The HS1 in Practice

Getting started with the Corsair HS1 is simple: plug the headphones into a USB port and they'll automatically install and you're good to go. Sort of.

Actually, to get any of the major software features that Corsair advertises you'll need to install their driver software. Not a huge problem, but there's a hiccup here. Think about it: how many enthusiasts do you know who keep the driver discs that come with their hardware? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Exactly. So my first inclination wasn't to go grab the disc out of the box, but to check out Corsair's site and look for the most recent driver set for the HS1, and that's where I ran into my first real problem with the headset. Simply put, the driver disc that comes with the HS1 is all you get.

The drivers aren't on the site, which is something that needs to be fixed. I suppose that makes sense, because Corsair doesn't have any other products right now where you need drivers: RAM, PSUs, Cases, and thumb drives generally just work (or not), though firmware updates for SSDs are usually hosted. Most audio devices also get routine updates, and as a USB audio headset it bypasses your sound card and does everything internally, which means driver updates would be good. The lack of any downloadable driver isn't a dealbreaker but it is a nuisance. That said, the driver software is about as forthright and clean as you could ask, and mercifully it only pops into the system tray when the headphones are plugged in.

The HS1 supports simulating up to a 7.1 speaker environment with all the usual fixin's despite just having two physical speakers, and this is something really worth testing. At this point I'm going to make the case that I should have made at the beginning of my review of the Logitech Z515's: this is a $99 gaming headset. It's not for audiophiles. Doing detailed, objective testing is frankly too onerous a task for something like the HS1 and we just don't have the expensive kit handy to do it. If audio quality is a staggeringly major issue to you, we suggest grabbing your Sennheisers and using a cheap $20 clip-on lapel microphone from Radio Shack for gaming.

With that out of the way, the first thing to test was music playback, and it was here that my findings largely lined up with the ones I read at other reputable sites: it ain't great. Music playback was tested using The Prodigy's "Spitfire" and "Memphis Bells" to get a feel for how the HS1 handles separation, and then The Birthday Massacre's "Control" to suss out how it handles something more traditional, complex, and layered. At default settings, the HS1 had tinny highs and weak lows. It's markedly better than you'll find on cheaper headsets, but I'm used to my $130 ready-to-fall-apart-at-a-moment's-notice Bose headphones, and the weak bass and poor separation are evident.

If you go into the HS1's control panel and tweak the equalizer you can eventually get music sounding a lot better and at that point you'll realize these headphones are capable of producing some bass, but you really need to massage the settings to get it. At the same time, you can also tweak those tinny highs and bring them in line to produce a fuller, richer sound. At its best the HS1 is fairly average and still has trouble separating the highs, mids, and lows, but it's better than cheap desktop speakers and obviously blows any set of laptop speakers out of the water.

For gaming I tested with Left 4 Dead 2 and Modern Warfare 2 to get a feel for how the HS1 simulates surround sound as well as the sound quality of the built-in microphone. The latter...was problematic. The microphone is frankly weak, and while some tuning did improve it, my associate on the other side still had trouble hearing me. With some additional work and a willingness to raise your voice a little it's probably fine, but the defaults were definitely low.

As for surround sound, that was a bust in my opinion. If you're used to having physical speakers to produce the appropriate sound stage, this is going to feel like a major step back. With Left 4 Dead 2 I found myself largely overwhelmed; part of that is the game's inherent desire to overwhelm you, but part of it was being unable to accurately position anything apart from "left" or "right." Modern Warfare 2 fared a little better, but if I have to concentrate on trying to figure out where each gunshot is coming from, that's mental energy that could be better spent not getting shot.

It's worth mentioning that overall sound quality in games was generally pretty good, though, and I'll tell you one thing: these headphones are capable of being loud. A comfortable volume was actually at around 15% (the in-line volume controls actually tweak the Windows master volume), so it's clear that if you're going deaf the HS1 is perfect for speeding you along your way.

Corsair...audio equipment? Conclusion: Needs More Cowbell
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  • mrako - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    Hey. Just got the dr-ga500 last week. I can briefly tell you that they are pretty good, light and comfortable for long sessions. The sound is balanced but very good-just don't expect bose level bass or any top audiophile headphones. As for the 7.1 I would tell you that I was not amazed until I played bad company 2-which was my actual reason for making this purchase. Somehow in this game the 7.1 works amazingly. A chopper flies from backwards to your side and then ahead of you and you know where it is even with eyes closed. If you are not in the middle of a firefight with many sounds you can actually hear is someone is coming from the back to stab you which is really cool. If you any further questions just give me a shout. Reply
  • Amart - Saturday, November 06, 2010 - link

    7.1 simulation is unnecessary when using decent Headphones that are known to have a good Soundstage - all you need for EAX Surround.
    Read how Binaural Sound works - you have two ears, you only need two channels and sufficient isolation.

    Gaming Headsets are a huge gimmick/scam designed to fool uneducated consumers.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    Dustin,

    As another sufferer of having to wear glasses I feel your pain (literally). I was pleased to discover the Seinhesser HD280 headphone a couple years ago. Very VERY good sound quality and no pain issues with extended use. Occasional reseating of the headphones is required to remove humidity if your ears sweat, but that's pretty common on any completely enclosed design. Got mine for $80 on sale and they seem to go on sale pretty frequently.

    Give them a shot sometime, I think you'll be very pleased.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    Please note this was a recommendation for headphones only (no mic included), just commenting on your first page of the article where you mentioned the dreaded Bose. :) Reply
  • JPForums - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    I can get on board with that.
    I have a set of HD280 Pros and they are an excellent set in the $100 price range.
    (Even better for $80 as above)
    I'd recommend these for anyone who uses them for more than just gaming, though they really excel in studio listening due to their relatively flat spectrum characteristics.
    For gamers, I include the simple caveat: You need a decent sound card to make these good gaming headphones.
    Paired with a good sound card that can accurately simulate positional audio on a two speaker system, these are a beautiful set.
    Did I mention they are comfortable.
    The build quality is excellent all around.
    Though I agree with 7Enigma, they need to be reset periodically if you get sweaty ears.

    Find them on sale like 7Enigma and you can add that $20 mic and be in the same price range as these Corsairs.

    That said, I'm glad to hear Corsair didn't just put a crap set together and sell it based on brand.
    They seemed to be priced a little high compared to the competition, but not to bad for what you get.
    Given the reviews, I'd find these most useful for gaming on laptops.
    I figure anyone concerned with the sound quality will take the time to tweak them and if they are as comfortable as you say, Corsair will do fine in this market.
    There are a lot of people out there that can't tell the difference between a crap set of headphones and a good one, but they all know if it makes their head uncomfortable.
    I just hope that Corsair recognizes the flaws in their set and makes a better set to cater to the more refined crowd.
    Reply
  • demonbug - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    also have a set of HD 280 pros. Good sound quality for the price, but I have to disagree about them being very comfortable. I've had them for several years, and I like them, but they are quite tight - I wouldn't even consider wearing them at the same time as my glasses, they are on the border of being uncomfortable even without (usually uncomfortable for the first 5-10 minutes, then I don't notice anymore).

    I would like to see a comparison of these "gaming" headsets to what several others have suggested, i.e. decent headphones and a cheap mic. My impression is that gaming headsets have been overpriced and cheaply made, and you can get much better value going the separate component route. It would be nice to have some way of objectively comparing them, though I do understand the hesitancy to invest in testing gear for something that only a small subset of Anandtech readers probably care about.

    I wouldn't see it as such a big deal if the gaming headset was ~$50 or less, but at the price they are asking it needs to be pretty damned good; waving away the idea of testing for sound quality because that isn't really what these are about just makes me wonder what that $100 price tag is going to.
    Reply
  • Spazweasel - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    I'll second (or third) that motion. Got some Sennheiser HD280Pros myself. I wear glasses, and find these to be very comfortable, along with having excellent passive noise reduction (something around 21-22db, which is getting close to the noise reduction you get from passive shooter's headphones). The sound on the 280s is excellent, and for the money you'd be hard-pressed to better them.

    But as others have pointed out, that doesn't address the voice issue.

    I also have a Sennheiser PC151 headset. As non-circumaural headsets go, they're comfortable, and the sound (though not up to the standard of the HD280s) is quite good, especially given they're not primarily intended as music playback phones. The mic works almost too well (it's very sensitive, even to the sides and front) and gives good voice quality. Also goes for about 60 bucks, so you might want to pick up a pair of PC151s as a baseline for reasonably-priced gamer headsets.

    Nothing against OCZ, but they're moving into a well-established market. I'm going to bet these are designed by some other company and are basically OEMed, with changes in cosmetics. That being said, it's a crowded space, and OCZ's primary sell is going to be on name. They just need to make sure their OEM realizes what "good enough" really means.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Friday, November 05, 2010 - link

    Yeah, the noise-reduction is almost too good. My wife hates when I wear them and game because she can't get my attention even when in the adjacent room and banging on the wall. I've had both my daughter and wife scare the heck out of me (tap my shoulder or grab my leg) when playing scary FPS such as Metro2033 and F.E.A.R. :)

    But I've actually used them on a 6-hour drive in the car with my mp3 player (yes while driving). Looked very silly but being able to almost completely remove the screaming baby was the greatest thing and helped me focus on the road!
    Reply
  • mindbomb - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    for surround sound on these things, don't you have to turn dolby headphone on and have windows and the game set to 5.1?

    cause i've heard that dolby headphone works very well on the asus dx, can't see why it wouldn't work well here.
    Reply
  • scook9 - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    How would these compare to the Alienware TactX Headset. I got it for $75 and have been quite happy with it so far (replaced my apple earbuds from ipod.....lol)

    Seems like the 2 are directly competing in this market
    Reply

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