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11 Feb 2012

[REVIEW] CORSAIR Vengeance 1300 Analog Gaming Headset

Here is my take on the new Vengeance 1300 from Corsair! Building on the success from their HS1 series, the Vengeance series from Corsair are based on a new, improved design that boasts 50mm drivers. The 1300 is the Analog version (with the 1500 being Digital) touted to come with audiophile grade sound for intense gaming!







































Product specifications:


·                     Headphones
·                                             Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
·                                             Impedance: 32 Ohms @ 1kHz
·                                             Dynamic Range: 95dB (A-weighted)
·                                             Drivers: 50mm
·                                             Cable Length: 3m
·                                             USB power consumption: 250mW
·                                            Connector: USB Type A

·                     Microphone
·                                             Type: Unidirectional noise-cancelling condenser with adjustable, rotating boom
·                                             Impedance: 2.2k Ohms
·                                             Frequency Response: 100Hz to 10kHz
·                                             Sensitivity: -44dB (+/-3dB)






FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND UNBOXING:








































Corsair knows how to make a statement; and their Vengeance headphones are no exception. The 1300 comes with a striking looking box with a side window that lets you have a glimpse of the headphone itself. 










































Once again, Corsair just delightfully surprised me with the strikingly simple unboxing process. Simply slide the cardboard holder out, remove a paper cover at the top, and then pull out the headphones from the holder. It was that idiot-proof and fuss-free.











BUILD QUALITY AND AESTHETIC:








































The Vengeance 1300 is definitely a looker; with a dark, matte finish with glossy accents and blue ring highlights around the earcups; it makes for a no-nonsense statement unlike its slightly showier big brother the Vengeance 1500.







































































































The build quality of the 1300 is great and by no means flimsy. A hard plastic frame provides the foundation of its structure for both the headbands and earcups. The headband is padded with foam, while the earcups are lined with foam encased in a leather finish. On the whole, it is comfortable to wear and I preferred the 1300’s smooth leather finish compared to the 1500’s fabric finish.

Make sure you adjust the headband height to the most comfortable fit to reduce the pressure on your head. The earcups completely surrounded my ears; albeit being a tight fit. This prevented the earcups from pressing directly on my ears and hence helps with extended usage. It is still recommended to take breaks in-between sessions though to let the area around your ears ‘breathe’ and relieve some pressure.






























The earcups are also rotatable by 90 degrees, allowing you to place them on a flat surface and let the earpad area to “air”.










































The microphone is sturdy yet slightly bendable, and also is able to swivel up to about 130 degrees from its upright storage position.










































The audio cord runs 2m long and also has an in-line volume and mic controller positioned sensibly from the 1300 termination point on the headphones. It’s generally easy to reach but not adjustable. The mic and headphone jacks are conveniently colour coded (pink is the mic, green is the headphone) and labeled. A cable management velco strap on the cable sweetens the package.






AUDIO TESTING (MUSIC):

Now, let me first make a disclaimer that audio quality and what music “should sound like” is very subjective. My advice which I will continue to give is that the only way you can make the best informed decision is if you actually listen to the headphones before making a final judgment for yourself. I can give you a rough idea of what to expect; but don’t take my word completely for it either.

Also, I currently use audio equipment costing WAY over the Vengeance 1300's price tag. My standards for music are hence going to be stricter than average, but I WILL factor in the fact that the 1300s cost only $100 odd. Again, don't take my word completely for it because I am pitting the 1300s against stuff WAY out of its league.


Unlike the Vengeance 1500, the 1300 is advertised as being suitable not only for gaming, but has audiophile quality as well (“Your sound card meets its match!”). Hence, I will be more detailed and stringent in reviewing the 1300’s ability to handle music tracks. Also, I will not be reviewing how the 1300s sounds like with my onboard sound card versus my current sound card for music; but suffice to say that there was a clear, distinct difference using my sound card versus the onboard sound card; so there may really be something special about the 1300 here and you certainly should not limit the 1300’s potential by sticking with onboard sound!





























I’m currently using the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6. It is a digital external USB sound card that has top of the line Cirrus Logic DA converters and uses Balanced ¼” inputs and outputs. (I bought an adapter so that I could plug the 1300’s 3.5mm jack into the ¼” headphone jack) So rest assured; my sound card is NOT going to be the weak link in the audio chain and the Vengeance 1300s will be pushed to its maximum ability.


Electronica: Australis – Between the Sun and the Moon. This track is upbeat, and full of a variety of electronic / synth instruments covering a full frequency spectrum and is very well mixed. A good audio set up should be able to reproduce the arrangements crystal clear without any instruments or percussion getting lost in translation. This is a hard track for me to be satisfied with reproduction quality of, and the 1300s came surprisingly close! It fell short of reproducing a tight bass sound and ‘air’ frequencies, resulting in a somewhat muddy sound and lacking in ‘brightness’.

Instrumental: The London Philharmonic Orchestra – Halo 3: One Final Effort. This is the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of Halo 3’s soundtrack from the album: The greatest video game music. The entire orchestral arrangement was clear; and the 1300s generally handled it very well. I did notice again however, a darker than usual overall sound. Violins did not sound as bright as they should, and in instances where multiple instruments were playing at the same time, the music tended to sound ‘laid back’.

Pop / Rock / RnB: I ended up listening to a variety of tracks from these genres because let me just say, the 1300s shocked me that I could not help but open up song after song to hear for myself if a particular track was a fluke or not. That was definitely not the case. Everything from my favourite testing track I use (Enrique Iglesias’ “Tired of being sorry”) to Coldplay’s “Paradise”, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”,  Sugar Ray’s “Someday”, Maroon 5’s “Misery”, Blink 182’s “Miss You”, various Glee renditions…  was surprisingly good for the price! I am quite delighted with what these headphones just costing a little over $100 (and you VERY well could end up getting it for under $100) could do with the right sound card to compliment them!

Here comes the nitpicking! The things which fell short of my expectations were: as previously mentioned; the ‘laid back’, slightly ‘muddy’ sound signature of the 1300s and also a slight lack of vocal ‘presence’ frequencies (~4Khz – 6Khz). Also, the more instruments and vocals are thrown into the mix, the more ‘messy’ it tended to sound due to the less than ideal sound stage that the 1300s have.

I also foresee many people who will complain about a “lack of bass”. I would like to point out there is certainly no lack of bass from the 1300. However, I believe it’s because we have become so accustomed to artificially boosted bass in almost every application you can think of… stores, clubs, movies, etc. such that the NORMAL level of bass becomes abnormal. If your preference for bass involves head thumping, then yes, you are going to be disappointed in the bass levels. However, the 1300s pretty much had a good level of bass for me. It was  - for the most part - audibly deep, rich, and tight. The only thing is the ‘muddiness’ which belongs to the bass frequency range.

Overall, the 1300s are certainly worthy of – at the VERY least – an entry level audiophile grade headphone title. Finally, do note that the 1300 headset costs a mere SGD$109; so don’t expect it to exceed the quality of comparable headphones around its price range by a quantum leap. The fact that it can easily best headphones costing the same or more than itself makes the 1300 a real value for money audiophile grade contender. You can also try burning in the headphones (run PINK noise thru the headphones for a couple of hours) to ensure that they sound their best.






AUDIO TESTING (GAMING):

Right. Now that we are done with music, let’s not forget its gaming performance because the Vengeance line IS a gaming-oriented brand! Unlike the Vengeance 1500, the Vengeance 1300 requires third party support from your sound card for virtual surround in games.

This is probably where the 1300 might fall short. I fired up Battlefield 3, and found that the 3D positioning / virtual surround was nowhere near as good as what I experienced with the Vengeance 1500; and because I did not have any other third party software to compliment it, any extra positioning audio had to follow what was built in to the Battlefield 3 game. I ended up switching back to the Vengeance 1500s after a while because it was really hard for me to concentrate on the game without a more accurate representation of positional audio feedback in the game.

Also, without any custom EQ settings, the Vengeance 1300 did not sound as immersive as the 1500, and this is probably an instance where a ‘flat’ response headphone / accurate headphones might not be the best way to go for gaming. You definitely want to colour certain 'magic' frequencies to give you that extra Oomph and suck you into the virtual world better! To the 1300’s credit, audio remained clear and accurate; but it just sounded “normal”, when instead you would probably want exaggerated bass and the like.

BUT WAIT. Now, notice above that I said “might fall short”. The reason for this is because most popular consumer sound cards (even onboard sound for that matter!) do feature software bundles that have 3D positional audio support, EQ, and the like, and the Vengeance 1300 would certainly be able to benefit from that. Corsair’s product page also specifically states that a sound card with a 3D Positional audio system is recommended. Unfortunately, my sound card does not come with such software and hence I was left wanting slightly more out of the headphones.

So, I convinced myself to take the 1300s on a spin with my motherboard’s onboard soundcard (Realtek ALC892). In a weird twist of things, I managed to get the 1300s to actually sound better than my own sound card; but that’s purely from the standpoint of GAME audio. The 3D positional audio was MUCH clearer now, and I tweaked the EQs to get more bass and punch.

This leaves me to draw a conclusion that the Vengeance 1300 can be quite a fussy contender. Yes, it CAN definitely sound excellent for $100+ headphones and yes it CAN definitely be truly immersive in games too with virtual 3D positioning support, but then now it really boils down to your SOUNDCARD to see if it can provide the adequate audio quality and necessary software support for the Vengeance 1300 to really shine in both music, movies, and games.






AUDIO TESTING (MICROPHONE):








































The 1300's mic quality is great. Its noise cancelling feature makes sure your voice is clear over any background ruckus present. Previously, I had been using a Microsoft HD5000’s built in microphone for voice communications, but it picked up ambient noise too easily and amplified volumes unnecessarily to the point that my teammates keep telling me to fix my mic. This however was completely not the case using the 1300.

Below are 2 sample audio clips; first with the 1300 mic, and the other with a Microsoft HD5000 Webcam’s mic, showcasing the difference in audio quality and noise cancellation:








CONCLUSION:


























The Vengeance 1300 offers gamers an affordable headphone solution that would still be worthy of being paired with their high end sound cards. This would be an excellent choice in such a situation where you already own a good quality sound card and are in the market for a pair of good headphones without extending your expenditure by too much. If, however you do not have a high end sound card or simply can’t afford the total cost of such a setup, then you would want to consider the Vengeance 1500 instead.

For a mere $109 (and this is SRP; it could very well cost you under $100!), you are getting a pair of headphones that can hold its own with high end sound cards that cost much more than the 1300 itself. Top that off with how much attention has been paid to the entire package - build quality, aesthetics, and the little extras here and there – and  the Vengeance 1300 is a damn good value! Don’t be fooled by the numeric naming of the 1300s either; it is certainly NOT the “little brother” of the 1500 and I would actually consider them to target two different markets altogether.


In summary,


BLITZKREIG:

-              Works right out of the box; no additional software drivers needed.
-              Great sound quality for the price (*Note that you need a good soundcard too!)
-              Great overall build quality
-              Pleasing aesthetics
-              Headband, Earcup foam and leather finish provide a comfortable feel and fit
-              Great mic quality with noise cancellation
-              Closed-back design allows high degree of noise isolation for uninterrupted music enjoyment / gaming sessions
-              Sensibly placed volume and mute control
-              Aggressively priced


KHOLODNAYA VOń≠N:

-              Somewhat ‘muddy’ sound with a laid back signature; and ‘presence’ frequency response is lower than I would like. Again, this is subjective and I am judging from headphones costing over a grand so listen for yourself if possible before passing final judgment!
-              Requires pairing with a high end sound card to sound its best
-              Requires software support from your sound card for 3D Positional audio and EQ
-              The headband does exert some amount of pressure; find the loosest fit you possibly can.
-              Volume and mute control could perhaps be made adjustable along the cords


OVERALL SCORE: 8.5/10. The Vengeance 1300s are a worthy contender if you are in the market for affordable yet high quality headphones and should be at the top of your shortlist! I probably am asking too much since I am coming from a high-end audiophile standpoint... But for a 10/10 score, if the 1300s had better sonic imaging with a brighter sound signature, and use higher quality foam for the headband, it would have definitely earned my top pick!


You can pick one up at Fuwell, Bell systems or Cybermind at an SRP of $109, and is distributed locally by Convergent Systems with a 2 year limited warranty!