Audio Testing: Methods and Hardware

Now that we've covered how the two new Vengeance headsets look and feel, it's time to get down to the reason you're likely debating about getting a new headset: audio quality.  In the following pages, we'll talk about the audio quality in music, movies, and games.  Before we get to that; however, I felt it prudent to cover how I went about testing the Corsair headsets and what hardware I used to do so.

Testing Methodology:

When I got the new headsets in for review, I decided that I would take turns wearing each headset for about a week at a time as my "daily driver" (so to speak) to determine how comfortable they were and how well they worked on a variety of different sound sources (DVDs, music, games, TV, et al).  I further compared them to my personal headphones, a pair of Steelseries Siberia (version 1) cans that I've used consistently for a bit more than a year and know well.  

Then, I rounded up a number of specific titles out of three categories (games, movies, and music) and compared the three headsets to each other on how they sounded and represented the content.  There is not really a suite of objective benchmarks for comparing headsets, and if there was I don't believe it would do much good as sound can be very subjective.  Because of that, it presented a problem for me when trying to figure out the best way to compare and judge the headsets.  In the end, I decided on a compromise between the two extremes (of subjective listening and objective hardware performance) by having general and subjective opinions of the headsets in addition to a few select titles that used to analyze and judge the performance in specific aspects of sound production.  By including both opinion and more objective and fact based performance reports, they are more fairly compared and rated.

Testing Hardware:

I am running a fairly mid-to-high end gaming desktop as my personal machine, and felt that it would be the best platform for testing out the gaming oriented headsets.  The specifications are as follows.

CPU Intel Core i7 860
Motherboard Gigabyte P55 UD3R
Sound Card Creative X-Fi Xtreme Gamer Fatal1ty Pro
RAM 8 GB (4x2GB) G.Skill DDR3 1600MHz
GPU AMD Radeon 6950
HDD Intel X25-M 80GB, 2TB Samsung F4, 320GB Seagate
PSU Antec True Power Trio 650 Watt  
OS Windows 7 SP

 

Update: During my initial round of testing, I ran into an issue with my onboard audio where the Vengeance 1300 sounded very quiet in some tests, especially when playing music. Fortunately I was able to get my hands on a dedicated sound card, so I proceeded to go back and perform all my testing over with the sound card installed. The chart above lists the particular sound card I used, and I used it for each test of the analog headsets (the Vengeance 1500 has its own USB-based sound card).

The Competition: A Baseline of Performance

Purchased in August 2010, the Siberia V1 from SteelSeries is a full-size, over the ear headset that has served me well for the nearly two years I’ve owned them. Being very lightweight and comfortable, the Siberia can easily be worn for hours without issue. For just under $80, they delivered decent performance that sounded better than my budget Logitech speakers (minus the subwoofer of course) and kept the neighbors both me and the neighbors happy (heh). While SteelSeries does not list the specifications on their website anymore, I managed to track down some basic information on this model.

 

Headphones  
Frequency Response 18Hz to 28kHz
Impedance 40 Ohm 
SPL@1kHz, 1V rms 99 – 104 dB
Drivers 50mm
Cable Length 2.8 meters (9 feet)
Connector analog, 3.5mm male
Microphone  
Type unidirectional
Impedance 2K Ohm
Frequency Response 80Hz to 15kHz
Sensitivity -38 dB (1V/P@1 kHz)

 

 

In the following tests, you will see the three headsets compared to each other. There are some direct comparisons but the SteelSeries references are more of a baseline than anything else. It is the minimum amount of performance that I would expect from the Corsair cans in order for them to be considered good. Without some sort of baseline, I would not really have anything to compare them to besides Corsair’s own headsets. And because the $79 MSRP and ~$70 street price (if you can even find it in stock) of the Siberia headset sits nicely between the Vengeance 1300’s $60 and $90 street prices, I felt that it would be fair to set it up that way.

 

 

The next few pages will get into the audio performance side of things, but for those curious, I wanted to very briefly go over the physical hardware. It is very lightweight and comes with a cloth covering over the ear cups. They also went with a spring-loaded headband support system that helps keep the weight spread out – they are very comfortable to wear. In the photo below, you can see the three headsets lined up next to each other.

 

 

The SteelSeries is the smallest of the three. It has three small vents in the back for ventilation, meaning that the two Corsair headsets should be much better at blocking outside noise. It also has an inline control pod like the Vengeance series. One interesting twist is that the headphone cable (the headphone and microphone cables are two separate cables) is detachable and acts as an extension cord. It is one feature that I missed seeing with the Corsair cans as managing all the cabling for mobile devices can be a pain (though the extra long cables are great for the desktop).

The headset is primarily a gaming headset but it also does a good job as an all-purpose set with other content like movies and music. The microphone is of the lapel type where it clips to your shirt (or it can be mounted to your desktop monitor).

Now that we've covered the testing hardware, lets just into the audio testing!

 

Sine wave image courtesy bdu via flickr creative commons.

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