Audio Testing: Games

For the gaming tests, I ran through a number of games and compared the audio quality of the two Vengeance headsets and the baseline SteelSeries Siberia. I further compared the Vengeance 1500 to itself with and without the surround sound effects turned on to see how well it delivered positional audio. Because the Vengeance headsets are being marketed specifically as gaming headsets, if they are going to do one thing well it should be delivering good sound performance in games.  The major things I looked for included accurate sound production, clear vocals, and believable positional audio in the case of the Vengeance 1500 headset.

Dirt 3

Audio Settings:  Rapture3D drivers (only relevant user selectable audio setting in-game).

First up is the rally racing simulator Dirt 3.  This racing game sees you throwing your car around turns in snow, ice, dirt, and even a bit of asphalt, and should be a good test of how well the Corsair headsets enable immersion as the engines roar.  In the chart below, you can see my comparisons and initial impressions followed by my conclusion for how each performed at Dirt 3.

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • It was an okay experience; however, I found the sound somewhat flat and the small sound effects such as sliding and flying debris was not as clear.

Vengeance 1300:

  • The audio came through clear and delivered good bass.  It was the best stereo experience.

Vengeance 1500:

  • Initial results:  A bit quiet and not enough bass.  Initially I ran into issues with the surround sound modes where on the rally tracks I was testing with, there was almost no spatial transition as the sound "moved" from, for example, the rear to rear left to front left as a car passed.  Further, the vocals of my co-pilot was very quiet and did not seem to be coming from the correct (virtual) speaker.  After having much more successful results with other games, I decided to go back and retest Dirt 3.  
  • Updated Results:  Whether it was just that track or a Windows audio goof as the game doesn't allow you the option to manually set audio device settings (thanks consoles!) is unclear; however, after trying out the 7.1 surround sound mode on Rally-cross tracks, the experience was much better.  I was able to tell where other cars where in relation to me in a pack easily using the 7.1 virtual speaker mode.  After going through it again, I feel much more confident in the headset's surround sound capabilities.  For reference, I was using the Rapture3D drivers (which is the only audio setting of note that Dirt 3 lets you configure).  The stereo performance also improved such that the audio reproduction was clearer and had a decent amount of bass.  Some tweaking of the EQ would likely help it be a bit warmer as default flat EQ resulted in sound that was clear but seemed to be missing something.

Conclusion:  In stereo performance, the Vengeance 1300 took top marks with clear audio.  The Vengeance 1500 did okay in stereo but really excelled when used in virtual speaker mode.  Compared to the baseline, I would rank- from best to worst- the headsets as follows: Vengeance 1500 (7.1), Vengeance 1300, and the SteelSeries bringing up the rear with good lows but background and effects that were not quite as clean.

FEAR 2

Audio Settings:  Sound Quality Limit: Maximum

The successor to the original F.E.A.R. and a fun (if a bit spooky) first person shooter (FPS) that puts you in the boots of Sgt. Michael Becket to shoot through mind controlled soldiers, be creeped out by Alma, and attempt to reach Paxton Fettel.

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • A decent experience. Everything could be heard well and the guns sounded good.

Vengeance 1300:

  • The sound was a bit muffled and the guns were a bit too quiet for my liking.  The stereo transitions from left to right were smooth at least.

Vengeance 1500:

  • In stereo mode, the sound was clear; however, the guns did not have enough "punch" as the bass was just not there.  The highs were very loud compared to mids and lows, which is less than ideal.
  • While the stereo mode left me wanting something more, putting the headset into surround sound mode saved my butt on many occasions.  The sound spacing was good, and it was easy to tell where enemies were in relation to me by the sounds of gunfire and their running footfalls.  There was a nice moment where I was walking into a large room with a large wood structure (part of an unfinished room) to my right.  As I walked into the room I heard footsteps behind me and then someone jumping down from a ledge.  I was able to turn towards the footsteps and take him out with a shotgun before he hit the ground.  The Dolby headphone (up-mixed stereo) mode was okay, but the 7.1 mode really made the headset shine.  For virtual speakers, the experience was good.

Conclusion:  I was unimpressed with the stereo performance of the two Corsair headsets as they just were not the sounds I was looking for and left me wanting more.  Fortunately, the 1500 brought its "A game" to the 7.1 Virtual Speaker Mode testing, and I was rather impressed.  In terms of ranking, the 1500 wins my respect for a strong surround sound showing.  The 1300, unfortunately, is beaten out by the reference SteelSeries set because although it hit the notes correctly, the bias seemed to be weighted to much towards the highs and did not make the gun-play as enjoyable.

Left 4 Dead 2 (L4D2)

Audio Settings:  Sound Quality: High (I also tried the various headphone and speaker channel modes where applicable)

The successor to the popular source engine powered zombie shooter and cooperative survival game, Left 4 Dead provided a good opportunity to test the headsets in a hectic environment where positional audio could keep me alive by allowing me to avoid special zombies like Smokers and Hunters.  Let's see how the Corsair headsets fared.

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • These bass heavy cans delivered weapons that felt more powerful with loud reports.  On the negative side; however, the sound in general was a bit muddled compared to the competition by being a bit less clear.

Vengeance 1300:

  •  I did not have any major complaints about this analog headset, it did a good job of keeping me immersed and I did not run into any issues with distortion or clipping.  It did not have as much bass as the Siberia; however, it was to a level that it was more so a personal preference issue versus not having enough bass to support game world.

Vengeance 1500:

  • The USB headset performed well in stereo mode with good transition from left to right and clean audio.  In surround sound mode; however, it was even better and allowed me to keep away from the witch while running around in an unfamiliar map.  I was also able to easily locate enemies as they ran up behind me, and the spacial transition as enemies moved around me was pretty good.  While not as real feeling as a dedicated speaker system, it worked well nonetheless.

Conclusion:  While fans of low bass and loud deep weapon reports will want to mess with the equalizer to get more emphasis on the lows, the Corsair headsets generally did a good job with Left 4 Dead 2.  I had fun using them to play the game, and did not have any major complaints.  I can easily rank them with the Vengeance 1500 in surround sound mode at the top (best performer) and the Siberia bringing up the rear.  The Vengeance 1300 made a decent middle ground between the two headsets by delivering a good stereo experience.

Saints Row: The Third

Audio Settings: No user adjustable settings of relevance (to quality)

The ever crazy and super insane open world that gives you a smart missile firing drone weapon within the first 20 minutes of starting up the game (and only gets more epic from there) is just the kind of hollywood-esque blockbuster title that deserves good sound.  Let's see how well the new Corsair headsets perform.

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • This headset provided guns and explosions that were loud and bass heavy.  I could easily "feel" the audio; however, they were in general slightly less clear compared to the others.

Vengeance 1300:

  • Again, this headset gave me clear audio that sounded rather clean, though this came at the expense of bass heavy enabled explosions that would reverb in my skull (heh).

Vengeance 1500:

  • Unfortunately, while the 1300 gave me clean sound and the Siberia brought rocking bass to the stage, the Vengeance 1500 did not live up to expectations and could use improvement.  The surround sound in particular seemed to be off slightly such that the axis of where the "center" was did not sound correct.  This resulted in cans that were too quiet as the sound sources seemed to be further away than they actually were.  This could possibly be a game issue.

Conclusion: The analog Vengeance 1300 wins this round with the best (clearest) sound, and the Siberia takes second place for those that love bass.  The Vengeance 1500's were not as well matched as the others with this particular title.

Team Fortress 2 (TF2)

Audio Settings: Sound Quality: High (I also tried the various headphone and speaker channel modes where applicable)

TF2 is a popular, and now Free-to-Play, multiplayer first person shooter that has cartoon like characters running around with guns while wearing hats, what is not to like? As one of the few multiplayer shooters that I play often, I knew it would be a good arena to test the two Corsair headsets.

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  •  I thought the Siberia cans did pretty good.  The sound came through loud and with a nice punch.

Vengeance 1300:

  •  Good, clear sound that wasn't over-powering.

Vengeance 1500:

  •  The surround sound helped a bit, though there was not much spatial transition.  Much less accurate than a dedicated surround sound speaker system would be.  For example, while movement behind me, in front of me me, and to the sides was identifiable, it was not a smooth transition as the source moved from rear "speakers" to the left "speaker" and it wasn't clear exactly where in that range sound was coming from.  People sneaking up behind me at a diagonal had a bit of an edge as a result.

Conclusion:

I enjoyed playing TF2 with the Vengeance 1300's and they would be my choice in this round of testing for the number one spot.  The Vengeance 1500 headset was okay but the surround sound was less than ideal.  Still, the sound was clear in general so while not necessarily bad in stereo they weren't loud enough.  I'd like to say that the 1500 and Siberia headsets tie for second place, even if they are there for different strengths; however, if I had to choose my gut says to go with the Siberia for second place and the 1500s in a close third.

Games Testing Conclusion

Let's tally up the results to see how the two Corsair headsets stack up to the competition.

  SteelSeries Siberia Corsair Vengeance 1300 Corsair Vengeance 1500
Dirt 3  Okay  Good  Best
FEAR 2  Good  Okay  Best
Left 4 Dead 2  Okay  Good  Best
Saint's Row: The Third  Good  Best  Okay
Team Fortress 2 (TF2)  Good  Best  Okay

If we tally up each column, we can see that the two Corsair Vengeance headsets handily beat the SteelSeries headset with 11 points versus 8 respectively. This chart does not tell the whole story; however, as it overstates the Vengeance 1500's performance in a way. Because the Vengeance 1500 has both a stereo mode and surround sound capabilities, it was able to eek out wins on certain titles due to the adaptive nature. For example, in FEAR 2, I thought the stereo mode was less than ideal; however, the surround sound aspects did work really well and "saved it", so to speak. It wasn't always the case, I just wanted to point out that the chart doesn't tell the whole story for those that skipped all the text and went straight for the "benchmark" chart (heh).

Also note that during my daily usage I ended up "testing" these headsets in a number of other games and thought they performed decently. I can't expect you guys to read through multiple pages as I iterate my experience with most of the games in my steam library; however, and I felt that the titles I did return to and look at listen to more extensively represented a good range of environments. As gaming headsets, in the end what matters is how they performed in games, and I found that, in general, they performed admirably. They aren't perfect, but they do a pretty darn good job of adding to a positive gaming experience.

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