Eight 5.1- And 7.1-Channel Gaming Headsets, Reviewed

Surround sound headsets are often more practical than a home theater system attached to your PC. We compare eight premium models from Arctic, Psyko, Cooler Master, Logitech, Creative, Thermaltake, Corsair, and Razer to figure out who sells the top option.

If you live alone as a carefree bachelor or bachelorette, a powerful surround sound speaker system attached to your gaming machine is the ultimate way to enjoy the latest AAA blockbusters. Positional audio is a beautiful thing. Not only does it add to the entertainment factor, but it also helps you along, feeding audible cues from the environment, revealing an enemy's position, and delivering the soundtrack that intensifies before an important action sequence.

Unfortunately, the reality of roommates, family, and even apartment living make it difficult to crank the volume up on a full-scale surround sound configuration without annoying everyone around you (particularly if you game at night). The solution for most enthusiasts is a headset. In addition to bringing the action in closer to your ears, a headset simultaneously arms you with a microphone, perfect for coordinating with a team or trash-talking opponents.

A lot of PC peripheral vendors are taking their first steps into audio. We're putting eight premium headsets through a vigorous testing regimen to quantify the good, bad, and ugly of "multi-channel" personal audio. Some of these devices truly facilitate 5.1-channel surround sound using discrete drivers. Others employ software-approximated virtual 7.1-channel surround sound to get the job done. How effective are they all at achieving their purpose? Let's have a look at specifications before going into detail on each product:

True 5.1-Channel Headsets

Arctic Sound P531
Psyko Carbon
Cooler Master
CM Storm Sirus
Surround Type
True 5.1-Channel
True 5.1-ChannelTrue 5.1-Channel
Center Speakers
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 108 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Output Power: 200 mW
Driver unit: 30 mm (measured)
Frequency response: 10- 20k Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Gross specs for Headset
Front Speakers:
Frequency response: 18-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 100 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 40 mm
Output Power: 400 mW
Driver unit: 30 mm (measured)Frequency response: 10-20K Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Gross specs for Headset
Side SpeakersFrequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 108 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Output Power: 200 mW
Driver unit: 30 mm (measured)Frequency response: 10-20k Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 30 mm
Subwoofer
Frequency response: 10-400 Hz
Sensitivity: N/A
Impedance: 8 Ω
Driver unit: 27 mm
Output Power: 600 mW
40 mm (measured)Frequency response: 10-20k Hz
Sensitivity: >105 dB
Impedance: 16 Ω
Driver unit: 40 mm
Gross specs for Headset
Microphone
Sensitivity: 39 dB ± 3 dB
Impedance: 2.2 KΩ
Driver unit: 9.7 x 5 mm
Not provided
Uni-directional
Frequency response: 100-10k Hz
Sensitivity: -46 dB ± 3 dB
Impedance: <2.2 KΩ
Inputs
USB
Analog
Analog or USB
Cable3 meters
2 meters headset,
1.7 meters amplifier
USB: 3.4 meters
Analog: 2.1 meters
Control PodVolume, microphone mute, surround channel levels
Volume, bass, and power on inline amplifier; mic can be turned off by removing it from headset
Power, volume, microphone mute, and surround levels on tactical mixing console (software-only controls with analog); auto-mute on retractable mic boom
Software Settings
input/output channels, environment effects, equalizer, voice effectsN/A
Volume control, speaker settings, sample rate, EQ, environmental FX, 7.1 virtual speaker shifter, Flex Bass II, mic volume/sample rate/voice effects
Weight
13.1 oz
1 lb 1.4 oz
13.3 oz
Accessories
Driver disk, setup sheet
Amplifier, owner's manual
Tactical mixing console, analog cable, second set of ear pads, quick start guide, software download link
Price:
£50 on Kikatek
UK pricing not available
~£105 from Aria
Warranty
Two years
One year, limited
Two years, limited
Virtual Surround Sound Headsets

Logitech G35
Creative Tactic3D Sigma
Thermaltake eSports
Shock One
Corsair Vengeance 1500
Razer Megalodon
Surround Type
Virtual 7.1-Channel Dolby
Virtual 7.1-Channel THX TruStudio Pro
Virtual 5.1-Channel DTS Sensation
Virtual 7.1-Channel Dolby Pro Logic IIx
Virtual 7.1-Channel Maelstrom Audio Engine
Center Speakers:
 Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Driver unit: 40 mm
Neodymium magnet
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 50 mm Neodymium magnet
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 114 dB ± 3 dB
Max. input: 100 mW
Driver unit: 40 mm
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Sensitivity: > 105 dB
Impedance: 32 Ω
Driver unit: 50 mm
USB power consumption: 250 mW
Frequency response: 20-20k Hz
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 102 dB ± 4 dB
Max. input: 200 mW
Driver unit: 40 mm, Neodymium magnets
Microphone:
Unidirectional
    Frequency response: 100 Hz – 10 KHz
    Sensitivity: -42 dB
    Test conditions: 3.0 V, 2.2 KΩ
Noise-canceling condenser
Frequency response: 100- 18k Hz
Sensitivity: -41 dB
Impedance: <2.2 KΩ
Bidirectional
Noise-cancelling condenser
Impedance: 2.2 KΩ
Frequency response: 100-10k Hz
Sensitivity: -45 dB ± 3 dB
Unidirectional
Noise-cancelling condenser
Frequency response: 100-10k Hz
Sensitivity: -44 dB ± 3 dB
Impedance: 2.2 KΩ
Unidirectional
Noise-cancelling condenser
Frequency response: 50-16k Hz
Sensitivity: -37 dB (user adjustable)
Inputs:
USB
Analog or USB
USB
USB
USB
Cable:3.05 meters
2 meters
3 meters
3.2 meters
3.3 meters
Control Pod:Volume, surround toggle, and mic mute on-ear; auto-mic mute also on rotating mic boom
Volume and
mic mute
Power, volume, mute, mic mute, illumination, and control lock
Volume and
mic mute
Surround toggle, surround levels, bass level, volume, mic mute/sensitivity/level
Software Settings:
Programmable G-keys, equalizer, surround mixer, voice FX
Sound levels, THX controls, equalizer, Voice FX, appearance
Environment effects, equalizer, levels, surround controls, timer
Levels, equalizer, surround controls
N/A
Weight:
12.3 oz
10 oz
11.2 oz
11.4 oz
8 oz
Accessories
Three swappable headband pads, quick start guide, CD with software
THX TruStudio Pro dual-mode USB adapter, quick start guide (software download link)
Set of cloth ear pads, velvet carrying bag, quick install guide, driver disk, warranty card
Warranty guide, (software download link)
Storage case, certificate of authenticity, master guide, quick start guide, product catalog
Price
~£100 on Amazon
£65 on Play.com
~£61 on Amazon
£75 on Amazon
~£118 on Amazon
Warranty
Two years, limitedOne year, limited
Two years
Two yearsOne year
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  • Stupido
    Argh... No Roccat?
  • thisisaname
    Would be great if did this for Wireless headsets next
  • Tab54o
    Perfect timing on this. My current headset needs replacing.
  • lankystreak
    No Roccat... shame!!!

    Their headsets are fantastic. I Have the Roccat Kave 5.1, they are very well built & comfortable & sound quality is very good indeed.
  • Redsnake77
    Any known conflicts with soundcard drivers either Asus or Creative? I went for Creative for both to ensure this didn't happen, but would like to upgrade my Sound Blaster Arena headset.
  • Anonymous
    I wonder how these things compare to a proper (similary priced) stereo headset with virtual surround enabled through your soundcard drivers or stuff like THX TruStudio.
  • waxdart
    I had to do all this about 2 years ago. 5.1 headsets were not that great then and you didn’t have this much choice. I'm not an audiophile and got by with basic bits for years.

    Here is what I spent my limited budget on:
    First - I bought a Xonar 5.1 sound card with a few processing features. Creative had bad driver press at the time. Had no problems with the Xonar.
    The soundcard upgrade made a HUGE difference. Even with cheap headphones. I wouldn’t use motherboard based sound again. Look into upgrade this (any brand) before getting headphones.

    Second, I bought a decent pair of stereo headphones. You get more bang for your buck over 5.1s, especially around the £100 mark. I bought Grado 80i and will buy a more expensive pair if I break the current set.

    On holiday in Japan I tested out over 50 headphones sets in a huge shop. The range of comfort and ear heat was extreme. Sound fidelity tended matched price.
    5.1 wireless 2.4Ghz didn’t start to get good until the £300 mark. These were great
    Pioneer SE-DRS3000C Wireless. I’d have tested an older model. But you’ll love them!
    My soundcard can do all the 5.1 processing and no matter how much it isn’t like a speaker setup.
    I spent around £150 on sound card and Cans, which is a lot. But I do get really good sound for music and other non 5.1 things.

    My advice - You’ll be wearing these for 1000s of hours. Get a comfortable pair! :)
  • theconsolegamer
    this is a great article
  • Anonymous
    Arctic P531 won't disappoint I swear on my honor - I got both Logitech Wireless version and they don't render the sound as good as the Arctic Sound. All virtual headset I tried had unnatural sound coming out of them.

    If you are on the cheap, Google "Somic E95" (which is the Original model of the p531 sold by Arctic Sound and can be purchased around 40-50$ shipping included in some places). Enjoy!

    P.S Roccat (not listed here) are good too but are not resistant enough...