A few months back, we took a look at a true-5.1 channel headset from Psyko. We started that post off with this opening, “Aside from a powerful graphics card and large monitor, one of the best ways to increase the realism and immersiveness of PC games is with a high-quality, multi-channel speaker setup. Hearing sounds that seemingly wiz by your head and being able to pick up on subtle tones coming from different directions, can transform a ho-hum gaming session into an adrenaline-rush producing experience.”
That statement will always be true. Unfortunately, for many gamers, it's not always possible to properly set up a multi-channel speaker configuration. The shape of their computer room, objections from the significant other, etc., can all hinder the proper setup. For those situations, a good set of gaming headphones can be a godsend.
To help satisfy users that may not be able to properly set up a multi-channel speaker system, Psyko audio released the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming headset. As we mentioned earlier, the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset featured a 5.1 speaker setup integrated into a set of headphones. Unlike some competing offerings, however, the Psyko 5.1s don't use any digital signal processing to simulate multi-channel audio. Psyko's solution is actually a true 5.1 channel speaker setup, complete with distinct front, rear, and center channels and subwoofers. There are actually five mid-to-high frequency speakers / drivers in the headband, each with 30mm neodymium magnets, and two low-frequency woofers (one in each ear cup), each with 40mm neodymium magnets.
When we first took a look at the Psyko 5.1, we came away generally impressed, but found the kit to be somewhat expensive and lacking in the audio quality department. Psyko has heard our concerns, however, and have just released the Psyko Carbon 5.1s, which take all of the good things about the originals and upgrade some of the questionable aspects. And also update the look of the unit with a darker black and red color scheme that eschews the greys of the originals.
The Psyko 5.1 can Carbon 5.1 PC Gaming headsets set themselves apart from other true multi-channel headsets as well. Whereas some other multi-channel headsets shoehorn multiple drivers in the actual headphone cans, the Psyko 5.1’s drivers were located in chambers in the headrest, where waveguides direct the audio down into the cans at their proper positions. The use of the waveguides not only allows for proper positioning, but the differing lengths of the left and right waveguides also result in the delay necessary for our brains to distinguish direction. There's also a removable boom mic, which plugs into the bottom of one of the cans.
Setting up the Psyko Carbon 5.1 PC Gaming Headset couldn't be any easier. They feature standard 3.5mm inputs that simply plug right into the front, rear, and center channel audio outputs on a sound card or the integrated audio outputs on a motherboard. Once connected, the only thing users have to do is open up the audio control panel and set the configuration to a 5.1 channel speaker setup. We should also note, that in-game audio needs to be set to 5.1 channes as well. The headphones can be connected directly to a sound card, but Psyko also includes a mini-amp that boosts the volume and gives users easy access to volume and bass controls in a standalone pod as well.
The Psyko Carbon 5.1 PC Gaming Headset is relatively heavy, but they are also well balanced and comfortable to wear. There is plenty of padding, so there were no issues with pressure points getting sore. And the Psyko Carbons 5.1s are also fairly adjustable, so it's easy to position them on your head comfortably. There vents that can be opened or closed on either can as well that help keep your ears cool during extended gaming sessions.
Our experiences with the Psyko Carbon 5.1 PC Gaming Headset were very good. Although this headset was not designed with audiophiles in mind, sound quality is noticeably improved over the originals. Music playback still isn't optimal—the headset was designed for gamers after all--but the frequency responds is improved clear highs, and warm mid-range and bass. Due to the driver configuration, however, music still has a “distant” sound to it. Tweaking the equalizer settings in your favorite media player can compensate somewhat, but like the originals, the Psyko Carbon 5.1s will not compare to a quality set of headphones designed for music in terms of audio fidelity. Watching movies offered a somewhat better experience. The positional surround sound effects were easy to pick out and the headphones performed well overall.
Where the Psyko Carbon 5.1 PC Gaming Headset really shines is while gaming. Once accustomed to the headset, distinguishing sounds coming from different directions comes naturally. Playing L4D2 or COD was a real treat. You could hear enemies creeping up behind you very easily and react accordingly, and even pick out subtle noises that get lost without a multi-channel speaker setup. The Psyko Carbon 5.1 PC Gaming Headset also seems to be better tuned for gaming audio, because the fidelity issues that we noticed during music playback were non-existent.
Psyko Audio is asking for $199 for the Psyko Carbon 5.1 PC Gaming Headset—a huge price reduction from the originals, which hit the scene at $299 a few months back. Considering the improved look of the kit (at least in our opinion), along with the all-around improved sound quality, and retention of the original’s excellent feature set, we think Psyko has a winner on their hands with the Carbon 5.1 gaming headset.