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Zalman ZM-RS6F 5.1 Real Surround Sound Headphones Review

Price: $47 USD

Many customers of Zalman will often note the company as the "leading developer of noiseless computer system products", specializing in various cooling products ranging from passive heatsinks to unique fan solutions, all while keeping the noise generated from the components to a minimum. While this product has everything to do with "sound and noise," it has nothing to do with the sound generated by the mechanical parts in your computer, but rather, by whatever your sound card is capable of pumping out.

Features & Specifications
  • Real Surround Sound field close to a complete multi-channel speaker system
  • 3 meter cord, splitting into three 3.5" headphone jacks
  • Unit Type: Electro Dynamic Round Type Micro Speaker
  • Frequency Response: 50Hz ~ 20000Hz
  • Nominal Power: 0.02W
  • Maximum Power: 0.15W
  • Headset Weight: ~316.8 grams

  • Closer Look
    The ZM-RS6F comes in a very unique packaging. The dome-shaped display shows off the entire headphone, and from there you will notice that it is not simply a 2-speaker stereo headphone (something that is tried and true for simulating 3D surround sound), but it actually involves 3 mini plugs for the front, rear, and center/subwoofer, or some other Low-Frequency-Effect (LFE) device.

    This is quite a neat packaging.

    Without the plastic cover.

    3 Stereo Jacks = 6 Independent Sound Channels

    Where's the volume control dial?

    Rather than go into the very technical details that most individuals would probably not be interested in, this will be a very qualitative review, which also means that it is mostly subjective. However I will also note some other odds and ends while using these headphones.

    At this point, I have absolutely no problems with the headphones, except for one. There is no volume control on the headphones! While I understand that if they were plugged into an AV amplifier, then the amp volume control will handle it. However, if I were to use it with my sound card, then I'm stuck with the software volume control, which often means having to reach up and grab the mouse, point my cursor down to my audio properties, and adjust the volume there. This is more of a nuisance than anything, but having a volume control somewhere on the cable would make things significantly more convenient.

    For all of my tests, I have used the Sound Blaster Audigy sound card, and I have evaluated the headphones using the following:
  • Counter-Strike
  • Unreal Tournament 2003
  • Neverwinter Nights
  • 3DMark03 - Sound Tests Only
  • Star Wars I - The Phantom Menace - DVD
  • The Animatrix - DVD
  • Miscellaneous Audio, such as MP3
  • For each game or movie, I tried it using 5.1 Surround Sound mode, as well as just the regular Stereo Headphones mode. I also took some short game sessions and a few minutes of each movie using just regular 2-channel headphones.

    Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament 2003, Neverwinter Nights, & 3DMark03

    What I've found to be quite interesting while playing was if I were to listen intently to detect the direction of an incoming sound, that I would have great difficulty doing so. However, there is enough significant difference in its sound so that your unconscious side still triggers your reflexes to point you in the proper direction.

    While stereo headphones are already known for their ability to simulate 3D sound quite nicely, the Zalman 5.1 headphones have no need for any type of simulation whatsoever, and as a result, directional sounds are heard much more easily on the latter. Having the speakers located away from the opening of the ear allows the listener to be able to discern spatial sounds that much more acutely.

    While it has not made me a better First-Person-Shooter (Because I suck bad), it certainly did make the experience more enjoyable. With some practice, you could probably even use the spatial sounds to determine where in the air ducts that (Counter) Terrorist is hiding.

    DVD Movies - SWI: The Phantom Menace & The Animatrix

    This is the category where I have mixed opinions. In SWI, if I were to use 5.1 mode, the dialogue becomes localized to particular regions, depending on the camera and the speaker. This means that the voices will only come out of certain speakers, but not all. While this shows the 5.1 surround qualities of the headphones, a lot of times the explosions and other sound effects will hit all the speakers. This makes the dialogue sound exceptionally soft when compared to the loudness of all the other sounds. Using 2.0 mode, I did not encounter any such problem.

    In The Animatrix, I didn't encounter voice-over problems as I did with SWI, so it could also be the way that the DVD audio may have been dealt with. Stories like "Final Flight of the Osiris" have never sounded better though. While the whizzing sound of those katanas would make many peoples' nerves tingle, listening to them using 5.1 up close makes for a unique (but unfortunately not heart-stopping) experience.

    Miscellaneous Audio (CD, MP3)

    The 5.1 Surround Sound has a much more distinct sound separation than with 2.0. This is more likely due to the "surround" part of the sound algorithm than anything else. Either way, the Zalman 5.1 headphones sound a lot cooler here than with regular headphones.

    While the idea of having a surround sound system wrapped around your head is quite a neat idea, it does have some drawbacks. In order for surround sound to work properly, most surround sound theatres usually have their speakers placed a fair distance away from the listener. This allows the theatre to truly enclose the area with "surround sound". By placing the sound sources so close to the ear, there are no vibrations that travel through the listener, so the feeling of "home theatre surround sound" becomes lost.

    While using these headphones to replace equivalent 5.1 surround sound systems is impractical, for all intents and purposes, they are excellent for moments when you are restricted to using a headset, like deathmatching during a LAN party. Sure, you won't get the bass of a powerful howitzer ripping through your body, but you'll definitely be able to hear and quite often accurately point in the direction of where that footstep, gunshot, or any other sound came from. They are also great for listening to music as well, instead of relying on regular 2-channel headphones.

    While $50USD places the item into the high price range for headphones, if you're on the search for a good analog headset, I would definitely recommend this one.


    • Real 5.1 channel setup instead of just 3D surround simulation
    • Contains some benefits of a 5.1 channel surround system
    • Compact fold-up storage
    • Long 3 meter cable


    • Where's the volume control?
    • Headset has no built-in microphone (sorry, FPS guys!)

    Thanks to Zalman for sending us this product to review.

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