Based out of the states, Corsair has been around for some time now producing all sorts of PC accessories and individual components. Over the years this has built them up as one of the big names when it comes to putting together high-end gaming outfits. Even for people not so savvy on the construction side of computing, Corsair RAM is about as well known as Nescafe Blend 43, or whatever that one was; you get the picture.
However, as stated by Corsair themselves, audio components provide their own set of hurdles when it comes to designing one that does indeed sound good. Largely there are not really the sort of on paper results that can be had with other PC components (such as how many frames are being generated). Audio specs require a slightly keener eye (or more suitably in this case, ear) in order to be made meaningful.
So inevitably, the endless grey zone of subjectivity is entered, which is a tricky one to be made a winner in even at the best of times, let alone when designing the first incarnation of a product from scratch. This is simply because it's terribly easy to read a graph and see where the money has gone, but peoples ears are all different and designing an audio product that sounds the same to everyone is quite a difficult proposition.
Package and Contents
- HS1 headset with USB connector and inline volume control/microphone
- Driver/Utility CD for Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP
- Quick start guide
The HS1 comes in a stylish blue box with a window at the front for viewing the system before buying. The overall feel of the packaging is pretty low cost stuff when put up against what we think is the HS1's greatest adversary, otherwise known as the Razer Megalodon, which we tested last year. The latter comes in the sort of square up market box you might find a designer hat in.
Inside of the package can be found the headset along with a quick start manual and a handy driver CD for installing those all important Dolby Labs processing codecs. The HS1 will still work without this installation, just not with the many advantages that come with the Dolby Labs software.
There are not really any extras included here. In fact, the whole package is basically just about delivering the headset to the users ears, which we would have to agree is a priority. Although it is nice to get the service at the door when visiting a fine restaurant before sitting down to eat, it just sort of warms you up a bit for what's to come.
There was one surprise, however, and that came in the form of a printed user guide sitting neatly on top of the headphone box when we received the package. This document goes on to explain all of what the headset can do, plus gives a run down of what the included Dolby Headphone software can do. It even finds space to give some usage tips which we felt was a really nice touch.
We would be inclined to think that this document came as part of the 'media pack' that we received and may not be a part of the retail package. From a purely 'boffin-ish' point of view, we loved all the technical information and took great heart after reading in the fact that, yes, indeed this was a truly fine piece of audio gear we had on our hands.
There's no doubt Corsair hope to do very well in order to launch the rest of the line, of which we are astronomically excited about after hearing the HS1's in action. If only somebody would make another high end 2.1 speaker system again; in fact, we officially challenge Corsair to use the same design team to build an almighty drought breaker of a system that will no doubt do very well.
Speaking technically, let's start by looking at some specifications.
Frequency response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Impedance: 32 Ohms at 1kHz
Dynamic range: 93dB A-wtd
USB power consumption: 250mW
Cable: 3 meters
Connector: USB Type A
Microphone Type: Unidirectional noise-cancelling condenser
Impedance: 2.2k Ohms
Frequency response: 200Hz - 10kHz +/- 2dB
Sensitivity (1mW, 1KHz): -45dB +4/-2 dB
Dolby Headphone: Dolby Headphone is designed to enhance the listening experience for any stereo, 5.1, or 7.1 audio source. Dolby Headphone works with any audio source, and no special encoding is required.
When designing the HS1, Corsair set out to address several issues inherent with a number of the gaming headset systems on the market at the moment. Of the most severe of these according to Corsair (and we tend to agree also) is the way in which the low and high end gets a boost when the final tuning of the system is done. This boost gives a great first impression, but this quickly fades away as the realization that much of the detail from the signal is being lost in the process.
So what Corsair has done is try to design a gaming headset that can be also used for music and movies with just as much enjoyment. The choice to use large 50mm drivers is a good one and resonates with our thoughts expressed recently regarding the super importance of correct driver choice. The actual tuning of the headset has been done in such a way as to reflect the importance of neutrality across the frequency spectrum when listening to music and also movies and games.
Memory foam has been used in the construction of the ear cups, which as you might be able to guess, conforms to the shape of the users head. This is the same stuff they use in those expensive mattresses. Finally, cloth covers the foam and can be replaced down the track. There is also a simple folding microphone that can bend inward to move closer to the users mouth if needed.
The overall construction of the HS1 feels great and is very rugged also, which helps a lot with a heavily trafficked device like a headset. Anybody basically would have a tough time breaking the HS1 by accident.
The installation process for the HS1 is quite a straight forward one, thanks to some pretty intuitive drivers. Support for all of the most recent Windows versions is there, through from XP to current, and the whole job should be done in a couple of minutes. The driver/control is not a very big file and will not take up a vast amount in the way of system resources to run.
Once everything is installed and up and running, there are a couple of interesting things inside the control panel. Firstly, before that, though, it's vital that Windows be manually switched over to recognize the Corsair headset, otherwise no audio will be heard. Now, once this is done and attention has shifted over to the Corsair control panel, an initial choice must first be made, and that is whether any processing is to be added. Choices are as follows; Dolby Headphone, Pro-logic IIx, and finally 7.1 speaker shifter which also doubles as control over native down mixing of a 7.1 channel audio track.
Without tying ourselves in a knot trying to explain all the many differences, we will give a quick breakdown of what each basically does. Dolby Headphone is your general purpose all round processing button which will be suitable for anything really. Pro-logic IIx has the ability to up mix stereo into surround; pretty self explanatory. Finally, 7.1 speaker shifter allows real time positioning of each speaker in an artificial environment; a little bit trickier to explain, but basically it allows you to dial in your speaker distances relative to your listening position, much like any home theatre receiver.
If you however do not wish to add any processing, there is of course the option to turn off all of it and simply play back a stereo signal. This would be handy for listening to music which has been originally recorded in stereo. The best advice here would be to cycle through the different modes and familiarize yourself with them rather than trying to stick to any rules about what's meant for what.
Testing was conducted using ASUS' Xonar DG audio hardware @ 48KHz Max with 24-bit resolution on an AMD/ASRock system with Phenom dual core @ 3.00GHz, 2GB DDR3 1333 running XP SP3.
We found that overall the Corsair HS1 is a truly impressive headset with obvious close attention being paid to the finer areas of performance, which showed through when testing. Results were also very even across the range of media being played, which we also found to be an asset for the HS1.
We found that the high end reproduction of the HS1's was, as claimed, very good. It conveyed a soft, quite mature grown up feel that makes other headsets seems a little, well, childish perhaps. In nuts and bolts terms, though, what we heard was a very flat and quite dynamic mix that did not in any way sound like a gaming headset should. No, this was definitely Hi-Fi stuff. Excellent!
Again, very mellow and very flat; relatively speaking. There is a pretty smooth transition between the high end and the low end, while also being able to provide a strong listening reference point between around say 1-2KHz, which are the first things we listen to. This is because in order to evaluate a speaker or headphone for example, we first need to find the middle reference point in order to work backwards, both up and down the frequency spectrum. Effectively, it's a little bit like finding North. Once North is found everything else can be worked out. But without it things are a little bit tricky. We don't need to go on, though; the mid range sounds great in a word!
This is an area that is going to bring about some issues for people expecting that huge bass jump when they first put a headset on. Let me say now that you will not get this with the HS1. What you will get instead is a smooth flat low end that goes toward actually sounding how it would have in the mastering studio, rather than the low end garbage (which is really what it is) that many other headsets will provide. Even though this may come across as airing dirty laundry, we mention it because no doubt some users will move against the HS1 because "they have no bass man". What we are saying is that people must train their ears to pick up proper bass and start to undo the programming that more bass sounds better, because it simply doesn't. What it does do is obfuscate other more important frequencies as well as causing listener ear fatigue pretty quickly.
Some absolutely top notch audio when testing some demanding scenes. The sound of bullets flying and cartridges being reloaded is real Hi-Fi stuff and is capable of transporting the user right into the scene. We really loved the overall tonality of the HS1, which was truly able to provide that enveloping theatre experience. Not because of the surround processing alone, but the way in which the individual tones were being produced which has that gritty raw originality that gets lost a lot of the time between mastering and final playback on a users system.
Lastly, to round up the surround capabilities a little bit. Yes, Dolby Headphone works and works quite well, but a little bit of tweaking in the Corsair control panel will yield slight improvement if care is taken to match processing mode with playback material. However, what we did find interesting was the technology used by Dolby Labs to create the surround environment with only two speakers.
Now, plenty can be found on this by doing a web search, but the interesting part was that our brains were aware of the surround information being present in the mix, but at the same time we were also fully aware of there only being a speaker in either side of our head.
It was like a part of our psyche was being sold the effect very well, but part of it was always going to be totally aware that there is never at any point in time an actual array of five speakers and a sub around the room. But don't get us wrong, though, because at no point in time did we feel like the mix was only in stereo unless we wanted it to be.
There is mention made in the press paper provided about some users ears not being privy to the Dolby Labs surround techniques. Reasons given are due to the characteristics of the users ears and dimensions of the head. Now, we put forward that in fact all users can appreciate the effect, it's just that some people's brains will process it in a different way. And the result may be that the person claims the effect is not working when in fact it is, because the change to a straight stereo signal would be instantaneously evident.
The HS1 from Corsair is a great headset at a really impressive price point. There's no other way to put it. Combining some excellent material choice with first grade construction make this a discerning choice for all media buffs far and wide before any audio is played at all.
Once the HS1 gets going, though, be prepared for some truly first class audio thanks to some well chosen and spec'd driver units that have a nice high resolution digital characteristic that sounds very controlled and nicely balanced across the mid range and high end, and with well controlled deep bass that never interferes.
Surround systems that come from only two actual speakers will have nay Sayers until the end of time. It's just that sort of a thing that seems to split people in either direction. We think it can be done to a very convincing level with the correct hardware choice and from our tests it seems as though Corsair has made a headset that's high enough spec to make good on Dolby Headphone.
Just when we were thinking how difficult it would be to produce a headset that makes a big splash, we get a small tsunami from Corsair that has only one real competitor in our minds when it comes to sheer all around quality and that is the Razer Megalodon. The thing is, though, when we covered them last year they cost the best part of $300 AUD which makes them roughly $200 more than the HS1; ouch! - This is probably the deal clincher right there for most 'economically sane' people, we think.
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