Audio Testing: Movies

We have now tested the two Corsair Vengeance headsets with games and music audio, which only leaves movie and TV show performance in our testing lineup. The headsets performed decently in both gaming and music audio scenarios by delivering clean audio and good vocals. For movies, we'll be looking at aspects like vocals, bass, background noise, distortion, and overall clarity in a few specific titles. Among the titles, we'll be using a recent blu-ray video and several DVDs whose audio I know well. I also tested the headsets on several Netflix and Amazon Instant Videos to get a better idea of how they would perform in day to day usage. Let's dive right into the benchmarks and see how they stack up.

Battle:  Los Angeles

Audio Properties: 1,536 Kbps, 48KHz, Surround Sound Dolby DTS (Blu-ray source)

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • The SteelSeries cans pulled off the most bass and did a really good job of keeping the action feeling close and the immersion factor high. Things like the chopper blades, footfalls of the soldiers gearing up and running to the choppers, and firing the 50 caliber machine gun sounded nice and deep. The explosions further had the most bass.

Vengeance 1300:

  • The audio was clear, and the vocals came through well. On the downside, there was not much bass and things like the enemy drones' rockets and explosions did not sound that good to me.

Vengeance 1500:

  • This headset exhibited the least amount of distortion, but there was not much bass. The 50 caliber machine gun on the bridge scene did not have much punch at all. When switching the audio track to 5.1 and the headphones to the 7.1 mode, the immersion factor went up. The surround sound worked pretty well and sound generally sounded like it came from the direction it was supposed to. Lastly, the M4 rifles sounds good in the surround sound mode (better than in stereo mode).

Conclusion: As far as the typical/expected Hollywood movie experience is concerned, I think the SteelSeries did the best job of making the audio have weight and the action feeling closer.  The explosions and rockets on the enemy drones had a lot of distortion in all of the headsets; however, it seems to be deliberate on the part of the movie as it was the same for all three headsets and my speaker system.  Aside from that weirdness, the Corsair headsets did a good job with vocals and delivering a balanced experience.  The SteelSeries was more biased, but this resulted in a more lively sound experience; therefore, it takes the top spot in this round.  The Vengeance 1500 sits somewhere in the middle of the pack, and the Vengeance 1300 comes in last.  

Live Free Or Die Hard

Audio Properties: 192Kbps (stereo) and 448 Kbps (surround sound), 48KHz, Stereo/multichannel AC3 (DVD Source)

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • The SteelSeries did a decent job with this movie. It did not especially excel in any areas but pulled off an all around good sounding performance.

Vengeance 1300:

  • With the Vengeance 1300 headset I got a bit more dynamic range in sequences with lots of action. The vocals of John McClane as he’s being attacked by a fighter jet of all things remains clear and the explosions sounded good as well.

Vengeance 1500:

  • The stereo mode on the 1500s was just okay, but after I flipped the proper (software) switches to enable the surround sound mode I became very impressed. The high pitched squeal of tires, mid range vocals, and bass of explosions all sounded great. The 7.1 mode also did well with sound spacing and I did not have any jarring moments where the sound seemed to come from the wrong direction.

Conclusion: Live Free or Die Hard may not be the best of the series but it is one that I’m very familiar with. The Vengeance series headsets did a good job of getting the sounds right and supporting the video with clear audio. The Vengeance 1500 did struggle a bit to keep pace with the others when in stereo mode, but managed to pull out a win when put into virtual surround sound mode. The 1500 definitely seems to be best when in surround sound mode. The 1500 followed by the Vengeance 1300 and then SteelSeries represent the ranking I think they fit into. The 1300 did pretty well in giving me clear audio and the SteelSeries was okay too. It is a rather busy movie and is best watched with a dedicated 5.1+ speaker system but the headsets gave a decent performance all around – I don’t have any major complaints.

Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King

Audio Properties: 448 Kbps 48KHz, Multichannel AC3 (DVD Source)

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  •  This headset was the most punchy with bass. It sounded good as far as battle scenes and vocal were concerned. It did struggle when a lot of different audio was happening all at once on screen, however.

Vengeance 1300:

  • Music and vocals were really good. The audio was clear and it picked up on many of the subtle background and environmental noises.

Vengeance 1500:

  • The sword battles were sharp as was the chink of armor as the fighters ran and swish of arrows through the air. The thunder of horses was booming and the background music was clear. Vocals were okay. In 7.1 mode, the headset stepped things up a notch by making the fight scenes more engaging and the orcs sound all the more creepy.

Conclusion: While doing testing I noticed for the first time that it is rated PG-13 for “massive epic battle scenes” and it does deliver on that. The battle sequences and music were the main reasons for choosing this movie as the audio is impressive and can be hard for speakers and headsets to fully deliver. You really need a good 5.1 speaker system to appreciate it. Following that line of thinking, I wanted to see how well a headset could do. All in all I came away pleased. Not as good as a dedicated setup but still a good experience. The SteelSeries did okay but the two Vengeance headset had the clearest audio. The Vengeance 1300 in turn had the best non-surround sound audio. Finally, the Vengeance 1500 delivered the best audio when in 7.1 mode. My only major complaint is that the directional sound could be better. For virtual surround sound, it was pretty good but in some scenes the direction the audio was coming from seemed to be off slightly. Beyond that, I was impressed with how clear the audio was with the headsets, even picking up the background instruments in the music tracks.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Audio Properties: 160 Kbps, 48KHz, Stereo MP4a

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • The vocals and general audio performance was average and okay. This headset really brings its bass performance to bear in RE: Afterlife. In the fight scenes, there was almost too much bass to the point of it drowning out other aspects of the audio – especially the final battle and the scene with Milla Jovovich’s character battles the big infected with the equally large axe. Very close to the experience of watching with a large subwoofer but without the needed audio separation provided by physically separate speakers. It was an okay experience but one that leaves room for improvement.

Vengeance 1300:

  • The analog Vengeance headset delivered clear vocals with overall sharp audio. The booming bass came through well and it even handled very active and fast paced scenes really well. Especially in the final battle, it did very well.

Vengeance 1500:

  • The headset brought Milla Jovovich's character Alice to life with booming magnum shots and satisfying MP5 reports. The audio was very clear. When activating the 7.1 mode, the headset did a good job of pumping out more audio but – because the source was only stereo – directional sound was not very good. Still, it provided a very enjoyable experience.

Conclusion: Resident Evil is a very intense title, and the Vengeance headsets attacked it with, well, a vengeance. They really brought the film to life with clear and satisfying audio. This film was a late addition but a worthy one as it really shows off a situation where both the Corsair headsets did vastly better than the baseline. The SteelSeries was just okay. The big problem I had with it was that the bass seemed to overpower the rest of the range of sound that the Corsair cans picked up on. Surround sound did not help much due to the stereo source but the Vengeance 1500 still did a great job. The Vengeance 1300 did pretty well too, they are both rather close in stereo mode. The SteelSeries pulls up the rear with a need for improvement. I was rather surprised by the results of this as I thought I’d prefer the bass heavy nature of the Siberia. In the end though the clear audio and just enough bass of the Corsair cans won out.

Supernatural DVD

Audio Properties: 192 Kbps (stereo) and 192 Kbps (Dolby Surround), 48KHz, Stereo/Dolby Surround AC3 (DVD Source)

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):

  • The headset delivered the best vocals and good bass. The audio seemed to be more vibrant but not as sharp.

Vengeance 1300:

  • This analog headset delivered clear vocals and a good dynamic range of audio. The background music was also sharp.

Vengeance 1500:

  • In stereo mode, the headset delivered clear audio and good vocals, if a bit quiet. It did okay with the bass and overall audio was pretty sharp and sounded good. The surround sound mode (7.1 mode) helped to make the audio sound more lively but was really held back by not having a better 5.1 source.

Conclusion: The Vengeance 1300 did the best out of the three headsets by delivering the best experience. The USB-based 1500 was a bit too quiet in stereo mode and surround sound mode wasn’t very good – which is admittedly mostly the fault of the source DVD not having a better surround sound track. The SteelSeries cans where decent but I think I liked the other two more. Audio-wise I think they were close but the Vengeance cans were sharper and provided better noise isolation.

Underworld:  Rise of the Lycans

Audio Properties: 128 Kbps (stereo) and 384 Kbps (surround sound), 48KHz, Stereo/multichannel AC3 (DVD Source)

SteelSeries Siberia (the baseline):  

  • The fight sequences were good, and I did not have any major complaints. They delivered a decent experience though I would have liked better bass- they faltered a bit on the low end, leaving something to be desired when the lycans roared, for example.

Vengeance 1300:

  • The closed, circumaural design helped to seal in more sound versus the SteelSeries. The rumble and bass as the hundreds of lycans ran towards the final battle sounded really good as did the swordplay.

Vengeance 1500:

  • The 1500 headset did a really good job delivering sharp vocals, clear highs, and just enough bass to keep me interested. The sword fighting scenes sounded good as did the wolves' howling. I didn't notice any distortion while watching the film using these headphones.

Conclusion: I was impressed with the performance of the Vengeance 1500 on this movie.  In stereo mode, the headset did well by delivering sharp vocals. When in surround sound mode; however, they really excelled. The surround sound worked great with this movie, and the spatial directions were fairly accurate. In one scene towards the beginning of the film, Lucian fires two bolts from his crossbow at once that split just miss hitting Sonya in the head. As the camera switches back to the perspective of the other main character (Sonya) I heard both bolts whiz by each ear. It was a nice multichannel sound effect that worked quite well. The 1300 gaming headset also did well, delivering a good experience with good bass and the closed ear design helped me feel more immersed. Finally, the SteelSeries did okay but versus the Corsair headsets I felt it was missing something.

Movie Testing Conclusion:

If only for the sake of having a pretty chart where you can see all the results at a glance, let’s tally up the results into a single table.

  SteelSeries Siberia Corsair Vengeance 1300 Corsair Vengeance 1500
Battle: Los Angeles Best Okay Good
Live Free or Die Hard Okay Good Best
Lord of the Rings: ROTK Okay Good Best 
Resident Evil: Afterlife Okay Good Best
Supernatural Okay Best Good
Underworld: ROTL Okay Good Best

In keeping with the ongoing ranking method, I assigned values to each “okay, good, and best” rank of one, two, and three points respectively. This does not tell the whole story, but should give you a very basic idea of how they stack up. For more details, you should look at the individual tests and their respective conclusions.

The graph brings up some interesting results, and its a bit different than what I had originally predicted. While I had expected the SteelSeries cans (my personal headset and the one I’m using to compare the Vengeance series to) to push past the Vengeance 1300, in fact the two Vengeance series headsets beat it out. The baseline headset was more punchy with the bass, and that helped it in some titles (mostly ones with lots of explosions, heh), in the end the Vengeance 1300 produced audio that felt sharper, or crisper if you will. Further, the Vengeance 1500 took a majority of the better rankings. Although it was not always as strong as the others in stereo mode, kicking it into the virtual surround sound mode took the audio to a level that the 2 channel audio headsets just could not match. I did not really expect it to make as big of a difference as it did, but the 7.1 virtual surround sound mode especially made the headset shine when used with multichannel audio sources!

The tests above are just a small sample of the media I tested the headsets with. In particular, I tested them with streaming services like Netflix, other DVDs and Blu-ray films, and even used them briefly to watch cable TV using Windows Media Center. While some of the HD TV channels had multichannel sources but they weren’t very good — more the fault of the cable company’s TV compression than the headsets themselves. In general, each of the headsets did a good job with that type of casual viewing. I did not feel it necessary to explicit test those kinds of sources as the results would have been more limited by the source than by the headsets. Rather, I used the best audio sources in movies and TV shows that I could find. That way, the headsets had the best chance possible to shine (or falter).

In the end, it comes down to the final conclusion on how the Vengeance headsets performed with movies and TV shows. Overall, I think they did a good job. Although they are, and continue to be, primarily gaming headsets the large 50mm drivers, decent noise isolation, and virtual surround sound mode (on the 1500 series) really helped them to hold their own in this category. They may not be as accurate as audiophiles would like, and they are certainly not as enjoyable as a dedicated surround sound speaker system (if only my apartment neighbors liked the same kind of movies as me… heh) but they still provide a sound experience with clear audio.

I will say that if your primarily going to be watching movies and TV shows, you would be better served by going for a set of headphones (ie a pair of cans without a mic). On the other hand, if you primarily game but enjoy watching movies every now and then, the Vengeance headsets (especially the 1500 thanks to surround sound modes) will do a fine job and should work well for the money.

 

 

 

 

 

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