Psyko Audio Labs 5.1 Headphones Review

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Surround sound headphones have never had a good reputation in my book, but Psyko Audio Labs has come up with a new, novel approach which could change this segment of the market for the better. Enter the Psyko 5.1 headphones and their analog sound pipes, which are supposed to properly emulate a real surround sound speaker system. Having a completely new approach to sound delivery intrigued me from the start, but how well can this actually work in practice? Let’s jump in and find out.

Packaging

The packaging always sets the tone for the experience and Psyko Audio Labs has done a good job in this aspect. The design and information on the outside of the box is inviting and “cool”. It grabs your eye and gives you the feeling that inside is a high quality product for gamers. On the inside, the packaging is clean and supportive to make sure nothing gets damaged. So, at first glance I was very excited to get these hooked up and on my head.

Front of the box

Front of the box

Back of the box

Back of the box

Individual Components

In addition to the headphones themselves, the box comes with some other parts. The other components include the microphone, amplifier, and power adapter. The amplifier and the headset are equipped with four 1/8″ plugs (front, rear, center/sub, mic) so you have a couple different options when connecting these to your computer. The typical and recommended connection is to plug the amp into the sound card, then plug the headset in to the amp. You can also plug speakers into the amp or plug the headset directly into the sound card if you’d like. I like having the modular microphone so it’s possible to remove it when not in use.

Power adapter and mic

Power adapter and mic

Opposite side of mic

Opposite side of mic

The Amplifier

The amplifier has a couple different features to improve the user experience. First, there are six LED lights on the front to let you know when the amp is powered on and when the individual speakers are active. The reasoning for this is to give visual feedback that the headphones are working properly. The flaw in the functionality of these lights is that their brightness relies on the volume of the sound. So if you have the sound turned down quiet you’ll barely notice them. Likewise if you have the sound turned up very high then they will almost all be lit constantly. The best range I found for having the lights actually be functional and informative was when I had the volume knob roughly between 50% and 75%.

Second, there is a bass level knob. This knob is marked “dir. / bass” which in practice means that if you want to notice any of the directionality, you need to have the bass turned mostly or completely off. Turning this knob towards the maximum bass direction muddies the sound quite a bit and quickly, so I never found myself turning this knob above 33% or so.

Last but not least are the standard volume knob along with the five plugs on the back. The plugs are input for power and mic along with outputs for the headset. There is nothing really fancy with any of these and all function as expected.

Amplifier

Amplifier

The mini-jack connectors

The mini-jack connectors

Front of the amp

Rear of the amp

The Headset

The build quality of the headset is very good.  They are very rugged and sturdy so there is absolutely no need to be overly cautious when handling these.  The headphones have a good amount of weight to them, too, which generally equates to high-quality components.  They are equipped with soft pads all around and swiveling ear pads so they are comfortable to wear for several hours at a time.  The pads are covered with a velvet-like cloth, so it is breathable and won’t cause excess sweating.

I did run in to a tiny issue with the sliding ear cups, which are the adjustment to fit different head sizes.  The headset seems to be designed for a smaller head so I had the ear cups extended to their maximum and they just barely fit me.  Most headphones I only need to make a small size adjustment, so people with large heads may find that these headphones won’t fit them at all.

Another interesting feature is the flip-out ear caps.  These are mostly useful to promote more air circulation to reduce the amount of sweat without having to take the headphones off.  They also allow outside sound in, which means you can hold a conversation with a person in the room without removing the headphones or having to wear them on one ear only.

Top of headband

Inside of headband

Right side of headphones

Right side of headset

Mic installed

Mic installed

The Technology

The main difference in the technology of the Psyko headphones is they try to use analog-means, hollow tubes, to deliver the 5.1 surround experience.  Psyko Audio Labs calls these “WaveGuides”, obviously because they guide the sound waves.  The speakers are moved out of the ear cups and to the top of the headband. They are then attached to two different tubes to direct the sound to the front or back of the ear cup.  The position of the speaker along the tube determines how much delay the sound receives.  So, physics is used to simulate listening to regular speakers in a room instead of a digital processor.  You can find more explanation on the Psyko Audio homepage.

image courtosey psykoaucio.com

Image Courtesy Psykoaudio.com

The Experience

The main target of these headphones is the hardcore first person shooter (FPS) crowd.  In tactical FPS games like CounterStrike Source, it is very important to see as well as hear everything around you.  Gamers must rely on their hearing a lot to tell when there is an enemy around them and especially in what direction that enemy is.  In other games, the location of sound isn’t as important to a gamers success but having an immersive surround sound experience certainly adds to the realism and enjoyment of the game.  To get a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of these headphones, I tested them while playing several different styles of games.

Test System

  • Intel Core2Duo E8400
  • Asus P5Q
  • Enhance 500W PSU
  • XFX Geforce GTS 250
  • Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
  • Western Digital 74GB Raptor HDD
  • Windows 7 x64 Ultimate

Games

  • Counter-Strike: Source
  • Portal
  • Alien Swarm
  • Mass Effect 2
  • World of Warcraft
  • Dragon Age: Origins
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online
  • Need For Speed World

When I was playing the games, I tried my best to really focus on the sound and where it was coming from.  The easiest way to make sure there actually was directionality was in games like Portal or World of Warcraft where I could find a stationary object that was making noise, then spin around in circles near it or run past it.  It was fairly easy to experience the surround sound in Need for Speed World as I was zooming past things.

Counter-Strike:Source was a little more difficult to do a fixed test, but it was easiest to notice the surround effects when stationary and concentrating hard to hear other players footsteps.  I did notice that if there were several sounds coming from different directions, they would all get lost and run together.  This was the biggest qualm I had with these headphones and I think it’s one major area where they fall short of standard speakers.

They’re not marketed as music headphones, and for good reason.  The sound quality isn’t going to knock your socks off.  They can certainly be used but if you appreciate music at all, then you’ll sorely be let down.

Conclusion

So, in short, these headphones did what they were supposed to.  They were comfortable and they performed well.  I could actually distinguish a true 5.1 surround sound experience with them.  However, I’m not trading in my speakers for these headphones any time soon.  They can handle quieter situations the best, when there aren’t too many sounds interfering with each other.   They are certainly comfortable as I had no problem wearing them for hours on end.  Don’t buy these for listening to music and if you have a larger head, try them on first to make sure the ear cups can adjust to fit you properly.  Overall, I’d say these are pretty decent headphones and I wouldn’t have a problem recommending them to someone looking for a quality surround sound gaming headset.

splat

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Discussion
  1. If these were provided by overclockers, I wanna crack at 'em. :)
    They really do look like something that might be close to achieving what it sets out to do. And it solves a lot of problems. First and foremost, I can't help but believe that 5.1 optimized content is probably more lovingly cared for in the gaming world. I wish there was a good way to test that, but...
    Not really a good way at all. BUT, by having a 5.1 source, you might be able to come up with a good way to do it. One of the problems I do see with this is having plastic tubes channeling the sound. Did it sound tinny at all? I'm sure the mids weren't anywhere near as nice as a well placed driver.. but I suppose as long as directionality and distancing are accurate it serves it's purpose, giving an edge to gamers.
    it's probably a great deal better than anything razer ever put out.
    In regards to the review, as far as sound quality go, compering to say.. Razer Megalodon or Zalman's 5.1 headset.. is it on the same level?
    I ask as you only made a reference compering to speakers and good quality speakers will obviously beat any headset, especially a headset with the focus on surround rather then sound quality, so, are they sub-average, decent, alright or good for a headset ?
    you don't buy these for sound quality, as i said in the review. if you want a close to speaker 5.1 surround experience, then these are good.
    splat
    you don't buy these for sound quality, as i said in the review. if you want a close to speaker 5.1 surround experience, then these are good.

    I'll try rephrase my question:
    If my focus is FPS gaming, and up to this day I was using a Zalman 5.1 headset from 2005 combined with Marantz 2230B receiver from 1977(!) in stereo mod (I have placed two Y adapters on my Zalman's 3*3.5 cables and converted the 5.1 headset to a stereo headset) and I was damning this as "good" sound quality.
    (I could bypass the receiver and use the headset as 5.1 but the sound quality with the receiver is much better so I forfeited the surround)
    And now I am looking to update my sound system,
    What am I better of with, Psyko headset or say.. Roccat Kave headset? is the Roccat sound quality so much better that in your opnion (and by your taste) you would recommend them over the Psyko headset? (or hell, is there a stereo headset that is so much better in quality then the Psyko\Roccat Kave that I should be going for it instead?)
    I understand that it is a metter of choice and personal preference,(and I cant really use speakers in my gaming area), so if I have to go headset, and I am coming from relatively poor sound quality as is, and I find real surround an "cool perk" but I also care about quality..
    How would you go about it? (+is placing a receiver between your headset and computer really improves the quality or is it just so when your sound card is of the lowest quality )
    P.S.
    Slightly irrlevent but about my gaming system, I started updating my gaming system short while a go, and I am 3/4 done:
    First I replaced my P4\GF7600\2GBram with a i7\Ati5870\4GBram, and my Logitech MX 500 with G500.
    Second thing I did was replace my 15" LCD with Dell's U2410.
    3rd was add Xbox 360slim.
    And now its all about the sound as the end of this update session.
    SamXLR
    I'll try rephrase my question:
    If my focus is FPS gaming, and up to this day I was using a Zalman 5.1 headset from 2005 combined with Marantz 2230B receiver from 1977(!) in stereo mod (I have placed two Y adapters on my Zalman's 3*3.5 cables and converted the 5.1 headset to a stereo headset) and I was damning this as "good" sound quality.
    (I could bypass the receiver and use the headset as 5.1 but the sound quality with the receiver is much better so I forfeited the surround)
    And now I am looking to update my sound system,
    What am I better of with, Psyko headset or say.. Roccat Kave headset? is the Roccat sound quality so much better that in your opnion (and by your taste) you would recommend them over the Psyko headset? (or hell, is there a stereo headset that is so much better in quality then the Psyko\Roccat Kave that I should be going for it instead?)
    I understand that it is a metter of choice and personal preference,(and I cant really use speakers in my gaming area), so if I have to go headset, and I am coming from relatively poor sound quality as is, and I find real surround an "cool perk" but I also care about quality..
    How would you go about it? (+is placing a receiver between your headset and computer really improves the quality or is it just so when your sound card is of the lowest quality )
    P.S.
    Slightly irrlevent but about my gaming system, I started updating my gaming system short while a go, and I am 3/4 done:
    First I replaced my P4\GF7600\2GBram with a i7\Ati5870\4GBram, and my Logitech MX 500 with G500.
    Second thing I did was replace my 15" LCD with Dell's U2410.
    3rd was add Xbox 360slim.
    And now its all about the sound as the end of this update session.

    So you're using garbage headsets and not using the one gimmick anybody SHOULD be buying them for? Just buy some real headphones and leave the gamer trash alone. ATH-AD700 or HD555 destroy all gaming headsets out there.
    the bottom line is if you want good sound quality, get a stereo headset. If you want good gaming performance then try a 5.1 set. Best thing to do is try them out yourself. I've never reviewed any other 5.1 headsets so I can't comment on them, but these do give a close to real 5.1 surround experience...good enough to hear footsteps, whispers, and bullets.
    Thanks
    So basically: http://www.overclockers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=383298 :D (AKA 2010's RTFM which is RTFS (read the ****ing sticky :D))
    OK so I have to make up my mind on 5.1 vs quality, at any case my choices are(According the the sticky):
    Stereo 100$-200$:
    Audio-Technica A900 + Some amp (suggestions? )
    Stereo 200$-500$:
    Sennheiser HD650 + Some amp (suggestions? )
    Sony MDR SA5000 + Some amp (suggestions? )
    5.1 300$: - absolute 5.1
    Psyko Audio Labs 5.1 (is amp necessary here?)
    5.1 130$: better quality in expense of reality in terms of surround
    Roccat Kave (is amp necessary here?)
    I wonder how inline.. or better, how much far bhinde the Roccat Kave are in terms of quality compring to the Audio-Technica A900
    This:
    Aynjell
    Just buy some real headphones and leave the gamer trash alone. ATH-AD700 or HD555 destroy all gaming headsets out there.

    Makes it sound as if the A900 are really far behind in quality, and there for the Psyko are simply trash to any thing BUT footsteps hearing, my standards aren't to high at the moment, but you know how it is with standards, they only go up, so I'm thinking that if I'll never hear any of the stereo headsets I mentioned above then I'll be real happy with the Psyko, but that's like being a person in a 3rd world country that seas a CRT TV for the first time, yeah, he is happy but that doesn't mean he wouldn't enjoy hi-def LCD more....
    Really undecided here, back when I was looking for new display I had several options, all ware at the 300$-400$ usd range some offered good view quality and some had the 'gamer' stats (be it input lag, response time and so on), I was not able to chose for a long while... and then I found Dell's U2410 that one had both the quality (hell even suprrior to any thing at the 400$ range) and the 'gamer stats' the only down side was the price: 200$ MORE then the rest .. but it was the obvius choice, so I just saved a litle bit more and got that one.
    I just wish there was a 5.1 headset that utilized the materials of the HD555\ATH-AD700\SA5000 :-\
    Any suggestions will be welcome..
    Oh and, as I cant find in the sticky, can you guys recommend an AMP for the listed headphones? (one for the100$-200$ range headphones and one for the 200-500$ range headphones)
    SamXLR
    Aynjell, just out of curiosity what would you consider as a good amp for the A900?

    Audio-GD FUN, Little Dot I+, headroom bithead/airhead. There are quite a few, but what you'll probably want is a hybrid or solid state amp. Something that can deliver gobs of current. The 3 examples given are very cheap. I personally prefer the audio-gd fun route.
    You get a high performance dac, a high performance amp, and a customizable setup to boot for under 300$. I might be getting myself one also. I think it'd be a good upgrade for me from my I+. The I+ however is only 150$.
    The Fun version b can be had for 205 + 55$ shipping. At 260$ it's probably the best value in audio right now.
    This set is fragile and has quite a few problems. I would personally not go this route. I'm currently using a Sennheiser RS 180 wireless, and I'm more than happy with it. Also got a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 990 cans which go very nicely with my Essence STX. I would not go USB headphones route again, had a pair of Creative phones (surround stuff and what not), and it's not worthed imo
    Thank to all that replayed so far!
    I consider making a new thread but for now I'll keep this here
    Done loads (6+ hours) of reading here and on Head-Fi and googled many names of AMPs\Headsets.
    Here is what I decided\came to understand:
    1) I am Definitely getting a X-Fi sound card.
    2) I am Definitely getting new headset.
    3) A 5.1\7.1\USB headset is not an option.
    4) Once I'll figure out which headset I am getting I'll find out which
    SolidState AMP to get.
    And here is the follow up:
    Lesson 3(from the above list)'s reasons are quality, and that's the direct reasoning for Lesson 2 (Got 5.1 headset at the moment) as well as Lesson 1 as CMSS-3D (and its alternatives) is just my cap of tea for dealing with pin point footstep hearing.
    Q) Is there any place I can read about what X-Fi card is for the right X-Fi card for me? (Thinking the Fatal1ty edition at the moment ).
    In regards to headset, (The big question right now), to tell you the trough, I am lost right now, for every good argument one make, the other bash it to oblivion.
    Was reading about how the A900 stage is misleading and how its little sister the A700 stage is perfect, only to read that its lite on bass and lacks here and there.. then I was reading about the DT880 and how great it is and shortly after several individuals wrote how they had that per, sold it, and bought the A700, and this goes on and on in regards to just about ANY headset :rofl: (<-- this is me gone insane after just six hours! :p)
    So, I am going stereo over 5.1 for quality, I am looking forward being able to pinpoint footsteps in FPS games thanks to X-Fi's CMSS-3D, lite bass is OK for me as long is its .. "lite" as in not "next to none" and I have no longer any idea which headsets are even my options, would greatly appreciate help at this point :)
    SamXLR
    Thank to all that replayed so far!
    I consider making a new thread but for now I'll keep this here
    Done loads (6+ hours) of reading here and on Head-Fi and googled many names of AMPs\Headsets.
    Here is what I decided\came to understand:
    1) I am Definitely getting a X-Fi sound card.
    2) I am Definitely getting new headset.
    3) A 5.1\7.1\USB headset is not an option.
    4) Once I'll figure out which headset I am getting I'll find out which
    SolidState AMP to get.
    And here is the follow up:
    Lesson 3(from the above list)'s reasons are quality, and that's the direct reasoning for Lesson 2 (Got 5.1 headset at the moment) as well as Lesson 1 as CMSS-3D (and its alternatives) is just my cap of tea for dealing with pin point footstep hearing.
    Q) Is there any place I can read about what X-Fi card is for the right X-Fi card for me? (Thinking the Fatal1ty edition at the moment ).
    In regards to headset, (The big question right now), to tell you the trough, I am lost right now, for every good argument one make, the other bash it to oblivion.
    Was reading about how the A900 stage is misleading and how its little sister the A700 stage is perfect, only to read that its lite on bass and lacks here and there.. then I was reading about the DT880 and how great it is and shortly after several individuals wrote how they had that per, sold it, and bought the A700, and this goes on and on in regards to just about ANY headset :rofl: (<-- this is me gone insane after just six hours! :p)
    So, I am going stereo over 5.1 for quality, I am looking forward being able to pinpoint footsteps in FPS games thanks to X-Fi's CMSS-3D, lite bass is OK for me as long is its .. "lite" as in not "next to none" and I have no longer any idea which headsets are even my options, would greatly appreciate help at this point :)

    For gaming you have 2 options:
    Sennheiser HD555 with the HD595 mod (Yes, once done they sound alike to the 595), or the Audio Technica ATH-AD700. I personally found the Shure SRH840 to beat them, but at what cost? Twice the price?
    I personally think the HD555 with the 595 mod is the best value around right now.
    http://slickdeals.net/forums/showthread.php?threadid=2239817
    My buddy with both HD555 and ATH is actually listening to HD555 more than ATH because it just sounds smoother and more natural. It's just the right balance, plus it competes in the sound stage world. HD555 more for music, ATh's if all you do is game.
    Thanks!
    Going to a store this Monday to listen to the HD555 and SRH840 .. and I'm bringing my 33years old 20gk receiver and desktop computer.. just to be sure (called them and they let me, great store :D) yes, I am that serious =p
    They also have the the AD700 so I'll test them out just to be sure.
    Also, for some reason the SRH840 cost about the same as the others .. no idea why but =p I wont be asking that one when I'm there :D
    Thanks a lot!
    And Conumdrum, wired =p.
    EDIT:
    I figured out why they all cost almost the same, compering to stores in EU\US.. they are all over priced .. by much >_< I think that I'll go to the store then fake a "cold feet" and order from a store in EU over the internet lol :D
    SamXLR
    Thanks!
    Going to a store this Monday to listen to the HD555 and SRH840 .. and I'm bringing my 33years old 20gk receiver and desktop computer.. just to be sure (called them and they let me, great store :D) yes, I am that serious =p
    They also have the the AD700 so I'll test them out just to be sure.
    Also, for some reason the SRH840 cost about the same as the others .. no idea why but =p I wont be asking that one when I'm there :D
    Thanks a lot!
    And Conumdrum, wired =p.
    EDIT:
    I figured out why they all cost almost the same, compering to stores in EU\US.. they are all over priced .. by much >_< I think that I'll go to the store then fake a "cold feet" and order from a store in EU over the internet lol :D

    The HD555 is 75, the ATH-AD700 is 85, and the SRH840 is usually 160$ at best.
    Yes, I know.
    Just for reference:
    hd555 - 190usd
    hd595 - 324sd
    ATH-AD700 - 300usd
    SRH840 - 260usd
    Beyerdynamic DT880 - 432usd (This usually ends up in gaming discussion, and due to price (jaw drop factor) I just felt it was worth mentioning)
    And to think that the overpriced Psyko cost 300usd lol, its not available here .. but if it was, ya, 1k usd easy.
    And just to make it even more clear, over night shipment from EU to here cost about 15$ usd for every KG....
    There is an 15% import tax on any electric device that cost more then 50$ usd.
    (There is also 100$ (!!!) tax on every car\bike, but that's irreverent)
    (And there's also .. 50% tax on our paycheck (well, might change if you have lower then 2k usd\month then much less, and if you are above 5k usd\month then much more and WAY more if you make more then 20k\month)
    The general public is wealthy and retarded.. and that's what you get.
    Insane ha? well, not when you consider the fact that we are just 5mlion (at least tax payers) and we are smaller then new-york, but we have world top #5 army, as well as a police, fire dept, air ports, ships, and every thing else you have in a country .. and we are smaller then new-york in size and population... try see if new-york can run an army, let alone the rest of the stuff and not tax like this..
    So yeah, if you haven't guessed it already I am from Israel, we have not just Internet but 100mbit up\down speed internet, its not just Camels here, but some things (like Tax) are harsh and some other things (general stupidity of the public) are just plain .. stupid.
    So yeah, bought my laptop and desktop online from USA, bought my Xbox from EU (Pal vs NTSC thing..) bought the Xbox's controllers from USA.. bought games from EU (pal thing..) HELL I even bought my saucony shoes from USA (after first trying them out in a local store =p) (also just to .. show off also bought my GT Fury online)
    The MO is simple: if its over priced, you buy else ware, if the shipment cost sucks you find a forum and get many people to buy together and split shipment
    I just pick up the psyko 5.1 still using my stock 5.1 audio on the Asus Crosshair 4 formula, and for the games that use 5.1 audio they are great, you can really tell where the gunfire is coming from foot step and what have you. I can only say good things so far. I bought them at www.canadacomputers.com on the website they where 249 but in the orleans store in ottawa the price was 199.99, so I was very happy to see that. The down side is wires and not two long but works for my set up, and the warranty is a bit short only one year would have like to see a 5 year.