Audio/Peripherals Basics Headphones Headsets Reviews

Myth Gaming Headset: Pure Marketing Blabla or Real Advantage when Playing? | Retro

Is that really almost 10 years ago? One is really amazed again and again how quickly time passes. And has the quality changed in the meantime? The participants of the then trötenwanderung, in which most headsets got under the wheels acoustically, were long ago disposed of and scrapped by the customers defectively and new generations followed with ever new features. But even today, lighting often counts for enough more than sound. Reason enough to revisit this classic, because to a large extent what was written at that time still applies today. unfortunately.

After testing over 50 (now well over 120) headsets and mobile PC audio devices, I asked myself what this legendary gaming sound was actually supposed to be. They were often (supposedly) developed with pro-gamers, and every new headset was supposed to offer even more unbeatable advantages, especially for first-person shooters. My criticism at the time was also taken up by retailers and beneficiaries of the gaming craze and even Saturn recently had to send someone forward to say in their own in-house post: Gaming headsets are really good now – despite all the prejudices”. But you shouldn’t forget that Saturn itself is profiting from the hype and that the products I criticized don’t even appear there and who paid for the article. Expensive always works, even in good. But what about the products under 100 Euros?

Customized sound, surround sound, “impact sound detection” and all sorts of other things – most people are certainly not even aware of what gaming noise actually is and what frequency spectra are really behind it.

However, I would first like to preface our little excursion with a few marketing style blossoms, some of which are so pompous that it’s as if you are buying the ultimate in technical feasibility and have to thank the developers for allowing you to take part in the revolution of being a gamer.

Become a trendsetter! The unique design ensures that you will stand out with these headphones. It won’t be long before someone asks you where you bought them. While designing the fashionable and trendy headphones, we have always made sure that the ear pads are soft and comfortable and therefore wearable all day long. The speakers provide crystal clear hi-fi sound with tremendous range and clarity.

Not bad, hi-fi for less than 20 euros is a fighting chance! But only in the brochure, unfortunately. Or let’s venture confidently into blossoming soundscapes:

With its unprecedented 60mm neodymium speakers, it offers a huge soundscape and bloodcurdling bass.

Yes, of course, it was only the initial price of 150 euros that was shattering, the sound was more in the 50-euro class.

The xxxxx USB headset from xxxxx was developed in collaboration with professional gamers. Special features such as specially adapted equalizer settings are designed to make life easier for professional gamers in tough first-person shooters.

Funny, because equalizer experiments are pure poison for most sounds – we will see and substantiate this later. Finally, maybe this one, because it can (n)ever be more pompous and self-indulgent:

At xxxxxxxx, we are passionate about the technology that makes gamers winners. We develop precise gaming devices. We develop the technology that allows gamers to always perform at the highest level in terms of speed, precision, reliability and comfort. Technology is our philosophy, our guiding principle in researching, testing and developing the optimal gaming experience – in the lab and in the game.

So what exactly are we up to?

In order to understand that the best-sounding and most neutral pair of headphones with the largest possible sound stage and excellent resolution is really the best solution, you have to consider the gaming-relevant weapon, ambient, vehicle and aircraft noises as well as the different voices in speech reproduction. You also need to differentiate between frequency range and response curve, resolution and detail as well as spatial positioning and staging.

To illustrate what you can do wrong with sounding – i.e. the deliberate distortion of the reproduction by under- and overemphasizing individual frequency ranges – here are two exemplary headsets. The thick white line indicates the frequency response of our more or less neutral reference headphones (Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro), the red areas the overemphasized and the blue areas the clearly underemphasized frequency ranges.

First, we look at an average stereo gaming headset with the typical bathtub sound, in which bass and treble are clearly overemphasized and present more appearance than reality. The peak at one kilohertz is also the honeypot for the standard measurements, where the 1 kHz mark is always chosen as the reference point:

According to the marketing specialists, the pinnacle of evolution is supposed to be “real” multi-channel headsets (5.1 or 7.1), which also contain several drivers per headphone and often a kind of special subwoofer. However, we have already experienced in one of our tests how such an expensive headset can end up as a sonic submarine:

But why the hell are such sonic failures sold as gamer peripherals? Could it be that sneaky shooters or wild battlefields in particular pose their own challenges and that the frequency ranges of the relevant sounds are so narrow that sounding is really worthwhile? We will go in search of clues and test exactly that. We promise.

Test setup and basics

Now comes the moment of truth, once again. The test setup is finalized and the basis remains the familiar measurement microphone that has already proven itself for the in-ears. I found the suggestions for the realization at Oratory. In general, so-called couplers with clearly defined volumes and built-in, properly calibrated measurement microphones are used to measure the transmission behavior of headphones. The rest is then also based on the object to be measured.

The setup can be used just as well for plug-in headphones (in-ears) and small headphones (e.g. from hearing aids) as for simpler headphones and headsets as so-called on-ears (headphones with supraaural cushions). For such headphones (on-ear), the “artificial ear” according to IEC 318 is useful, which I have now followed with the implementation. I also use the Creative AE-9 as a sound card, to which the measurement microphone is connected with a sufficiently low noise level. As an output for the headset, I use a HIFIMAN EF400 to control the headphones, as this is possible via an analog jack.

The thick over-ears, i.e. circumaural or ear-enclosing headphones, are not easy to handle when it comes to measurement and, above all, reproducibility. This is because there are not yet any truly standardized couplers. The reasons for this lie in the difficulties of measurement technology and the many influencing factors that make reliable reproducibility almost impossible. Therefore, such circumaural headphones are mainly measured with appropriately modified couplers for supraaural headphones by using an additional flat plate as a support for the circumaural cushion (see picture above).

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About the author

Igor Wallossek

Editor-in-chief and name-giver of igor'sLAB as the content successor of Tom's Hardware Germany, whose license was returned in June 2019 in order to better meet the qualitative demands of web content and challenges of new media such as YouTube with its own channel.

Computer nerd since 1983, audio freak since 1979 and pretty much open to anything with a plug or battery for over 50 years.

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