Sound Advice: Five Gaming Headphones Tested

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Roccat Kave 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset

Roccat is a relative new kid on the block in the U.S. market. The company turned its attention stateside a little over a year ago so that American gamers could experience "some serious German engineering." We've seen a steady flow of products from Roccat over the past 12 months, including the Kave 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset reviewed here. The Kave is a true 5.1 headset with three speakers in each ear cup, plus a vibration driver. You can find the Kave online selling for around $120 street.
Roccat Kave 5.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset
Specifications & Features
Headphones
Frequency Response
20Hz - 20kHz
Max SPL at 1KHz 114+/-3dB
Max input power 100mW (30mW)
Drivers (Front)
40mm
Drivers (Rear)
40mm
Vibration Driver Units  
Frequency response
1000mW
Driver
30mm
Microphone
Frequency response
20-18,000Hz
Sensitivity at 1KHz
-36dB
Directivity
Omni-directional
MISC
Price
~$120 street
Warranty
1 year

Design and Comfort




Roccat's Kave, along with Rosewill's 5.1 set, are the two that are the most compact when the ear cups aren't extended. If you have a small head or are in the market for a headset for little Johnny who you're trying to raise as a PC gamer, these are the two of the bunch that have the best change of fitting.

The Kave adjusts to wrap around large heads too, and everything in between. One thing that's immediately apparent when you slip your head into the Kave is the weight, especially within the ear cups. Keep in mind that it's toting additional drivers for 5.1 channel audio, so a bit of additional heft is to be expected. It doesn't feel like a bag of bricks, but you're not going to forget you're wearing them the way you would a baseball cap (as opposed to, say, a football helmet).

Aesthetically, the Kaves look sharp and feature a rubberized coating on the ear cups. That means they're less prone to fingerprints, especially compared to glossy finishes. We also have to give Roccat props for the thick metal band that extends from one ear cup to the next. These might be the sturdiest headphones of the bunch, which is another reason why they're a little heavier than the others.



Three square-shaped pads with hollowed-out centers line nearly the entire length of the headband, which is actually fairly short compared to other headsets. We can only speculate, but one reason Roccat may have designed the cushioning this way rather than using a single, large strip is that it adjusts to the contours of your head.



We'll get to the drivers in a moment, but first we have to point out the high quality stitching, both along the rim that runs around the opening and surrounding the outer ear cups as well. Roccat says they're hand-sewn, and while it's a subtle touch that some people might never notice, it goes a long way in showing the company's care and attention attention to detail.

What isn't likely to go unnoticed is the rectangular opening in each ear cup. While it may appear that someone (or some machine) did a poor job cutting out a hole, this is by design to accommodate the angled drivers. Roccat isn't trying to simulate 5.1 audio through software trickery -- the company wants to deliver spatial sound through multiple drivers that are aligned at a 12-degree angle. This, according to Roccat, is what will allow gamers to tell which way noises are coming from. The funky cushioning is also mean to block out external noise.



Roccat calls this a "Tip ''N Control Desktop Remote." We're more inclined to think of it as a the biggest inline remote we've ever seen. It's a rather large box that dangles from the cord, and as its name suggests, it's meant to sit on your desk.

A volume wheel rotates like a classic iPod to adjust the volume up or down, and in the center is a gigantic mute button. If you want to mute the microphone, there's a separate button on the side of the remote. When muted, the tip of the mic glows blue, providing a gentle reminder that your teammates can't hear your instructions (and if it isn't glowing blue, they're just ignoring you).

A lid opens up above the volume wheel to reveal independent volume controls for the different drivers, including center, front, rear, and sub. If you're only using stereo mode instead of 5.1 channel audio, just the front dial will do anything, as you're not taking advantage of all the drivers.
 

Sound Quality

We were a bit surprised that Roccat didn't include any special drivers or setup software with the Kave, nor will you find any on the company's website. However, bear in mind that in order take full advantage of the Kave, you need either a dedicated soundcard or onboard audio that supports 5.1-channel audio.

 

In lieu of custom drivers or setup software, Roccat includes a 5.1 surround sound demo to show off the positional audio (and to get you excited about the headphones you just purchased). There's also a folder full of wallpapers and a user manual in PDF form.

 

We started off our testing by listening to music in stereo mode. Sonically, the Kave's range is similar to the other headsets in this roundup, though for better or worse, bass performance doesn't dominate the sound spectrum. If you like a lot of bump with your grind, the Kave will leave you wishing for a little more than it can provide. Conversely, if you've always wanted a gaming headset that doesn't overemphasize the low end, the Kave is calling your name.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Kave doesn't hit the highs like an opera singer, and neither do any of the other gaming headsets reviewed here. But it does do a good job with what its got. We really enjoyed the raspy highs from Audra Mae & The Forest Rangers singing, well, just about anything, but in particular The Unclouded Day (from Sons of Anarchy) and Forever Young.

Stereo sound isn't the Kave's playground, however, so we unleashed the headset on several 5.1-channel samples and gaming titles that support it. This is where the Kaves really shine, so long as you adjust your expectations. Even with the angled drivers, the Kaves are no match for a 5.1-channel speaker setup. But as far as headphones go, they do a remarkable job letting you know where the sound is coming from. The effect is especially enhanced if you tweak the individual volume dials; we found the best results by turning down the front volume a quarter of the way while leaving the rear dial cranked up.

You'll also want to spend some time playing with your soundcard's equalizer settings, if available, to put a little more emphasis on the lows. That's were the most fun is had when playing games, and the Kaves stop a little short of delivering bone crunching blows on the low end.
 

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