By Dylan Rhodes posted Mar 13th 2012
The Vengeance 1300 Analog Gaming Headset and the Vengeance 1500 Dolby 7.1 USB Gaming Headset offer a strong set of features for immersive gaming: carefully tuned acoustics, high-quality audio drivers, circumaural earpads for excellent noise isolation, and materials, weight and “feel” engineered for comfort during long gaming sessions.
The Vengeance 1300 has analog stereo connectors, and the Vengeance 1500 has a USB connection. So, which one should you choose?
The short answer: what's your PC's sound situation?
The quick answer I like to give for the 1300/1500 question goes something like this: does your PC have a nice sound card with built-in surround sound processing, like Dolby Headphone? If so, look at the 1300. If you have entry-level or onboard audio, or if you're using a typical laptop PC, you may be better off with the 1500.
At the risk of oversimplifying it — okay, let's face it, I'm seriously oversimplifying it — a PC's audio circuitry is essentially a D-to-A converter, processing digital audio streams and converting them into the voltages that go to your speakers, headphones, or headset. Whether it's a basic audio chipset built into the motherboard, or a high-end audio card from Asus or Creative Labs, it provides the same basic functionality. When you invest more into your audio hardware, you get multi-channel support, more connectors, lower distortion and higher dynamic range, and support for more audio codecs and processing algorithms.
The Vengeance 1500, like any PC USB headset, has a “sound card” and surround sound processing built in. Specifically, there's circuitry in the USB connector enclosure that does the same stream processing and D-to-A conversion that PC sound circuitry performs. When you connect the Vengeance 1500, or any USB headset, to your PC, the audio isn't processed by your PC's sound card when you're listening to your headset.
With Dolby Headphone surround processing and a dynamic range of 95dB, the sound quality of the Vengeance 1500's built-in sound card is very good. It provides better results than the integrated audio circuitry found in office-grade laptop and many desktop PCs. And by “better results,” I mean that with a high-quality audio source, you'll easily be able to tell the difference between a Vengeance 1500 attached to the USB port (and thus bypassing the PC's sound circuitry) and a Vengeance 1300 connected to the PC's headphone output.
Surround sound audio: for here, or to go?
Immersive, hyper-realistic surround audio on stereo headsets — the kind that gives you a precise feeling for your enemy's exact location and delivers that magical ”in the game” feel that can make gaming so exciting — requires two things.
First, it requires advanced signal processing algorithms that are the result of sound science and extensive real-world testing. More about that in a moment.
The other is, naturally, a good headset. This might sound obvious, but it's practical advice: in the course of evaluating gaming headsets — and we've listened to a lot of them — we've encountered far too many which added enough distortion to defeat some or even most of the positional audio. This distortion may be deliberate: for instance, by introducing a boomy, bass-heavy sound to the mix for dramatic effect, or to allow the headset to also sound good with today's pop music, which is mixed for boomy, bass-heavy audio gear.
Or, it might be due to lower-quality hardware or small headphone drivers. Or it might be due to a lack of attention to acoustical tuning: the angles and geometries and materials that can make all the difference. Either way, we've listened to far too many gaming headsets where the manufacturer used a high-quality surround sound algorithm, but put it into hardware that distorted the midband to the point that the positional references crucial to spatial audio are masked or lost altogether. Combine that with all the work that the game's audio designer put into making the audio an important competitive element, and it's a lot of effort that's gone to waste. Audio is one of those technologies where the overall quality is no better than the weakest point in the chain, and all too often, that weak point is the headset.
Getting the acoustics right is something that we've paid a lot of attention to. When we launched our first headsets, the HS1 and HS1A, I met plenty of people who had written off positional audio as a gimmick… until they tried our headsets. It wasn't the science of positional audio that was failing them; they had simply never heard it through the right headset.
The USB Vengeance 1500 has advanced positional audio algorithms built-in, in the form of Dolby Headphone. When you attach it to your PC and configure it accordingly, your PC “thinks” it's a 7.1-channel audio device, and sends a multi-channel audio signal through the USB port. Dolby Headphone built in to the 1500 applies advanced audio processing — including HRTF, duplex, and crosstalk cancellation algorithms — to recreate that multi-channel audio using just one driver per channel.
High-quality sound cards also offer multi-channel audio through stereo headsets. Some, like Asus Xonar models, license the same Dolby Headphone technology that Corsair uses. Sound Blaster audio cards offered by Creative, for instance, offer either THX TruStudio PRO or X-Fi CMSS-3D. Creative also licenses THX TruStudio PRO for use on high-end motherboards, including some Gigabyte Assassin models. When you connect headphones or a headset to a sound card or motherboard with one of these technologies, the surround sound processing will be applied to the stereo signal that goes to the headphone jack. But just how good it sounds is up to the headset.
Attach an analog Vengeance 1300 to a high-quality sound card that has one of these algorithms, and it will do a great job of reproducing surround sound.
So, which one is right for you — the Vengeance 1300 or Vengeance 1500?
- If the audio circuitry built into your computer is the basic sort that doesn't offer Dolby Headphone, THX TruStudio PRO, X-Fi CMSS-3D or another surround sound technology, you definitely want the Vengeance 1500 USB gaming headset. You'll get to bypass your PC's audio circuitry altogether, and enjoy Dolby Headphone multi-channel audio that your PC simply isn't capable of delivering.
- If your PC has higher-quality motherboard-based audio or a sound card that offers one of these technologies, consider the Vengeance 1300 gaming headset. You've made an investment in your PC's high-quality audio, and a balanced, high-quality gaming headset like the Vengeance 1300 will let you get the most out of it.
- If you move from PC to PC, or you simply want the convenience of a single connection, lean toward the Vengeance 1500 — or, better yet, get both!