True 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset
Cooler Master is dipping their toes into the gaming audio market with Sirus
Cooler Master is a household name in the PC case world, and an established player in the cooling industry. Not content with those two areas, Cooler Master has expanded into power supplies, keyboards, mousepads, and a plethora of other accessories where they apparently make a tidy bundle. Coolermaster is now moving into a new area; gaming audio. Under the “CM Storm” brand, Coolermaster is releasing its own set of cans.
We were sent a production quality sample, but it did not come in the retail box that is availble now.
Cooler Master is hoping to deliver a profound audio experience to users with their CM Storm Sirus (not Sirius mind) True 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headphones. The design and packaging certainly look impressive, but what counts in the end is the sound emanating from these products.
How Many Speakers?
Positional audio in the headphone world is an interesting topic. Going back over 10 years ago we had a company called Aureal producing sound chips which would quickly calculate waveforms of sound so that a user would get the illusion of true positional audio (not just the illusion of four speakers positioned horizontally around the listener’s head, but also above and below). As humans the shape of our ears, and how that shape in turn distorts and reflects/refracts sound, tells the specialized neurons in our primary auditory cortex how the origin of that particular sound is positioned in relation to the head of the listener. Aureal was able to generally replicate those effects from two speaker setups, so the user was able to experience the illusion of “3D sound”.
Unfortunately for enthusiasts everywhere, Creative litigated Aureal into oblivion, then acquired the remains of the company and their patent portfolio. Supposedly some of this technology was implemented into the X-Fi series, but considering the actual specifications of EAX 5.0, Creative essentially shelved all of Aureal’s technology. Today we are presented with several technologies which try to simulate what Aureal did, and with varying degrees of success. EAX 5.0 is probably the best, but it still is missing a lot of the tech to really virtualize 3D sound using only two speakers. Then we have Dolby Headphone and DTS Surround Sensation. These solutions are more like what Aureal did, but they are software based and the experience is, in my opinion, pretty underwhelming. SRS Labs also licenses out their technologies, such as CS Surround, to many other manufacturers for use in their products. Out of the four, perhaps SRS achieves the best overall results, but a lot of this is purely taste.
Production parts will come with the necessary documentation and software needed to get these headphones up and running. Overall, it is a very complete package considering the connectivity extras.
The other very obvious way to give the user the impression of 5.1 surround while using headphones is to actually implement multiple speakers per cup. This is exactly what CM (Cooler Master) has done. The Sirus has three 30 mm speakers and one 40 mm “subwoofer” in each cup. Each is positioned so that there is a front, side, and surround set. The larger 40 mm sub provides all the low frequency work. Unlike the Psyko products which use waveguides to deliver sound from their different speaker sets, these speakers are directly pointed at the ear canal from differing angles. The Achilles Heel of the Psyko set was the audio fidelity that was degraded by the use of the waveguides. By spacing out the speakers in a logical way around the cups, then CM is hoping that the reality of using all of these speakers in a tight, confined space, will translate into the illusion of a spacious 5.1 speaker setup.
Features and Build
The first thing that one notices is how large and solid these headphones are. They are not flimsy, and they have a pretty decent heft to them. Gunmetal grey and black tones further enhance the overall impression of quality and solidity. These are not the most adjustable headphones on the market, but they should be a comfortable fit for a majority of users out there. The outside of the cups are accented with glowing red CM Storm logos when the headphones are plugged in. The boom mic is also a sturdy looking piece that can swing up and down easily, and has a nice “click” when it is placed in the upright position. Even violent head movements will not make the mic swing around. The boom also features a translucent cap on the end which glows red when activated, but when the mic is muted the light goes out.
The Tactical Mixing Console is a very pleasant surprise. Good heft as well as easy to use controls make it a pleasure to adjust.
The next thing that draws the eye is the control puck. CM calls this portion the “Tactical Mixing Console”. This thing features two USB plugs, both of which must be used to fully utilize the headset. Apparently both of these USB ports are used for power and bandwidth purposes. If only one is plugged in, the headset will not work properly. The puck itself is also very heavy. The back of the puck is rubberized so it will not move around even on the most slippery of surfaces a PC user would have. The puck features several buttons to control the headset and volume levels of the different channels, as well as the large dial which adjusts those levels. It also glows an attractive red when powered up.
If a user so desires, they can utilize the headphones without the control puck. If they feel that their 5.1 channel sound card can power these headphones more adequately than the included USB powered puck/audio device, they can detach the headphones from the control puck and use the 3 x mini-jack connectors with their sound card of choice. Personally I preferred using the USB connection and puck, as the headphones did not sound nearly as good directly connected to the onboard sound. If a user has an amplified sound card, then it might be a better overall choice than the puck. In my case, the puck provided more power and clarity than the onboard solution I was testing with. Mileage will vary from user to user and what analog sound solution they have installed.