Surround sound headphones have been around for quite a while now. Hardware options with several drivers in each ear directed multiple sources of sound to the each ear but failed to sound like 5.1 or 7.1 speakers. Taking a new direction, Digital Sound Processing in software matured and with a better understanding of how we hear in a 3D space, gaming in surround sound over headphones became much more accurate.
Various brands brought their different software suites into the market with similar takes on the concept. With regular 2 channel headphones we hear left or right, with noises on one side being completely isolated from the other. We don’t hear like this naturally. Noises from one side bounce around the environment and into the opposite ear. This triangulation of sound is then deciphered by our brain to let us recognise the sound’s point of origin. In order for software emulation to work, it would need to calculate how much sound would need to be fed into the opposite ear cup as well as any distortion associated with it to differentiate forward from backward. The Razer ManO’War is their latest headset to utilise their 7.1 software emulation.
It comes in a wireless version but our review sample is the wired version that has no lighting effects and uses a 3.5mm headphone jack with a USB converter providing software calibration through Synapse 2.0. The USB converter translates the stereo signal into 7.1 surround passing it through to the headset. Technically, this means you can use any pair of headphones with a 3.5mm jack and use the software calibration to get surround sound. The software also controls which programs are running in 7.1 or 2.0 in their mixer tab. This is really confusing, the ManO’War uses software and the USB dongle for surround sound but Razer has a standalone Surround Sound software suite compatible with all Windows recognised playback devices. With this in mind the actual headset needs to be worth the price of entry.
The sound quality of the headset is fairly balanced but slightly skewed to the bass frequencies. It’s not bloated bass but it definitely feels more boomy than I’d like. Bass heads might prefer it but it translates into the lower mids sounding a little muffled like you’re hearing that frequency through a cushion. Treble is quite nice and clear with no sibilance. The software suite comes with a robust equalizer and you can play around with this to help balance the frequency range to your liking. Soundstage is pretty good with separation and distance being quite easy to recognise. The veil effect of the lower mids actually helps this a little bit. It seems like they’ve tuned these drivers for games where lower mids are noises coming from behind obstructions and in that regard, this muffled effect helps with immersion.
Build quality wise the headset could feel better. The cups themselves seem sturdy enough but the swivel hinges seem incredible loose and have a lot of wiggle play. Holding the headset in one hand and giving it a bit of a shake made the plastic sound like it was going to fall apart in my hands. Not something you want from a $200 headset and would be a little scary to throw this in a bag for a LAN. The mic retracts into the left ear cup and has the common flexible design. The cushioning is comfortable and the headband sits nicely once worn.
The ManO’War confuses me a little bit, at least this wired version. The wireless version probably makes more sense with this wired version being more of an afterthought to provide compatibility with XBOX Ones through the cable. The included USB converter is supposed to be a low latency 7.1 audio processor but it doesn’t save calibration on-board, requiring Razer Synapse to be installed and running in the background eating system resources which is counter intuitive to latency. If you have to use software and want the surround sound experience, Razer’s free to download Surround Sound software suite probably works with your current onboard audio device and regular headphones for a negligible increase in latency over Synapse.
Price: $205AUD RRP
Where to buy: Razer Webstore
Disclaimer: A review sample was provided by Razer | Respawn Ninja is owned by Mwave Australia, however we retain editorial control over reviews.