Corsair HS1A Review

nVidia_Freak - 2011-02-16 17:10:05 in Speakers/Headphones
Category: Speakers/Headphones
Reviewed by: nVidia_Freak   
Reviewed on: March 6, 2011
Price: $75

Introduction:

Corsair- a name that conjures images not only of the style of ship, but also of exploration into strange and unknown lands. It is a name that brings intense feelings of wonder and exhilaration that come with the discovery of those unexplored paradises. Although this is not the Corsair I am speaking of, the Corsair I speak of certainly bears resemblance to what the ships of old represented. The modern day Corsair was created in 1994 as a manufacturer of computer memory, remaining a strong and familiar force in that category.  Indeed, just as the corsair ships were guided to, from, and between new and breathtaking vistas, the mere beginnings of the modern world, so Corsair has probed and made a presence throughout much of the computer world.

Power supplies, cases, SSDs, heatsinks, and even headsets are just some of the areas that Corsair has entered with much success. Of those, the most recent addition to Corsair's repertoire are headsets. Corsair's introduction piece, the HS1 USB headset, was released earlier last year. It was reviewed here at OCC and received high marks for being a rather pleasing headset, in large part because of the use of Dolby Headphone technology and the unbiased, though sterile, sound signature. Earlier this year Corsair released a variant of the HS1 headset, the HS1A. The HS1A exchanges the USB interface for 1/8" mini-plugs, and necessarily lacks Dolby Headphone. Dolby Headphone is a very large portion of what made the original HS1 such a great headset, and indeed, worthy of the title 'gaming headset'. The absence of Dolby Headphone, then, may not fare well for the HS1A. Let's find out.

Closer Look:

Look familiar? Boxing of the HS1A is virtually identical to that of the HS1. An immediately noticeable difference the HS1A sports from the is its black oriented paint scheme, rather than the silver and black two-tone scheme of the HS1.  Looking at the blown-up earcup that serves as the backdrop for the HS1A, it seems that it's 100% identical in positioning to the HS1. The colors are a little off; not quite black, but but quite silver either. Yes, I'm completely certain that the same photo used with the HS1 was used for the HS1A, albeit after some convincing editing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corsair stepped up their game with the previous iteration of the HS1 by providing the tech specs and general marketing in six languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian. This time around, though, Corsair has chosen only to cater to speakers and readers of three languages: English, French, and Spanish. A curious choice, and a 'Piss off!' to the Germans, Italians, and the East Slavs. While I'm on the subject of marketing, let's take a closer look (see what I did there?) at what Corsair has to say about itself.

- Certainly, larger drivers will, in general, reproduce sound better than smaller drivers, however, there are plenty of headphones contrary to this; the Sennheiser HD457 and 202 spring to mind. Really it depends on the driver itself and its design. Sparkling mids and highs are also not indicators of quality. In fact, if there's noticeable sparkle, that would indicate a rather large bias toward treble, which is not necessarily a good thing, because, too much spark can give a headphone a rather overbright and honky tone. Neither characteristic is pleasant, nor is either a mark of quality. Closed headphones do offer superior noise isolation to open headphones, though this isn't a clear indication of how much it isolates outside noise.

- Headphones that apply excess pressure to your ears will fatigue them very quickly and will make playing uncomfortable before long, and, for the same reason, keeping the baffle housing large and away from the ears will prevent any physical irritation.

- This is a load of rubbish. Games use the same frequency range as other audio sources. Headphones that are muddy, or honky, or tin can-y will have those characteristics no matter where the audio is sourced from. In a way, Corsair is correct in saying that crappy headphones are crappy, and good headphones are good, though this hardly needs clarification.

- Though a reputation earned is a reputation earned, it can easily by tarnished by the slightest misgiving. Are you so confident of the HS1A, Corsair?

Balderdash or the bee's knees we'll find out soon enough. Let's get a good look at the HS1A and what all comes with it.

Closer Look:

The HS1A packaging is identical to that of the original HS1, right down to the color of the cardboard. The information packet is rather flaccid because it lacks a driver CD; the HS1A relies on the computer's sound card and not its own hardware. Inside the quick start guide, Corsair clarifies that they have indeed not included donuts with the HS1A, but synthetic leather earpads. Their reasoning is sound (pun intended); they're there should you prefer the comfort over the standard fabric earpads and to accentuate bass. Indeed, pleather, being more solid than fabric, provides a tighter seal that not only prevents frequency loss, but also isolates outside sound just a little more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Color scheme aside, the HS1A is the splitting image of the HS1. There's still a fine fabric sheet covering the inside of each baffle housing to keep debris away from the driver, and the earpads are still removable should they require a thorough cleansing. The headband still has the Corsair name and logo etched into it, the microphone is the same, and it exhibits the same variety of motions and adjustments. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

 

 

 

What is different is the control pod. Whereas the HS1's control pod was oval-shaped and featured LED back-lit buttons, the HS1A's control pod is fairly standard in every way. From its curved, bulbous shape, to the potentiometer trimmer volume control, to the microphone mute switch, it is entirely forgettable. It is, however, a good two and a half feet down the cord, meaning there's enough cable to let the control pod rest on one leg or the other. The control pod on the original HS1 was unique and easily visible in the darkest of places thanks to the LED back-lit buttons, and was certainly a part of what made it a cool headset worthy of the 'Gaming Headset' title. Its absence, then, is a mild letdown. One of the major differences between the HS1 and HS1A is the method of connectivity. As can be seen, the HS1A uses 1/8" TRS plugs, also known as mini-plugs. The standard green for headphones and pink for the microphone input applies here.

 

Specifications

Frequency response 20Hz - 20kHz
Impedance 32Ω
Dynamic range 95dB A-weighted
Driver size
50mm
Cable Length
3 meters
Mic. Type
Unidirectional
Mic. Impedance
2.2kΩ
Mic. Frequency Response
200Hz - 10kHz (+/- 3dB)

 

Features:



 

Information from Corsair available on product box and online at http://www.corsair.com/gaming-audio-series-hs1a-gaming-headset.html

Installation:

Insert mini-jacks into mini-plugs. One for stereo output, one for microphone input. Simple enough, right?

Testing:

Comparison Headsets & Headphone:

Testing  Media:

Dolby Headphone is a huge, if not the main, selling point of the HS1. Utilizing Dolby Headphone has the excellent effect of making movies and games were much more involving and much less fatiguing than listening in standard stereo mode. It's an excellent use of technology, and, although the HS1 is a good headset in its own right, packaging Dolby Headphone with the HS1 proved to be a wondrous experience. This technology was available only because the HS1 was a USB headset, and had, in effect its own sound card and thus could have its own drivers. The HS1A, however, uses 1/8" mini-jacks instead of a USB connection, and thus, it is entirely dependent on whatever sound card and external amplifiers are used in conjunction with it. Regardless, I'll test the HS1A with music to get a general sense of the sound signature, as well as with movies and games to test the stereo image separation and gaming appeal.

Music:

The HS1A's sound signature is very similar to that of the HS1. The soundstage leans toward narrow Bass is rolled-off very early, and although that prevents irritating 'boom', the steepness of the roll-off takes away much of the body, making bass lines and drums are rather pale and lacking in depth. Mid-range frequencies have a small hump, that is, they are dominant over the other frequencies. Unfortunately, since the majority of music is contained within the mid-range this usually gives it a honky tone, and the HS1A is no exception. Treble is mildly recessed, though by no means muddled by the rest of the frequencies. I can't groove with the music, but on the other hand I'm not repulsed by them. Overall, the HS1A's sound signature is unremarkable and entirely forgettable.

Movies:

Unlike the HS1, the HS1A isn't a thrill with movies. Without Dolby Headphone, the HS1A is just another headset with a big price tag. I don't feel involved with the movie while using the HS1A. The mid-range bump and recessed treble does mitigate the the fatigue that I often experience when listening to movies with a standard pair of stereo headsets/phones. As it is with music, it is with movies - nothing special here.

Games:

Likewise, the HS1A isn't a spectacular performer while gaming. The narrow soundstage does make it difficult to pinpoint precisely where the shot fired at you came from, and only provides the general direction (left, right, up, down) of positional cues. The microphone performs just as well with the HS1A as its big brother, being a little clearer than microphones on other headsets.

Functionality & Utility:

Again, like the HS1, the HS1A is very comfortable. The earcups can lower and the headband can stretch, to fit even the largest of noggins. Additionally, the headband's luxurious padding is exceedingly comfortable. The cable is plenty long to be able to drape around yourself as you please and still reach the soundcard's mini-plugs. The cable itself is thickly braided along its entire length, and, the braiding is durable and sure to prevent any accidental damage to the cable or wires because of snags. The control pod is placed a few feet from the left earcup where the cable terminates, and as such is both in an excellent spot for grabbing and can be placed on a leg instead of dangling freely. The microphone feels sturdy and can be swiveled approximately 170° from vertical. Just as with the HS1's microphone, this microphone contains a flexible rubber midsection that can be twisted any which way to user preference. The earpads are comfortable and keep the baffle housing away from touching your ears. Both the felt and pleather earpads are very soft and both can be used for several hours without perspiration becoming a huge problem. The felt earpads do absorb sweat better than the pleather earpads, and can be used for about two extra hours without discomfort. The pleather earpads provide a small amount of extra outside sound isolation, however, no sonic differences were detectable between the felt and pleather earpads. Unsurprisingly, the HS1A is just like the HS1 with a very sturdy construction and high level of comfort.

Conclusion:

Disregarding Dolby Headphone for a moment, Corsair's second headset, apart from some negligible, minor differences, is identical to the HS1. Overall this is a good thing, because the HS1 is hugely comfortable and constructed very well. The quality that Corsair put into the HS1 is also present in the HS1A, without a doubt., and, I can see that the HS1A is aimed at gamers that don't have any USB ports available or want to use their soundcard. However, the lack of Dolby Headphone and the price that the HS1A is sold for, particularly when compared to the HS1, makes it a somewhat poor deal. Just take a look; the HS1 can be had for $90, and the HS1A for $75. Dolby Headphone is what made the HS1 a unique and excellent headset when it was released and sold for $120, and not just a comfy, durable headset. It was, and even more so now is, very worth the money. Take away Dolby Headphone and you get the HS1A. Yes, The HS1A is comfortable and is not cheaply put together, but, if you're willing to put down close to $100 for a headset, spend the extra $15 and go for the HS1. It delivers more, and though neither the HS1 or HS1A is even a decent choice for music, the HS1 is far better for movies and games, which is what you'd want a headset for.

The HS1A is certainly a high quality headset and certainly worthy of a little more money than something from Labtec or even Ozone, but, it's not worth as much money is it is, especially when the HS1 is available for very little more. Even without Dolby Headphone, if the HS1A was priced at $50, I would heartily recommend it, because it is much better than cheaper headsets.  However, because it lacks Dolby Headphone and is only $15 cheaper than the HS1, the HS1A just isn't a good value. So, if you want to buy the HS1A, don't: buy the HS1.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: