|Min OS X: 10.4 Requires: USB Port|
Multichannel headphones have long been a subject of derision by audiophiles. This hasn't stopped a number of consumer electronics vendors from trying to capitalize on inexperienced gamers looking for cheap surround sound audio. Today, we're going to take a brief look at a representative model of these products: the Saitek Cyborg 5.1 headset.
Multichannel and Stereo ReproductionThe Cyborg 5.1 headset, as its name suggests, is a device containing the requisite 12 drivers (6 per ear) required to generate "true" 5.1 audio. I say "true," because the audio generated by this headset in 5.1 mode is far from accurate (or pleasant, for that matter). Due to the physically restrictive dimensions of the design, only the front left and front right drivers are large enough to reproduce audio with anything approaching the definition of the word, "fidelity." As the action onscreen shifts from the front of the sound stage toward the rear of the listener, tiny drivers roughly the size of Apple's iPod headphones take over. As a result, volume drops significantly, and because these drivers can't really reproduce audio below 300 Hz, most lower-midrange frequencies are filtered out. If you happen to be watching a movie while this transition occurs, the effect is simply distracting, but during gameplay, the result can be disastrous. Due to the difference in volume and pitch, judging distance to encounters occurring behind or to one side of the listener is practically impossible.
In stereo mode (selectable via the inline remote), the Cyborg 5.1 performs far better. With all 12 drivers working in concert, audio is bright and crisp, but stereo imaging is tad blurred--in other words, the distinction between left and right isn't particularly well-defined. For the price (about $50 through authorized channels), you can almost definitely do better with significantly cheaper stereo headset. If cooperative multiplayer isn't your thing, consider investing in a $70 pair of Grado SR-60s--an entry-level stereo unit regarded by most audiophiles as superb.
If the previous paragraphs haven't driven you away yet, you'll be interested to note that the strongest point of the Cyborg 5.1 is the input quality of its boom microphone. Although the build quality of the boom isn't particularly impressive, spoken word content is crisp and clear, and background noise is (as advertised) fairly-well suppressed. As the microphone cannot be rotated, Saitek was kind enough to make it the unit easily detachable and highly flexible.
Durability and ComfortDuring durability testing, which was no more involved than the process of putting on the headset and removing it (ad nauseam), the Cyborg's headband cleanly snapped at the interface between the black band at the the "C"-shaped clamp. I would have returned the unit to Saitek for a replacement, but the conditions of the company's two-year warranty stopped me cold. Among requiring customers to pay for shipping (both ways, apparently), the list of situations whereby the warranty was rendered null and void was so comprehensive that I eventually threw the review unit away and called it a day.
Comfort is severely sub-par. Due to the low-profile design, the inner surface of the headphones will compress even the smallest ears, and since Saitek did not adequately pad this region, the inner ribbing makes extended usage extremely painful. The padding on the earcups themselves is fairly hard, mitigated only with a layer of cheap felt.
Final ThoughtsThe Saitek Cyborg 5.1 headset is a poorly conceived and badly implemented attempt at a headset. Although it shares many of the usual niceties that a USB connection brings--easy configuration and a powered inline control set--audio quality is abysmal, and comfort is worse. Our advice: avoid this product, period.
Pros:• Surprisingly good microphone.
• Easy configuration in Mac OS X and Windows.
Cons:• Shockingly bad multichannel audio reproduction.
• Abysmal build quality.