I've never claimed to be much of an audiophile here at VL, but I do know the difference between decent headphones, and ass-crapular headphones. My regular PC headphones fall somewhat in between the decent and ass category, so I was a little intrigued when Xoxide knocked on my door offering up some surround sound headphones. Actually, they emailed me, but you catch my drift.
Zalman is a name normally associated with cooling products, so I didn't expect to see headphones from them, let alone six channel headphones. They've always made quality coolers, so let's see if the Zalman 5.1 Surround Sound Headphones is something worth picking up.
Unit Type: Electro Dynamic Round Type Micro Speaker
Frequency Response: 150 Hz ~ 20 kHz (extension effective)
Sound Pressure Level: 85 dB +/- 3 dB at 10mW
Impedance: 32 ohm at 1kHz
Maximum Power: 80 mW (20mW x 4)
Weight: 7.2 oz (203 g) without packaging
Cord: Straight, Dual entry 9.8 ft (300cm)
Plug: 3 headphone jacks (3.5 mm)
The Zalman 5.1 Surround Sound Headphones come packed in an interesting plastic dome (removed in the picture above). The purpose, I suppose, is so that you can get a clear view of the contents, so just in case you don't believe the specs written, you can see so yourself before purchasing. The shell is fairly rigid, so if you purchase this online, the packaging should shield it very well from the bumps those Fedex guys like to put things through.
The three headphone jacks are used to enable the six channel sound. Naturally, you'll need a sound card with the appropriate connections, but using just the "Front" and/or "Rear" will work, but you'll only get two or four channels. The cord length is almost ten feet long, which should be more than enough for even those who place their systems under their desk.
One glaring issue I noticed from the beginning that really bothers me now that I've been using them is that there is no volume control on the headphones. The only way to control the volume is to use your sound card's volume control software (or Window's volume control) to adjust it. Sometimes, when the wife is nagging me about something, I'd like to turn up the volume, but reaching over and clicking with my mouse makes it too obvious. Of course, if you use an AV amplifier, your volume control is there on the amp, but you still need to move over to adjust it. The most realistic scenario is if you're in the middle of a game and need to tweak the volume. How you're going to do that without interruption is beyond me.
Looking at the headphones themselves, they look nice at first glance, but in my opinion, they feel somewhat cheap. They fold for easy storage, but the hinge (which allows them to fold) has no resistance to it. The end result is they kind of flip-flop whenever you pick them up. This may not be a big deal really, but I wonder if with enough wear and tear from the folding will end up wearing them out and having them break on you.
The problem with my previous headphones is they tend to cause some earlobe pain after prolonged use. I'll admit that they aren't the best quality, so that's my problem, but I was quite satisfied with the comfort of the Zalman's headphones. They aren't heavy at all, and the pads do a fine job of keeping the headphones from pushing in your earlobes.
The frequency response of the headphones is 150 Hz ~ 20 kHz. To explain this as best as I can; Ideally, you'll want headphones (as well as soundcards I may add) to have a specification of about 20 Hz ~ 20 kHz. This is a wide range, and will mean less linear distortion. The Zalman starts at 150Hz, which is closer to the bottom of the scale, but they are higher than other quality headphones.
At 85dB at 10mW, the sound pressure level is fairly high for PC headphones. You aren't going to get pain inducing, 120db music blasting out of these, and the maximum amount of volume is like someone speaking loudly into your ear.
The headphone's impedance is rated at 32 ohm. Nominal impedance is 8 ohms. Lower numbers mean more current is needed to produce the sound. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure about this, but I do know that high impedance means that the headphones will have a smaller sound level.
The sound cards used are the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 (for Medal of Honour tests), and the built in sound on the ABIT NF7-S Rev2.0 (LoTR: Two Towers, and Evanescence: Fallen). To be honest, both solutions sound the same to me, though for gaming, I prefer the depth of sound on the Audigy 2. The comparison headphones are my Plantronics .Audio 90, which are my day-to-day PC headphones, and my Sennheiser HD-497s, which I normally use with my home theater.
Gaming: I was quite impressed with the Zalman's sound quality. They were much better than the Plantronics, but there was some noticeable static whenever I adjusted the volume. Once the volume is set, the static goes away. The positional sound worked well, as the bullets flying by your character sound very realistic. Neither the Sennheisers, nor the Plantronics were as effective here.
DVD: The Zalmans sounded quite nice while watching the Two Towers, especially the final battle at the keep. It really sounded like Orcs were all around me, and added to the cinematic experience. The quality level seemed to be on par with the Sennheisers, and much better than the Plantronics.
Music: Simply put, the Sennheisers put the other two to shame here. I didn't notice it so much for instrumentals, but for vocals, the Zalmans sounded quite hollow. It's hard to describe, but it sounded like the singing was through a tin can. I made some equalizer adjustments in my software, but the quality is just mediocre. Compared to the Plantronics, it was a little better, as the Zalman's did not sound as muffled.
Though the Zalman 5.1 Surround Sound headphones are not without a few problems, overall, I found them to be a solid product. From a gamer's perspective, they worked very well, and accurately produced the sound effects you need for an involving game experience.
For movies and music, it was a mixed bag. I found the headphones to be satisfactory for DVD listening, but not so much for music. I don't have "musically trained" ears, but even I was able to tell that there are some problems here.
Construction quality is average, and I question the durability of the headphones after prolonged abuse that many mobile gamers may put these headphones through... such as dropping them, stuffing them into a bag, etc. I'm also not too thrilled there was no volume control on the cord, and it can be a nuisance changing the volume while in a match.
Pros: Six Channel sound is great for gaming. Decent DVD quality playback.
Cons: Some static when adjusting volume, no volume control on cord, poor CD music playback, questionable construction quality.
Bottom Line: For about , these headphones are a bit expensive considering the overall sound quality. In my opinion, they are great for gaming, and if that's all you need them for, go for it. Otherwise, I'd pay a little more for home theater quality headphones.