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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  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    For the 24 hours that I had them, they were.... ok. Then one of the ear pieces fell off and I had to send them off for replacement. HardOCP gave them a glowing review for some reason. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    Dustin - You can download the drivers from here - http://www.corsair.com/software/hs1/HS1%20Setup.zi... Unfortunately the only way to find them is search their forums.... :-( Reply
  • WiredWired - Tuesday, November 09, 2010 - link

    Don't need to search, they're on the sidebar (and have been there since October 20th). Still a good question as to why they're not on the website though. Reply
  • warisz00r - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    As it has been suggested by a poster here earlier, it makes much more sense to buy a cheap clip-on mic and spend the rest on a headphone that will sound miles better than these 'gaming headsets'. Sure you need to do quite a bit of research but at the end you'll get a much sweeter-sounding setup with an equally functional mic. For example, you can get a Shure SRH440 from your favourite American headphones retailer for about the same price the Corsair headset goes for in Newegg, and spare the chump change on a Zalman clip-on. Reply
  • Qasar - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    directly to the optical or coax output of a sound card...

    i have the Azuntech X-Meridian, being able to listen to DD or DTS 5.1 from my comp regardless of the stereo source ( games music ) is awesome.. just wish i could do the same with headphones late at night..

    the only way i can do this right now, is via a home theater recevier with pre-outs, Zalmans 5.1 channel headphone amp (ZM-RSA ) and Zalmans 5.1 headphones ...

    just need the reciever, and 5.1 headphone amp ..... which i am working on getting ...
    Reply
  • yelped - Thursday, November 04, 2010 - link

    You mentioned in the article that you didn't find any comfortable headphones with glasses; You could try Sennheiser HD-555s. Great SQ, great price, excellent build quality, and very comfortable, even with glasses; it just molds into it. Reply
  • Gonemad - Friday, November 05, 2010 - link

    I had them for eons. From the moment I bought them, they didn´t have that vice-grip feel on the head at all. You can barely feel them on the head. They feel bulky and heavy on the hand, but your neck says otherwise, which comes as a lovely surprise. It's not like you would be turning the head a lot while gaming or anything hooked to a PC.

    I had yanked its cable more than often, and it didn´t fail so far, and its been... 7 years!?! I mean, they worked straight from the box even in Windows 98 *First Edition.* Just like Thrustmaster, they actually labeled the box with the warning "NO CD" inside. Simple and efficient plug'n'play by design.

    If you are good, you can dodge bullets; but if you are REALLY good, you don´t need to. Ouch.

    There is a "bass enhance" switch that shows up straight on the Windows tray, inside the volume control, and trust me, the bass gets so much boost it hurts, so I keep them off. It appears these guys make the DSP-400 up until this day, which apparently folds itself for storage or airplane usage, I don't really know, but the audio section is the same, I guess.

    Only 3 buttons on the mid-cable rocker: volume and a mute for the mike. You know, the red bright led is there to show you that nobody will hear you, until you hit it again. When not speaking you cant just fold up the mike and enjoy some neighbours-quiet songs. Speaking of cables, this one is really long, suited even for back-plane desktop USB hookup. Just don't expect your original sound card to do anything while it is plugged back there.

    They (plantronics) provide headphones of all sorts since 1961 (geez, I had to google that!!), they ought be good. It is not loud or fancy; it gets the job done, and the microphone rarely picks up your breathing; the position of the mike boom appears to have been thought for that purpose since day one, should you ever consider why it doesn´t flex much in any other direction besides the up-stay-away position and usage.

    If you are just listening to music, go somewhere else, it isn´t for you, earbuds are more suited for that; but if any TeamSpeak, skype, or online chatting will be involved eventually, it is on the spot. Counter-Strike coupled with Teamspeak gets a whole new feel to it.
    Reply
  • 43st - Friday, November 05, 2010 - link

    Why do hardware enthusiast websites review cheap headphones? Processor reviews are usually the latest and greatest on the market as well as GPU, storage, etc. Shouldn't you be reviewing audio hardware at the level of the HD800 instead? Reply
  • Gonemad - Friday, November 05, 2010 - link

    After blowing the best part of $500 on a great GPU, a speedy SSD (er, storage), and a 7.1 audio system, you forgot that everybody is asleep and you can't have the amplifier as loud as you'd like, but you still want to hear it loud. Enter the budget headphones.

    Plus your brother stole your good headphones for his (insert fancy mp3 player here). Try that with a USB socket now! hehe...
    Reply
  • Amart - Saturday, November 06, 2010 - link

    Your Audio quality comparison is BOSE? I stopped reading.
    You shouldn't be writing audio reviews if you are ill-informed enough to use their products.

    Please visit head-fi.org and take a long hard look at the sub $130 Headphone market.
    BOSE is somewhere at the bottom. I'd rather listen to my $15 KSC 75 backups.

    A good gaming Headphone to use with a clip-on Mic would be Audio Technica AD700 - less then $100, great soundstage (to read opponent positions), and good audio quality for the price.
    Reply

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