However, none of that has really been that interesting to me personally, I mean sure, they are pretty cool and if they somehow make my life easier / more convenient then thats a winner in my books, but am I particularly interested in them? No, not really.
That was, until I saw these:
I had no idea at the time what it was that I had accidentally stumbled upon, but wow, it looked amazing!
FPV (First Person View) quadcopters are a (relatively) new idea, but it’s an idea that’s taken the internet by storm and has caused a huge uptake of interest in the world of drones. Essentially, to make an FPV drone, you mount a camera right at the front of the drone and attach a transmitter:
Then you add a receiver built-into set of FPV goggles and voilà, you have a live-streaming video feed of what the drone can see, right in front of your eyes.
So after learning all about it, I decided that I wanted to have a go myself. Jumping into the world of multi-rotor building is like jumping into theoretical-physics with only some basic-level maths, it’s a minefield.
To build a basic quad (not even an FPV) from scratch you’ll need at the very least: a frame, flight controller board, battery, (at least) 4 motors, 4 ESCs, 4 props and a ton of cables, zip-ties, straps, etc. Then, for each of these parts there are a huge variety of different options, each with their own different flight characteristics, weights, etc.
So for my first attempt I thought I’d play it safe and go for a kit; essentially just a collection of off-the-shelf parts that someone else has put together, tried & tested and ensured that they all work well together. I decided to go for a Hurricane Mark 1 from RadioC as it was both affordable, repairable, had room to add FPV equipment and was the right size for racing.
So in the last post I went through the different types of headphones and headsets available on the market and came to the conclusion that for a audiophile gaming rig, I needed some audiophile-quality stereo headphones to go along with it.
Before I get too carried away with pretty shiny headphones, I think it’s best to go over some pretty important tech-jargon first; impedance. Impedance in it’s most simple form is the electrical resistance of the headphones. It is measured in ohms with low-impedance headphones generally falling in the range of 32ohms -> 80ohms and high-impedance headphones 80ohms upwards (600ohms is not uncommon). “But what does this mean?” I hear you ask… In short, the higher the level of impedance the more power the headphones need to be driven properly, so the more likely they are to require a headphone amplifier to get enough volume and/or to allow the true quality of the headphones to shine through. This is because most sound cards only offer a line-level output, which isn’t powerful enough to drive high-impedance headphones.
If you are interested in learning more about impedance and it’s effects, I’d recommend taking a look here.
Right, back to headphones… I’ve searched high and low for what users are recommending and that knowledge along with my own experiences so far, have allowed me to compile a list of recommended choices (I’ll add to this list over time). I’m going to separate out headphones that I have personal experience with, from the ones that I have investigated / researched as to meeting my own criteria for my gaming rig. First up are the one’s I have used myself:
£55~60 (although some places seem to think that they can get away with £150+)
100ohms when in “passive” mode, 300ohms in “active” mode.
At the £55 mark, these are an absolute steal. Compared to my Razer Carcharias gaming headset (which cost 1.5x this), the Goldring NS1000 simply blows it out of the water (pun intended, for those that know what a Carcharias actually is). Not to mention that they are amazingly comfortable; the ear pads are made of something that feels simply sublime, they are reasonably light and the headband doesn’t dig in at all. I personally don’t use the Active Noise Reduction (ANR) feature, but if you’re in a noisy environment then it could be an added bonus. Given a 5-Star rating by What Hi-Fi? in 2007, these really are a brilliant set of cans for someone making their first steps into audiophile-grade hardware. One thing to note is that they have a relatively high impedance level (as will most audiophile headphones), 100ohms in “passive” mode is still more than most un-amped sources can manage to drive properly. As such it’s worth getting a headphone amplifier to get the best out of these; whether that be a sound card with an amp built-in, an external headphone amp or a DAC/Amp combo.
The last thing is more of a warning: There have been some build-quality issues with what seems to be a previous “bad batch”, although recent purchases seem to be ok so far, when you get them make sure you give them a proper going-over before you bin the packaging!
Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO
80ohms or 250ohms (2 separate versions available)
If there’s one word that can describe these it’s this: BASS. Yup, these are bass demons. Having a closed-back design helps with bass reproduction and while the mid and treble isn’t as good at the AD900’s, it’s not awful by any means. Designed and built in Germany these are a set of headphones you can rely on, they are built to last, even if you decide to be reckless with them they sell separate spares for them so you’ll never need to bin them! Comfort-wise they are hold up very well; the earpieces are very soft and don’t squeeze your head above what’s necessary to keep them on, the headband is well padded too and the only complaint really is that you might end up with “hot-ear syndrome” as they are closed back they have a tendency to get quite warm! Brilliant for the type of gamer that want’s to “feel” every explosion, gunshot or photon torpedo, however the bass makes it harder to consistently determine directionality. Availability in two different impedance levels (80/250) allows users to choose a set that will be driven best by their set-up.
Now for the one’s that I’ve heard are good (from multiple generally reliable sources), or used lightly, but not to the extent that I’m happy to put my own personal stamp of approval on.
Obviously these are at quite a different price-point to the Goldring NS1000’s and as such they need to deliver a lot more. Most people seem to be in agreement that the mids and treble on this set of cans is hard to beat (without spending silly amounts), however the bass is a little on the weak side (most “open back” cans have a harder time to get punchy bass notes). As such it’s a good choice for a competitive gamer that wants to hear where everything is around them, without getting too distracted by overpowering explosions and gunfire sounds. Comfort-wise they fair very well; the headband adjusts when tension is applied so that there is never any pressure on the top of your head and the earpieces have only enough force applied to keep them on your head (rather than like a vice!). Also worth a mention is the fact that they are very low impedance, meaning that you should be able to drive them reasonably well with a standard headphone output (although I’d always recommend an amp!).
Another stunningly well made bit of kit here, this time from Denon. Having a closed back design these feel less “airy” than the AD900’s, however they do have a bit more bass impact; notice that I say a “bit” because generally speaking these are very well balanced between bass, mid and treble. They produce a sound that I think most people would describe as “refined”, not overly bass-heavy, but it’s there when you need it. Build quality might be a bit lacking however; they are made in China and have been known to suffer from the odd manufacturing defect (loose screws, etc). Comfort wise they are good, if a little “slippy”. Perhaps a good choice for a gamer that want’s to do a mix of bass-heavy gaming and music listening.
Ok, so hopefully now we’re all clued up about the options available to us when it comes to getting an audio signal out from our PCs (Part 1). Now I’m going to go off to the other side of the set-up; the headphones / headsets. I’m going to go over the 4 main types that I’ve encountered, then discuss the good and bad points of each.
Firstly let me explain that you will see me refer to headsets and headphones separately; for the purpose of this article headsets are headphones but with a mic attached (as standard).
3.5mm Stereo Headsets - These have two drivers (read: speakers), one in each ear and connect via an analogue 3.5mm connection. Some headsets that fall into this category are: Corsair HS1A, Razer Carcharias, Plantronics GameCom 367 and the SpeedLink Medusa NX. Obviously with these headsets only having 2 drivers they have to rely on some form of surround sound emulation to achieve a “5.1” effect. These headsets take the analogue signal straight from the 3.5mm jack and output it through the drivers; as such for surround sound emulation to work, it must be enabled on whichever device is providing the source signal (be that a sound card, or a dedicated DAC / Headphone Amp).
USB Stereo Headsets - These (like the 3.5mm variety) have two drivers, one in each ear. They connect to your PC via a USB connection. Some headsets that fall into this category are: Corsair HS1, Razer Megalodon, Logitech G35, SpeedLink Medusa NX 5.1 USB and the Plantronics GameCom 777 USB. Again, having only two speakers these headsets rely on surround sound emulation to achieve a “5.1” effect. The similarities end there however; as the headset is USB it effectively takes over the role of the sound card, performing as a DAC internally. Also, many of the headphones mentioned also include a toggle for a surround sound effect (hence why, for example, the G35 is listed as a 7.1 headset when in fact it only has 2 drivers). The downside to these headsets is that the “sound card” built into them isn’t normally of a very high quality and as it’s built in, there’s no way to upgrade it. Also, as the DAC is internal and not upgradeable, the headset is stuck with the version of surround emulation that it shipped with.
“True” 5.1 Headsets - These generally have 3 drivers in each ear, angled towards the users ear from the front, back and side of the headphone, they sometimes also have a vibration unit to emulate the effect of a subwoofer. They connect to the PC via three (or more) analogue 3.5mm jacks. Some headsets that fall into this category: Roccat Kaves and the SpeedLink Medusa NX 5.1 v2. What with these headsets having multiple drivers in each ear they do not need surround sound emulation to achieve a “5.1” effect. These headsets take the analogue signal straight from the three 3.5mm jacks (Front L/R, Rear L/R, Centre/Sub channels) from the sound card. As a result of this, the PC must have a sound card which supports 5.1 or 7.1 audio.
3.5mm Stereo Headphones - These are essentially identical in terms of usage to the 3.5mm headsets, except that an additional microphone will be required to utilize voice communications. There are simply too many stereo headphones available on the market to list, covering everyone’s tastes, requirements and price range.
So now that I’ve covered the basics of how each type works, I’m going to get rather opinionated now. Each and every person has their own tastes when it comes to clothes, cars, food and unfortunately, sound and music falls into this trap as well. Everything I say in this post from here on is subjective, so take it with a pinch of salt.
Firstly, lets start with the USB headsets. While I think that some of them might be very decent “gaming headsets” (G35 and Corsair HS1’s in particular) none of them fall into the “audiophile” category of sound quality (SQ) and performance. The DACs built-in to the headsets are generally OK at best (often there is background noise) and the surround sound emulation is normally as simple as on/off; you don’t get to customize it to your own personal tastes or upgrade it when new technologies come along (for a tech explanation of surround sound emulation, see below). For this reason, I believe that USB headsets have no place in an audiophile level gaming set-up. However they may be good for you if you are using a laptop or are on a limited budget and have no dedicated sound card.
Next up are the “true” 5.1 headsets. Having owned and used a set of Roccat Kaves (as one of my first headsets) I found them reasonable, IF paired with a good dedicated sound card. However, in terms of the “5.1” effect achieved by them, it wasn’t good. To set up hardware “5.1” headsets with your sound card you need to set it up as if it were outputting to a 5.1 set of speakers, think about that. The sound card creates the 5.1 analogue signals thinking it’s sending it to speakers a few feet away from the user, so now imagine strapping those speakers to the side of your head and you might get an idea of what the effect sounds like. The reason why the rear speakers in a 5.1 set-up sound like they are behind you is because… they are. If you move the “rear” speakers so they are three inches away from your ear drum, can you tell that it’s “behind you”? No. In addition to this, music is pretty much exclusively stereo, meaning that you only ever use 2 drivers in each ear (the one’s in “front” of you) making it sound really quite weird unless you enable stereo up-mixing (putting the stereo sound over all speakers). For this reason, they are out. I’d even find it hard to recommend these; the only situation being if you have a very limited budget and already have a sound card that doesn’t have CMSS-3D or Dolby Headphone.
Now it’s time for the stereo headsets, but before I start on them I think it’s worth going over some tech-wizardry. You’re probably thinking that because these headsets/headphones don’t have three drivers next to each ear they can’t do surround sound very well. Well, you’d be wrong! I’m sure all of you will have heard of Dolby at some point or other (if not why are you reading this!?), but most of you probably haven’t heard of Dolby Headphone (if you read it in Part 1 and Google’d it, that doesn’t count!). Dolby Headphone is a form of surround sound emulation, this means that it takes a source (preferably a real 5.1 / 7.1 source, eg. A game / movie) and converts it to stereo in such a way that the sound dynamics allow the user to be able to tell where the sound is coming from. Ok, so is it any good? Well, it’s not a simple answer. It depends on the implementation; for example the USB headsets which I discussed earlier offer no customization of the Dolby Headphone settings, which probably make it suitable for some people, but not others. However, if you get a sound card with Dolby Headphone support it will allow you to configure it just the way you want, ensuring that you get a great experience.
Right, back to the 3.5mm stereo headsets and headphones. I have owned a few of these in my time, but it wasn’t until I got a sound card with Dolby Headphone that I really saw “the light” as it were. Without Dolby Headphone stereo headsets aren’t great for gaming; you’re unable to hear what’s around you, as you’re only getting the left/right channels of sound. It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly “immersive”. However, when I tried Dolby Headphone with my Razer Carcharias in Battlefield Bad Company 2 the first time, it blew my mind. It really does make that much of a difference.
Some of you are probably thinking that no matter how good the emulation, you still wont be able to tell accurate positioning from a stereo headset. As proof, put a set of stereo headphones on, make sure your output is set to two-channel and listen to this. Now, the demo is labelled as Dolby Headphone although I don’t actually believe it really is (I think it’s a binaural recording), but in short, it doesn’t matter; you’re still listening to it via stereo headphones so it’s still showing what is possible.
EDIT: I’ve managed to find some pre-encoded Dolby Headphone demo’s over at BitTech here, while I don’t personally think they are as good as a game running in 7.1 with DH, they showcase the general idea of it all.
As a final note, when it come’s to stereo headsets vs. headphones, there are good and bad versions of both. But the best headset on the market is only on a par with the “reasonable” headphones in terms of sound quality (also generally comparatively-overpriced!). For this reason, when trying to create an “audiophile” level gaming set-up I’m going to rule out stereo headsets as well.
Having said that, I would happily recommend a headset to a fellow gamer, even one with a reasonable budget. The best headset I have tried so far is the Razer Carcharias, I’ve also heard nothing but good things about the Corsair HS1A so that’s probably worth a look too.
This quest of mine started when I decided to replace my existing headphones for my gaming PC, partly because I found my current set (Roccat Kaves) too heavy and uncomfortable, partly because I knew that there had to be somthing better available. I started off by looking around online in the usual places (Overclockers UK) and found that they had a vast selection of gaming headsets, all with seemingly different connectivity, styles, weights and prices. My head started to hurt.
There were headsets that had USB connections, a single 3.5mm connection, a full 3 x 3.5mm connections, stereo headphones, “hardware” 5.1 headphones, “virtual” 5.1 headphones, “virtual” 7.1 headphones, open-backed, closed-back, high-impedance, low-impedance… My head exploded.
After spending some time collecting the pieces of brain-matter from around my room I decided that I needed to make a better informed decision, so I decided to do some research. Here’s a summary of what I found:
Firstly, all sound produced by your games / music is digital (unless you’ve got a PCI record player!?) so at some point that digital signal needs to be processed and converted into an analogue signal. This needs to happen because speakers, and thus, the speakers (or “drivers”) in headphones are both entirely analogue devices, they don’t read 1s and 0s, they need a waveform.
Lets say that your game produces a digital “gunfire” sound; this then gets passed on to your sound card (assuming you have one, if not it’s probably passed to an on-board audio chip) to deal with, and at this point your sound card can do one of three things:
Process the digital signal into an analogue waveform and output it via the 3.5mm jacks
Leave the digital signal alone and output it can digitally over an optical/coax link
Encode the digital signal into another format (such as Dolby Digital) and output it digitally over the optical/coax
I imagine that the vast majority of PC gamers fall into category 1. Using this option means that your sound card is working as a DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter) which has some drawbacks; you are totally dependant on the quality of your sound card’s conversion for the quality of sound you get out from it. If you have a good sound card (such as a Creative X-Fi or Asus Xonar) then the conversion should be pretty good, but if you’re using an on-board audio chip the quality of the conversion could be awful. Even the good sound cards aren’t considered “great” because of the limitations they have to work with; being inside a metal box, filled with things that generate electrical signals, is inherently a very noisy place (electrically speaking), with a lot of EMI flying about.
Option 2 sounds like a reasonable one, until you factor in that unless audio is encoded in a major format (ie. Dolby Digital) the optical standard only allows 2-channel sound to be sent un-encoded through it. That means that all of the digital information that was meant for the side, rear, centre and bass speakers is effectively lost. Eak! Obviously this isn’t a very good set-up for gaming as you want to be able to hear what’s going on behind you and those ear-trembling bass notes.
Option 3 requires you to have a sound-card that is capable of encoding to a major format on-the-fly. Generally, this means that the sound card will need to be a higher end model. This option allows all of the digital channels to be output over the optical/coax connection.
However, both option 2 and 3 simply “pass-the-buck” as it were; the digital signal still needs to be converted, it’s just that the sound card isn’t the one that ends up doing it. This has some advantages and disadvantages, which I’ll come to later on in this series.