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.
Unfortunately, for a multitude of reasons, it's not always possible to properly set up a multi-channel speaker configuration--i.e. the shape of the room, objections from the significant other, etc. For those situations, a good set of gaming headphones can be just the ticket.
To that end, Psyko audio has released the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming headset. As their name suggests, the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset features a 5.1 speaker setup integrated into a pair of headphones. Unlike some competing offerings, however, the Psyko 5.1s don't use any digital signal processing trickery to simulate multi-channel audio. No, Psyko's solution is a true 5.1 channel speaker setup, complete with distinct front, rear, and center channels and subwoofers.
The Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset takes a different approach than all other true multi-channel headsets as well. Whereas some other multi-channel headsets shoehorn multiple drivers in the actual headphone cans, the Psyko 5.1s move the drivers into chambers in the headrest, where waveguides direct the audio down into the cans at the proper positions. The use of the waveguides not only allows for proper positioning, but the differing lengths of the left and right waveguides also results in the delay necessary for our brains to distinguish direction. There's also a removable boom mic, that plugs right into the bottom of one of the cans.
Setting up the Psyko 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 channel 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 as well.
The Psyko 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 5.1s are also fairly adjustable, so it's easy to position them on your head comfortably. There are also vents that can be opened or closed on either can that help keep your ears cool during extended gaming sessions.
Using the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset was an interesting experience. First the bad. These headphones were obviously not designed for audiophiles. Music playback isn't optimal. Sound quality seemed flat and distant, with decent highs, but lackluster mid-range and bass. Tweaking the equalizer settings in your favorite media player can compensate somewhat, but the Psyko 5.1s will not compare to a quality set of headphones designed for music in terms of audio fidelity. Watching movies was a somewhat better experience. The positional surround sound effects were easy to pick out and the headphones performed well with voice reproduction.
Now for the good. Where the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset really shines is in games. Once accustomed to the headset, distinguishing sounds coming from different directions comes naturally. Playing MW2 and L4D2 was great. You could hear enemies creeping up behind you and react accordingly, and even pick out subtle noises that get lost without a multi-channel speaker setup. The Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset also seems to be tuned for gaming audio, because the fidelity issues that were prominent during music playback weren't nearly as prevalent.
Psyko Audio is asking for $299 for the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset. That's a big pill to swallow considering the sound quality issues we mentioned. But when used for their designed purpose--gaming--they deliver. Psyko Audio have truly incorporated a 5.1 channel speaker setup, that accurately reproduces positional effects, into a headset. If you can justify the price (other gaming headsets regularly sell for $200 or more), it's worth checking out the Psyko 5.1.