Tech News on G4

Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset a Sound Wonder

Nov 29, 2010

By Greg Gazin - Apple Gazin’ - G4 Canada

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PsykoThere's nothing like playing your favorite game on a mega-sized big-screen TV and a wicked surround sound system cranked right up. But that's not always possible or practical.

"A gaming friend of mine wanted to play a shooter game, but didn't want to have to have the wife and kids hear gunshots at 2AM," says James Hildebrandt, CEO Calgary-based Psyko Audio Labs.

And while the big screen is no problem, even putting on a decent set of headphones still makes it virtually impossible to re-create a realistic and big room environment with 2 cups held over your ears.

"You are at a technical disadvantage if you put on headphones to hear a gunshot. You then have to spin the character around for a second or two to see where the shot came from - and then you get killed."

Hildebrandt, a mechanical engineer and avid PC-Gamer, referred to as the Chief Psyko, reiterated his friend's magical words - "There must be a better way".

3D Surround Sound

That inspiration and motivation led to the creation of the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset. It gives you 3D surround sound you can wear on your head. It's designed to produce the same 5.1 directional effects as if you have a pair of front and a pair of rear speakers plus a centre speaker set up in a room.

The headset incorporates its own PsykoWave Technology designed around how our ears actually hear and interpret sound, rather than using a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chip to simulate it.  The WaveGuides deliver sound to the appropriate "front" or "back" speakers at the right time and at the right volume. It not only improves directional sound, it's more accurate and reduces latency or delay in its delivery.

To test them out I figured I'd get the assistance from a few more pairs of ears, a friend and colleague, Kevin Achtzener and his die-hard gamer pal, Christian Guinez, testing the unit with a number of games including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Fallout: New Vegas.

"It's so much more realistic," says Guinez. "When you hear a bullet coming from behind you, it's really coming from behind you."

Kevin Achtzener, also a first-person shooter enthusiast adds - "You are automatically are at an advantage if you can clearly hear the shots and footsteps - especially in a multiplayer environment.

This is truly needed if you are a serious gamer.

Funky & Futuristic

PsykoIn fact, at first glance you'd think that these came out from a scene from Terminator 4 or the Transformers. There are 7 drivers to produce the surround sound. Two subwoofers are contained within the lower portion of the ear cups but the 5 main drivers are not located in the ear cups, but rather amazingly on the bridge of the headphone.

With all the speakers the unit weighs over a pound. Achtzener finds it a little on the heavy side, but not uncomfortable. The ear cups have a pivot window that can open and close to optionally allow for ventilation and to let in ambient sound.

"If I want to play at night when the kids are sleeping, it's great. I can pop on the headphones and rock to my own little world," says Guinez.

Achtzener chuckles and adds that on one hand you can also hear your wife calling, but cautions that the units lack of total sound isolation may disturb someone within an earshot sitting next to you.

Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming headset has a removable and adjustable mic boom, a power amp with both a volume control and a bass/direction control which can be turned up for more boom and down for better directionality. And something else you don't see to often, is that it's powered through a wall power adapter.

Needs Surround Sound Connection

Since surround sound is not possible from a standard stereo jack, it needs a 5.1 connection, which you can now get on many motherboards and or sound cards. A laptop without 5.1, can still connect via an external USB sound card.  And while there is no direct connect to gaming consoles, the company advises that Xbox 360 and PS/3 users can use the headset if they have a decoder box that goes from the optical S/PDIF to the analog output.

Psyko 5.1 is so easy to set up and use. Plug in the amp, connect to your soundcard and attach the headphones. That's it. No special software or drivers needed. You will need to enable 5.1 in your sound settings.

Hildebrandt stresses that the unit is designed for the PC gaming market and not an audiophile product. "It's tuned for directionality so technical compromises had to be made and sacrifice on the music side."

So while music is not an important factor, the EQ on the soundcard can be tweaked for music and movies. Hildebrandt recommends lowering the 500-1000Hz frequencies about 5db would be a good starting point.

Achtzener found this to work well with watching Resident Evil.

"Some people said it sounded flat and tinny, it sounded fine to me and I was able to hear some cool effects."

Final Words

PsykoOverall, the Psyko 5.1 delivers a true 3-D sound and certainly enhanced the overall gaming experience. We found that we were able to focus and concentrate more on the game and we ended up getting better results - which for me can often be a challenge.

Personally, I found it incredibly amazing about how it not only delivers sound to the appropriate speaker but moreover, the precision of the angle from which it comes.

(If you're interested in learning more about headphone audio technology, download Psyko Audios free whitepaper. It discusses not only the technology, but other interesting tidbits like how each person has unique ears, just like fingerprints and how with only two ears we're able to correctly hear sounds in three dimensions.)

While the 3 of us were reasonably impressed, there were a few things we would like to have seen: Bluetooth or wireless connectivity for more freedom of movement, a travel case to carry around its multiple components and a friendlier connectivity to console devices.

For the die-hard dedicated gamer, the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset overdelivers and certainly hits the mark. And while we do understand the research and development that went into this product, the $299 list price seems more than reasonable for what you get, it might be a little rich for some, unless you're going to use it often - especially for the casual gamer.

Now with that said, I did a little scouting around and found that if you look hard enough you may be able to find units 20-30% lower, which makes the unit much more appealing and a great holiday idea for yourself or the gamer in your life.


Greg Gazin can be reached at  gadgetguy "at" telus "dot" net Or

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