Corsair HS1 USB Gaming Headset Review

nVidia_Freak - 2010-10-05 13:24:47 in Speakers/Headphones
Category: Speakers/Headphones
Reviewed by: nVidia_Freak   
Reviewed on: October 20, 2010
Price: $99.99

Introduction:

Corsair is no new kid on the block having been around since 1994 and eventually becoming one of the largest suppliers of quality computer memory. Up until a few years ago however, RAM was all they sold. Since then, Corsair has successfully branched out into some of the more popular markets for computer hardware including but not limited to: power supplies; cases; and more recently, SSDs. Today, Corsair is looking to branch out yet again. This time it will be into the gaming headset market with their HS1.

Gaming headsets are all-in-one solutions that offer a pair of headphones, a microphone and in the case of USB headsets such as the HS1, the ability to be used on any computer that has at least one USB port. They are targeted toward competitive gamers and as such need to excel at comfort, durability, sound quality and ease of use. In addition, they must have a quality microphone. The large amount of junk headsets on the market should be a sign that this is no easy task. Today, I'll be testing Corsair's HS1 to see if it's up to the challenge.

 

Closer Look:

The Corsair HS1 comes in a conservatively coloured and styled box. In front, the product's name takes up the most space and the right side has been partially cut out and replaced with a plastic window that gives a partial glimpse of the headset. Turn the box 90° to the right and you can read up on the technical specifications of the HS1 in your choice of six languages. On the back of the box, also in your choice of six languages, Corsair sells the headset. Corsair claims that the 50mm drivers offer 'quality, clarity and depth', 'movie audio comes alive' and that the closed-back ear cups keep you in the zone and the absorbent ear pads offer 'hours of fatigue free listening'. Corsair goes on to state that the in-line volume control is easy to get hold of because of it's extra large size and finally, that the Dolby Headphone technology will essentially blow your mind. I'll see about all that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once out of the box, the rest of the headset is revealed and the internal packaging is shown to be roughly shaped cardboard. On the back of the packaging, a small depression holds a black information packet. Purchase the HS1 and this is what you get: the HS1; a driver disc; a quick start guide; a white sheet stating that your antivirus may see Corsair's drivers as a virus; and an attention grabbing red sheet warning you not to return the HS1 to the store if it is defective and to instead use Corsair's RMA service (which is so much less convenient than driving to the store and simply replacing it).

 

 

Closer Look:

The HS1 is attractive enough in black and silver and not so flashy - perfect for blending into the background at a LAN party. The HS1 is made of plastic, but it isn't flimsy and it doesn't feel cheap. The plastic feels very sturdy and will definitely hold up to much battering and sweaty head wearing.  Attached to the left ear cup are the microphone and fully sleeved cable with in-line volume control.  The headband is thick, soft and bendable so it should fit even the largest heads comfortably. The headband itself is covered with a thin rubber sheet with the Corsair 'sails' and name embossed on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ear cups are permanently covered with a thin fabric sheet to prevent any dust, dirt, hair, earwax, mice, aliens, etc, from getting into the driver area and causing problems. The ear pads are soft, felt covered foam and though comfortable, do become rather warm and damp after 30 minutes or so of gaming.  They are detachable however, so if they become vile, take them off and wash them in warm, lightly soapy water. The HS1 features a myriad of adjustments to give the perfect fit. The ear cups manually retract from the headband approximately 1.25", can swivel and be turned inward. The microphone can be tilted upward when not in use and can tilt downward nearly 180°. The microphone boom is also partially bendable so it can be more precisely positioned to the user's liking.

 

 

Though the microphone is billed as unidirectional, both sides of the microphone boom contain breather holes and the microphone is very sensitive.  There is no option to turn the sensitivity down on the microphone, so be sure to turn the sensitivity down in games if the option is available, or failing that, turn the microphone up and away.

 

 

The inline volume control pod is very sleek and follows the silver and black color scheme. Though Corsair says that this is extra large, the pod is easily smothered by small hands. Aside from the Corsair 'sails' and name, there are also three buttons on the control pod. The reflective chrome button on top is a mute button for the microphone and only has two settings. The two circular buttons control the volume of the headphone and feature embossed symbols to differentiate them. The volume control buttons are surrounded by translucent plastic that glow blue by aid of LEDs when the headset is plugged in. The LED color changes to red if the microphone is muted. The LEDs are bright and easy to find in the dark and can help correct a muted microphone if it's in view. The only problem is with the volume buttons which can be pushed inward and under the plastic pod housing if pressed too hard. It is preventable by pressing the outsides of the buttons, though it can be a very costly problem in competitive gaming.

 

Specifications:

Frequency response 20Hz - 20kHz
Impedance 32Ω
Dynamic range 95dB A-wtd
USB power use 250mW
Driver size
50mm
Cable length
3 meters
Connection
USB A Type
Mic. type
Unidirectional
Mic impedance
2.2k Ω
Mic. frequency response
200Hz - 20kHz
Mic. sensitivity (1mW, 1Khz)
-45dB +4/-2 dB

Features:

 

All information courtesy of Corsair available on product box and http://www.corsair.com/products/hs1/default.aspx

Configuration:

Configuring the drivers for the HS1 can be time consuming if you're unsure of what does what. Here's a brief walkthrough.

This is the main tab of the HS1 driver. Here's where the most time will be spent as this is where channel selection and Dolby Headphone configuration takes place. From the top drop down menu, the amount of channels coming from the source is selected. The '?' button to the right gives a hint as to what mode to use if necessary. Under 'DSP Mode' are the control buttons for Dolby Headphone processing. From top to bottom: Dolby ProLogic IIx; 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter; and Dolby Headphone. Dolby Headphone must be enabled to use either of the others and ProLogic IIx is only available in stereo mode. Dolby Headphone by itself will add channel delays and reverb in an attempt to create a larger speaker like presentation. Dolby ProLogic IIx makes an attempt to upmix stereo sound to 7.1 surround sound. However, it only seems to tweak the delay and reverb to make the sound stage slightly wider. Take note that if ProLogic IIx is enabled, there is a channel imbalance in 'Music' mode that is not present in 'Movie' mode with no other discernible differences. 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter is available in all modes and is used to fiddle around with relative speaker intensity and location, though moving the rear channels around does not change the sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 'Mixer' tab is straightforward enough. Manual volume sliders for both the headphones and microphone are present. Though the volume for the headphones can be controlled via the inline pod, only in the 'Mixer' tab can the microphone volume be adjusted. This does not adjust the sensitivity of the microphone, it only adjusts the volume at which the microphone will transmit. Under the microphone slider there is also a selectable button to hear your own voice through the headphones as you speak.

 

The 'Effect' tab is the second busiest tab and should be left alone unless purpose demands it. Here an equalizer is present that comes with twelve presets, none of which are worthwhile. The various buttons and drop down menus alter the amount of echo, reverb and channel delay. These can be used with or without Dolby Headphone.

 

The 'Karaoke...' tab features adjustments to how sound picked up through the microphone is processed. The drop down menu offers 'Voice Effects' and 'Echo'. 'Voice Effect's has four buttons that vary the pitch of sound that are supposed to sound similar to, from left to right, a monster, a cartoon character, a man and a woman. The bottom portion contains two sliders pertaining to Karaoke: 'Key Shifting' and 'Voice Cancellation'. 'Key Shifting' will alter the pitch of the source audio to better match the user's voice and 'Voice Cancellation' allows the song's lyrics to be lowered in music. Take note that this is simply an equalizer in disguise that targets the midrange frequencies and will affect the rest of the sound.

 

Finally, the 'Information' tab shows specific information about the HS1, such as the audio engine used by the HS1 (Xear3D), driver versions and a button to look at Dolby plug-in information. Onward to the testing.

Testing:

How the HS1 performs while gaming carries the most weight. However, to get a general feel for the HS1's sound quality and how Dolby Headphone affects the sound of the Corsair HS1, testing will also include listening to stereo music, 5.1 surround sound music and 5.1 surround sound movies. The system specifications are listed below. This system is used for the duration of all of the testing.

Testing Setup:

DO keep in mind that sound is very subjective. However, this review is intended to be as objective as possible. However as well, in order to give an opinion on the sonic characteristics of the HS1, a subjective comparison needs to be made. First it must be stated that as a broad generalization, the HS1 will in general be better than most other headsets because it uses 50mm sized drivers as opposed to 40mm and smaller. This is because it is physically impossible for the smaller drivers that many headsets have, to have the sonic capability of larger drivers. Also, due to an immediate lack of other headsets for testing, a variety of headphones were used that have varying sound signatures and sonic capability to give the HS1 a fair proving ground.

 

Stereo Music:

Listening to music on the HS1 isn't quite as fun as with a pair of high-end headphones. However, as far as headsets go, the HS1 is better than most. The 50mm drivers do offer better sound quality than 40mm drivers but the sound still isn't amazing. The HS1 is not very musical. Bass lacks depth and punch, treble lacks any sparkle and mid-range is simply there without presence. Enabling Dolby Headphone does what it always will with stereo music - it muffles the treble and smudges the stereo image together and adds reverb and some channel delays which makes it sound as though the music is being played in a tin room. Musically, the HS1 is rather dull.

 

5.1 Surround Sound Music:

Things don't get any better or worse here, it's just more of the same. Sound mixed for surround sound systems will sound different over a stereo system regardless of what technology it might or might not have. Enabling Dolby Headphone again muddies the sound and adds "The Tin Room" effect. It should be noted that music does not usually rely much on positional audio and that most of what is necessary needs only left, right and perhaps Centre channels. As such, Dolby Headphone is not much use here nor should this sway you toward or away from the HS1.

 

5.1 Surround Sound Movies:

This is where things start to look up for the HS1. Without Dolby Headphone, movies sound like they would on any pair of headphones, very sterile, very fatiguing and generally unimpressive. Sounds are either to the left, right or in front. Enable Dolby Headphone however, and a whole new world is opened for you. With Dolby Headphone enabled, movies come alive and aren't fatiguing. Movies rely very heavily on positional audio and Dolby Headphone does wonders with it. The processing creates a very involving, cinema-like experience. If gunshots are in the distance, a scream to the front right, glass breaking behind and left, the audio will come across very clearly using Dolby Headphone with the HS1. Much more emotion and feeling is conveyed through the sound and it is something the HS1 does exceptionally well.

 

7.1 Surround Sound Games:

Knowing what the HS1 could do with movies, I was eager to try it out with games. I switched the HS1's source to 7.1 surround sound, enabled Dolby Headphone and fired up L4D2. In game, change the audio settings to 7.1 surround sound and be transported into the game. Just as it does in movies, Dolby Headphone will make the game come to life. Auditory information comes from all around rather than simply left, right or centre. Special Infected are much easier to avoid because the positional cues are so much clearer. Keep in mind the review of the HS1 for music. The HS1 lacks bass depth and punch, treble isn't sparkly and mid-range isn't amazing. For these same reasons, for both movies and games, the HS1 won't amaze in the quality of the audio. Gunshots, being the most prevalent sound effect, will not sound powerful. However, for the same reasons, fatigue is very low, even after several hours of gaming. The presentation of the sound, however, will amaze. The sound stage is widened immensely and it's simply great fun. The HS1 delivers superb simulated surround sound where it counts the most. The microphone on the other hand, is quite average.

Conclusion:

Corsair wants to enter the gaming headset market and their introduction is the HS1. It's not particularly amazing sounding as far as headphones go. However, compared to other headsets, the HS1 has a small edge. The HS1 is very sturdy and feels as though it can handle a few beatings with no problem. Although it does become warm and slightly damp under the ear pads, there isn't too much pressure and there's no physical fatigue on your ears. The microphone is very average and voice through the HS1 will be heard by teammates as it would from just about any other headset. One mild problem is that there are far too many options to choose from when configuring the drivers. Removing most of them and simply offering presets based on what function the headset will be performing would make it much simpler to configure and make it much easier to highlight the uses of Dolby Headphone.

The cheapest the HS1 can be purchased for is approximately $100 USD. However, many more places charge $110 - $130 USD so make sure you shop around for the best deal. Although this is in keeping with other headsets that use 50mm drivers, other headsets in this category offer better frequency response not only from the drivers, but also from the microphone. The main selling point for the HS1, though, is Dolby Headphone and licensing undoubtedly drives the price up. For competitive gamers, this is a very useful feature that provides excellent simulated surround sound in a small package that can be had for $100. Therefore, the only decision to make concerning the HS1 is whether or not it's worth that money. I believe the HS1 is well worth it and that Corsair has made a great introduction into the gaming headset market and should continue to produce more and better gaming headsets.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: