Surround sound is one element of a gaming setup that can make a huge difference to your performance. No matter if you're playing a racing game, spotting enemy flag runners, or annihilating the Zerg, those little audio direction cues really help save a tenth or two in either killing them, or at least being aware of your surroundings.
For a long while those of us who use headphones were limited either to a pseudo-surround effect via DSP, or re-mortgaging the house for a pukka pair of 5.1s.
Thankfully as technology continues its rapid advancement of endlessly giving us better, cheaper, products the world of genuine surround headphones is now within the reach of the masses. This neatly segues us to the Cyber Snipa Sonar 5.1 Championship Headset. Lengthy indeed in name, but thankfully at only £50, not too lengthy in price.
Let's grab a look at the specifications before we take a look at the headset itself.
The Sonar comes with 4 speakers in each ear, front, center and back, and also for you bass heads includes a subwoofer as well. USB connectivity ensures that it's compatible with almost anything you choose to plug it into. It also has an inline remote for controlling your audio experience.
|Operating System: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7|
|Connection port: USB 2.0|
|Minimum hard drive space: 5.5MB|
Time to have a look at the Sonar 5.1 Championship itself.
The Sonar comes in a substantial box and the packaging is very nice with clear text and product images. Very impressive.
Inside, rather than the vacuum-formed plastic we were expecting, we have a branded, padded, carry case. A great touch for a headset designed for taking with you.
With the Sonar out the box you can see the earcups "with wings" to accommodate the extra speakers. The silver, red and black are a nice combination. The headband is embossed with a giant Sonar logo.
If you decide not to use the enclosed carry case the Sonar does fold down to a fairly compact size for packing in a bag.
The in-line remote has four wheels, a toggle and a switch. The Sub, Center, Front and Rear are all controlled via volume wheels, the microphone is an off-on switch and, rather curiously, the volume is a toggle so you hold it one way to gradually increase the volume and, obviously, the other to lower it. Why this isn't just another wheel we're unsure.
Comfort is well catered for. The headband of the Sonar has a padded mesh to take the strain, although the headset is by no means heavy. The speakers are covered with a sponge-filled velour coating which is very soft against your ears. Nice.
The microphone is on a flexible bar so it can be positioned wherever you like and wont be bent by an injudicious knock.
Documentation is taken care of by a small manual and a mini-CD with the drivers on it. Speaking of which.
The Sonar 5.1 Championship comes with a very comprehensive driver package that can control everything from simplistic volume into some extreme digital effects.
As you can see the list is fulsome although most of the effects definitely stray into 'cool but unusable' territory as they have so much reverb and echo that it becomes a bit of a mess. The bottom few settings included gated effects that really are bizarre. Try once and never again. Unless you want Ramirez to sound like a Dalek.
Also included is the good old karaoke mode for fading out vocals which does a reasonable job. The pitch-shifter though is very good at doing exactly that without adjusting tempo. Finally it's possible to make Justin Beiber sound like a male.
Testing and Conclusion
The Cyber Snipa Sonar 5.1 Championships were used as our main headphones for a week so they had the full gamut of tasks to fulfil.
They responded admirably. The Sonar really gives a great sense of space and the surround works very well regardless of if you're playing Shift 2 or watching a film. The bass is certainly booming with the subwoofer working hard to rattle your fillings if you so desire. Everything sounds very clean without becoming muddy at all.
This isn't a particular surprise though. The design of both the headset itself and the inline remote is astonishingly similar to the Ozone Strato we reviewed a year ago. Even the software is identical. So really the Cyber Snipa 5.1 Championship is an OEM rebrand with an identical price to other similarly designed headsets. This is by no means a bad thing and is far more common than most of you guys are aware and if anything helps keep the prices down.
That aside there are a couple of things that stop the Sonar 5.1 Championship from achieving greatness.
Sure the sound quality is excellent. If all you care about is how something sounds then you can have no complaints. Build quality is a different matter. At £41.77 it really isnt badly priced for a proper surround headset. One thing worth mentioning is almost everything is plastic which, whilst it's sturdy enough, isn't exactly built for the rigours of LAN gaming or similar. Even the ear-pieces are lightweight which is great for comfort but, without any heft behind them, they don't quite sit snugly.
All in all it's a headset that's dominated by the sound quality at the expense of almost everything else. The inline remote is positioned so high on the cable (about 3ft from the headphones) that it'll either be in your lap or you'll be resting your wrist on it. With so much plastic everywhere it feels cheap and even if it lasts forever it doesn't inspire the confidence of similar priced units. The software might be comprehensive but very little of the settings are ones you'd ever live with on a day to day basis.
So the surround is excellent, comfort is great and it's got more bass than a fishing competition. At just over 40 quid (£41.77) its priced fairly competitively as well, the audio reproduction is very good though and worthy of our bronze award.
Thanks to Cyber Snipa for providing the Sonar 5.1 Championship for review. Discuss in our forums.