|ZALMAN THEATRE 6 HEADPHONES|
Steve "Chaos" Ruxton
Today we are going to have a look at Zalmans 5.1 surround sound Headphones. Zalman are well known for their line of CPU and GPU cooling solutions, as well as a decent silent line of power supplies. It should be interesting to see how well they fare on the audio side of things.
The first thing of interest was the unique folding concept they use on the arms of the headset. It allows them to be stored safely and take up less space. As far as headphones go, comfort is very important. The Zalman headset has padding on the top as well as the padding for the ear cups which provides a decent level of comfort but I think there should be some perforations in the ear padded area to help prevent sweating when worn for long periods of time gaming.
As shown above the headphones
have 3 mini pin plugs that attach to your sound card. They have color
coded the ends(light grey,dark grey,black) but they are not the standard
color of green/audio out, black/rear line in, and pink/mic input.
Once you have connected them to your PC you have to go and setup your
speaker configuration. With these headphones you chose the 5.1 setting
in the Advanced Audio properties of the Master Volume and make sure
that you have played a check mark in the required fields. The rear
speakers connect to the line input and the center/sub connect to the
"So how do they sound?" you ask. I started out listening to music, while it won't take advantage of the 5.1 capabilities, it remains very important to all headphone usage. When I first started listening to a cut by the Eagles, they sounded terrible. The low end sound was ok but sloppy; the high mid, and high end, was very harsh sounding but fortunately after making some EQ adjustments in the nVidia Audio control panel, I was able to get much better sound quality but nothing that was mind blowing. How do they create the 5.1 sound? Well each ear piece actually has 3 speakers in it. They combine the center/sub into one speaker and then use front and rear for the other 2 speakers.
The next thing to do was to fire up UT 2004 and see what they could offer to my gaming experience. In total contrast to the poor sound during my initial mp3 adventure, I quickly discovered that gaming was going to be something to treasurer. The sound was fantastic, I picked up on sounds that I never heard before, and was able to zero in with a reasonably accurate sense of where the audio was originating from. The sound of footsteps became much more apparent and now questions like "how the hell did they hear me!?!" made perfect sense, they were wearing headphones. Then I realized there was something critical missing, there was no microphone, with the ever growing number of todays top games incorporating voice communications directly into them, I originally thought that a microphone would be a given, but after hooking them to the PC I should have clued in that the Center/Sub are using the mic input.
The only thing left to do was to test the DVD audio playback. At the time of this review both the ATI MMC and Cyberlink PowerDVD OEM version down mix any multi-channel sound to create a simulated 5.1 environment. Cyberlink offers a multi-channel audio plug in for $29.95 USD - now we are able to test the multi-channel audio ability. They did a good job down-mixing the audio but the feeling that true surround creates was just not authentic enough to be convincing. After removing my OEM version and installing the full version I was allowed to use for this review, all of the audio options were now available to me. I could choose up to an 8 speaker enviroment as to what type of multi channel playback I wanted. You could choose between Dolby Digital Surround II or CLMEI (CyberLink Multi-channel Environment Impression technology) CLMEI is an audio channel expansion technology developed by CyberLink that converts a stereo audio sound and outputs to multiple channels.
I used the movie Pearl Harbour for my testing due to the nice audio panning and multi-channel sound during the battle scenes. Absolutely incredible! Never has $29.95 seemed like such good value - the difference is quite staggering. The DVD playback experience provided a pleasant rich audio experience that was a vast improvement over the down-mixed 2 channel audio. Another nice discovery was that the multi-channel audio within PowerDVD has modes that are designed for music playback. These modes are also improved from the original sound that I experienced listening to MP3's. I guess I will have to look at PowerDVD as a possible choice for future mp3 enjoyment.
In closing I would have to say that I was satisified with the sound that the Zalman Theatre 6 offered in the end. If they could incorporate a microphone into these it would put a finishing touch on an already great sounding set of headphones.