellent quality in game according to a friend during a daily Battlefield: Bad Company 2 romp. Just as before I used Windows’ Sound Recorder to judge for myself. While making a small sound file I sat about a foot away from my case and typed away. All that came through was the occasional loud click but other than that my voice was clear and crisp with no interference from anything in the room.
There were two small issues that I found with the microphone, though. One is that the end of the arm that connects to the swivel on the cup was a bit weak. When moved up into position it would fall down slightly instead of staying exactly where it was placed. The second is that the arm is quite short and does not come all the way around to my mouth. Due to this, I noticed that I had to speak a little bit louder than when using my every day headset.
For music quality I went back to the same tracks as on my earlier review but problems started to arise. Tracks by Pearl Jam, Alexisonfire and Pendulum were very good for the most part. The highs were crisp and the lows were very full, but they experienced the same washed out mid-range as with Arctic’s headset.
Fear Factory exposed what I feel to be a major flaw due to their frequent usage of the bass drum (thank you, Gene Hogland). In between very fast bass drum hits, a hum could be heard. It sounded as if someone was playing the same note on a bass over and over in between hits even though there were no instruments other than the drums. This may stem from the headset trying to produce too much bass in order to really give a pounding delivery. The only way to fix this was to reduce the bass so much that it took a lot away from the music.
Since most users will likely watch movies while wearing the Sonar headset, I fired up Transformers again. It seemed like the explosions hit even harder than before with various sounds being well placed once the media player was configured for surround sound.
Further positional testing was performed with a run through the jungle map of Call of Duty: Black Ops. Just as before I was able to tell where the action was from explosions and gun fire that happened outside of my field of vision. Metro 2033 was called on once again to make me jumpy and again it delivered thanks to the Sonar. Sounds coming from behind me were clearly discernible and had me spinning around to see if something was in need of a diet rich in bullets.
Throughout the three types of tests there was a constant issue with the amount of vibration being created. It bordered on annoying and the only solution was to either reduce the bass or reduce the volume to such a low level that it was no longer fun to listen. Before anybody jumps all over me, my other headset does create vibration as well thanks to the subwoofers but the amount created is less than that of the Sonar, even with the volume on full.
If I could combine the Sonar 5.1 Championship with the Arctic P531 I reviewed before, I’d have the ultimate in my opinion. The Sonar scores huge marks in the comfort department while it falls short on sound quality in some instances. It made listening to bass-laden music, movies and games a near annoying experience due to the excessive amount of vibration created. Clearly, this headset is geared towards gaming where constant or rhythmic sounds are not usually present. In this regard it is excellent if the amount of vibration is acceptable to the user.
It’s a good headset but not great, especially at $80 US. I was not able to find a Canadian retailer that carried it and only one in the US so it looks like availability is scarce at this point.
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