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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  • Kaboose - Saturday, November 06, 2010 - link

    If you stopped reading at "bose" then you missed the writer explaining why he has them and that "cue the audiophiles screaming" was meant to stop people like you from assuming he is "ill-informed" he clearly understands bose are over rated crap and he has them for comfort, calling him "ill-informed" is not only rude and disrespectful but inaccurate. I personally have a pair of Denon AH D-2000, and I use the mic on my logitech webcam for my main mic. Total cost was ~$300 I dont reccomend this because of the price but for good audio quality you have to pay for it. However, for most people must having a $50 headsets will suffice and. Reply
  • Amart - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    There are better choices in headphones - even from a Comfort perspective.

    Denon, ATH, Sony, Sennheiser... you have so many decent choices.

    I like the AD700 specifically because they added some weight distribution and they don't get uncomfortable over time. Sennheiser has their street style headphones that are just as light and comfortable as the BOSE, but are 1/3 the price and have superior sound quality. Your Denon set is probably not any less comfortable - but it's superior in every other way.

    Yeah, I'm rude and disrespectful, I'm tired of the unprofessional reviews of gaming equipment that enables manufacturers to scam uneducated consumers.

    Why can't AnandTech reviews contain the same level of depth as a Head-Fi forum post? Why did no one pick up on ESReality's MouseScore?
    Reply
  • Amart - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    P.S. Where do you pull the $300 from?

    $15 shipped for a clip on mic (or the cheapest headset mic from a $1 store)
    $80 to $100 for Decent Headphones (with good options at $15, $35, and $60).
    The entry level to "Audiophile" aka Not-Terrible sound quality is $20. Koss KSC75 + $1 Microphone. Probably still better then BOSE even at that price.
    Reply
  • Kaboose - Tuesday, November 09, 2010 - link

    ~$300 was for my setup about 200 for the Denon's and then another 80 or so for the webcam mic combo. i know it can be done for cheaper i was only stating about 300 for MY setup. Reply
  • faxon - Sunday, November 07, 2010 - link

    first things first, AUDIOPHILES ARE SCREAMING! read the first paragraph and was thinking "this guy needs to get his priorities in line"! i actually picked a pair of wireframe glasses out that make me look like a major nerdgeektard but are comfy no matter what headphones i wear. use a pair of sennheiser PC350s for my headset, and ultrasone PRO 2500s for my audiophile grade listening, and while my UGA frames (swedish designer frames) ram into my head like a vice with whatever i wear, i have some old ass wireframes i have had for a decade that i keep the lenses updated in as well, which i cant even feel on my face when wearing the same headphones. just a thought, but you might want to consider investing in a pair of cheap wireframes just for your computer use. if you can afford to buy audiophile grade headphones for $300+ a pop, with an external DAC and amp, then surely you can pay for a $150 pair of shitty ass frames that fit right with them :) Reply
  • Kaboose - Sunday, November 07, 2010 - link

    +1
    I luckily don't need glasses except for distance so I take them off at the computer, but I also bought a cheap pair of wire frames for when I want to watch a movie on the tv with my headphones.
    Reply
  • audiophilleee - Saturday, November 13, 2010 - link

    these are better, and a lot cheaper. who wants to pay $100 for "simulated" surround?

    www.driverstorer.com/zalman1
    Reply
  • hangtoks - Monday, April 11, 2011 - link

    I have used quite a few different gaming headsets but, the best resource I found to get an impartial view on them can be found at http://www.gamingheadsetreport.com, they are constantly adding new headset reviews. Reply

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