Psyko 5.1 Gaming Headset Review
Audio impact often is an overlooked gaming criteria. Good audio design can make an already excellent gameplay experience that much more involving and it’s natural that along with graphics fanatics there would be a certain part of the gamer community who demand high quality sound along with high quality visuals.
Logitech, Razer, Turtle Beach – there is some pretty stiff competition out there for the ears of gamers. Anyone who understands the edge a good headset gives in online or atmospheric games, should definitely leave the old stereo earplugs behind.
Most of the headsets on the market designed to cater to this market only simulate the experience of true surround sound. Psyko Lab’s Psyko 5.1 headset however isn’t simulating anything, instead it reproduces the effect of sound moving over your ears. The big question – does it work?
Surround sound headsets come with a few inherent problems. Usually, they are big and unwieldy and require sound technology to “fool” your ear into hearing the discreet distance inferred by a 5 speaker setup. This is usually done by varying the pitch and tone of the sound from multiple speakers included in each ear cup to create a simulated mix or DSP simulation of distance and position. Psyko however takes a completely different approach. Rather than loading up the already limited real-estate in the ear cups with multiple small speakers, the 5.1 headset is designed to reproduce discreet speaker distance and bias by including 5 speakers on the headband of the unit.
I was initially concerned about a system that didn’t drive the sound directly through the ear cups, but the Psyko design uses creative physics to achieve its surround effect. Using hard plastic channels called “waveguides” integrated into the headset design, the speakers mounted on the headband push their sound indirectly to the ear.
This might be a bit hard to picture, but consider that the speakers output sound into discreet “canals” of hard plastic that open into the ear cups. Front speakers drive sounds into a front channel and the sound washes over the ear from the front like it would in an open room. The rears do the same thing on the back of the ear cup. The effect really is astonishing when compared to other simulated surround sound technology. There are also two sub-woofers installed in the left and right ear cup for bass drive.
Essentially, the air in the cup itself is allowed to push the positional sounds over the folds of the ear, this results in a “natural-feeling” surround effect unlike the simulated approach of other headsets. Since there are no speakers in the cups, it also allows Psyko to add a swivel to the outside that allows wearers to let air in and allows for a more natural ability to hear ambient sounds outside the cups. No more muffled conversations with friends next to you while playing Call of Duty. I was able to carry on normal conversations with no issues while wearing the Psyko 5.1 headset.
Comfort is an important consideration for anyone planning to play a game for any period of time. In the past I’ve often found headsets wear and put pressure on the skull in places that cause head pain or other discomfort. I did not feel any of that with the Psyko 5.1. There are cushioned buffers on the headband below each of the embedded speakers and the padding around the ear cups fit nicely around my ears and against my temple with no discomfort. Adjusting the fit of the headset is accomplished by sliding the ear cups down until the unit is properly seated. Many of my other headsets felt flimsy when doing this and eventually broke or wore from adjustment. My initial assessment of the Psyko headset is that this will be less of an issue over time because the ear cup support is actually the same reenforced “waveguides” that push the sound to the ears.
Early versions of the headset supposedly had problems with the included detachable microphone. Well I’m happy to report that if you’re able to install the mic all the way the reports of it swinging loosely no longer apply. I initially thought the headset I reviewed still had this issue but I discovered I had not fully inserted the attachment into the right ear cup. Once I did that the microphone was solid, but still is easy to adjust and move. The performance on the microphone is also nice – crisp clear sound with great Skype and voice-chat performance when I tested it in Steam.
If there is any real drawback to the Psyko 5.1 headset design its the need for an analog soundcard with 5.1 or 7.1 hookups. The analog connection however is less a design limitation and more a problem that will bother end users. Most high end gamers already have discreet sound solutions that enable 5.1 or 7.1 speaker setups – like a SoundBlaster Audigy ZS. The issue is that if users are not careful they could overlook this requirement.
Most RealTek integrated soundcards on motherboards and laptops don’t have the extra discreet inputs needed to drive this headset. Psyko states very clearly that these are analog only on the packaging and in the marketing material but even those steps can’t prevent user stupidity.
Along with the headset itself the Psyko 5.1 comes with a nice external amp. While it is possible to power the headset from a high end audio card, the optimal arrangement is to include the inline amplifier bundled with it which means you’ll need a power source to drive the amp. The amp works well to power the headset as well as serving as a sort of testing device. On the front of the unit are six red indicators, all of which are labeled in position of the speakers ( lf,ct,rf, etc.) and which light up when a signal is sent to the correct speaker. Users who are not getting surround sound can easily take a look at the front of the amp to see if the unit is actually being sent discreet speaker signals.
The Psyko headset is designed to be a gaming headset. The speakers and subs were chosen to be used for positional audio, not to replicate a movie theater setup on your head. While they do a reliable job of passing surround signals during gameplay and even in limited entertainment use, they do not deliver the fidelity of experience you might expect for a Michael Bay movie. The designers realize apparently that people don’t use their headsets for just one use and allow you to change over from positional audio to sub woofers thanks to a dial on the included amp. The ampeven allows you to “overdrive” the speakers resulting in a degraded sound but the normal operating range is anything but messy. Users who choose to crank their sound up too high deserve blown speakers and eardrums – this product is aimed at a precise audio range and it hits it well.
Playing Left4Dead and Battlefield:Bad Company 2 or Modern Warfare 2 was amazing using this headset. It was a huge advantage to hear opponents and know just where they were, or in my case hear where I was being shot from:) It really can’t be understated how much this changed my immersion in these games.
Psyko Labs succeeds in delivering true surround sound. Gamers looking for an edge can trust this durable and craftily designed headset to meet their needs. The Psyko 5.1 headset retails for around $300 (which means it’s not an impulse buy for most of us) but there really is no other headset I’ve tested that accurately rgenerates surround sound like this headset.
- Solid, durable construction
- Comfortable headband and ear cups
- REAL 5.1 sound, not simulated
- Nice amplifier included
- Not designed for “general” use
- Expensive for gaming-only headset