Headsets are a very difficult thing to buy. Unlike many other items of hardware they live in that special place reserved for those things that you really have to try to appreciate. Keyboards, Mice and monitors also really need to be used to get a true feel for them.
Unfortunately try-before-you-buy doesn't really apply to computer hardware. There certainly isn't a test drive option where you can sit in your local hardware emporium and play until you're bored before buying.
That's where Overclock3D comes in. Thanks to our policy of testing everything long and hard and only being honest, we're here to take that brow-furrowing away from you.
Recently we reviewed all four parts of the Roccat SDMS, and found them to be high quality products, well designed and well priced. This was after we'd reviewed their Kone mouse and found it also to be fantastic.
Roccat seem to be on something of a roll lately when it comes to high quality peripherals. Taking a look around their website you can see that they have a very holistic design principle with everything nicely matching. The Kave 5.1 Headset is no exception, following the charcoal grey/electric blue theme we're used to seeing.
Roccat Kave 5.1 Surround Headset
Popping along to the Roccat website and grabbing the technical specifications :
CENTER/FRONT/REAR DRIVER UNITS
|Max. SPL at 1KHz:||114±3dB|
|Max. input power:||100mW (30mW)|
|Drive diameter front:||40mm|
|Drive diameter rear: ||40mm|
VIBRATION DRIVER UNITS
|Frequency response:||20~100Hz ()|
|Max. input power:||1000mW|
|Sensitivity at 1KHz:||-36dB|
|Impedance: ||2.2KOhm +15%|
|Connection:||4 X 3.5mm jack plug|
|Cable length:||3,4m total (2,0m Remote > PC)|
|Between ear cups and remote||140cm|
|Between remote and splitter||180cm|
|Between splitter and PC||20cm|
Time to get a closer look at the Roccat Kave. Follow us to page two dear readers.
Roccat Kave First Look
Despite this not being an official part of the SDMS range the box apes the other Roccat boxes by being very sleek and modern. A large transparent panel allows you to get a good look at the Kave prior to purchase, or stare longingly at during the journey home. The back contains everything you expect to see, in all the languages you're likely to speak. As it just repeats the technical specifications we've given on page one let's move on.
The side of the box gives us a bullet point list of the major elements of the Kave 5.1 headset. This is particularly useful because the design is so good and so smooth that not all of them are easy to spot "at a glance".
Taking it out the box we get our first look at the Kave. We will be looking closer at it in a moment, so for now it's just nice to see a very good job done by Roccat of tucking everything out the way. This gives us a very clean view of the headset and 'Tip N Control' remote.
No we haven't accidentally thrown the headphones away and are going to review the packaging. Often once the hardware is removed the main job of the packaging, i.e keeping it all facing the front of the box, is over. However here Roccat have not only given us a well formed holder but then reinforced that with foam pads to ensure the Kave headset arrives at your desk in the best shape humanely possible. It's the little extra touches that really separate the good from the mind-blowingly great.
It's always difficult to take a picture of a headset as a whole without it looking like a hell of spaghetti. Here we're helped by a Velcro cable tie, and Roccat logo'd splitter near the jacks that ensure we don't have miles of cables. Rather here we have a single cable that splits in a quality fashion as late as it possible can. There definitely is plenty of cable here, enough that you wont struggle with routing unless your main tower is next door.
Finally before we take a good up close look, the documentation. This follows the standard Roccat mantra of having one exceptionally clear user manual that covers everything you could possibly want to know, and one mock report file that makes for interesting, if not slightly surreal, reading.
Roccat Kave Features
Firstly Roccat have taken into account the fact that not everyone wants to compromise their sound quality when taking their headsets to LAN parties or similar. Without needing to remove anything or flip any switched the earpieces fold inwards to compress the size of the headset to transportable dimensions.
The cans themselves are exceptionally well padded and covered in high grade leather. A mark of the quality that pervades throughout them is the high-class stitching. Effort put into these little details is very reassuring.
The headband is also very thick with a quality Roccat logo embossed into it. You can also see one of the three 40mm speakers that produce the surround.
No plastic here. The sizing band is made of very sturdy metal and has a very smooth action allowing for precise size control that wont slip at all once in place.
The microphone is both very flexible and also nice and thin. We've seen a lot of microphones that were so large they were almost distracting. However it still provides excellent quality both across Skype and other VOIP applications, as well as in game communications.
As you can see, even vertically it holds its shape without issue. For when you need to transport them, or should you just wish to separate the microphone for some reason, it comes off easily thanks to it's RF style jack.
Attention to detail extends even to the jack plugs. Have you seen such well looked-after jack plugs before? The sleeving is, although plastic, also very high quality and the plug covering is as good as we've come across.
Roccat call this a "Tip N Control", whereas it's a volume control and so much more. The Ring controls the volume of the entire headset, similar to any other volume you've come across. The centre of the ring is a large mute button. Very handy indeed as anyone who's struggled to quickly hit a tiny mute switch will attest.
If you want to make sure your discussion about what's for dinner isn't broadcast to the world then there is also a nice large Mic Mute button that, well, mutes your microphone. This is also easy to hit in a hurry, or in the dark. Kudos needs to go to Roccat for covering every little thing so well. When the microphone is muted the little clear ring near the end you can see above glows blue so you can tell at a glance why your team-mates aren't following your orders.
Finally if you lift the flap, the Tip part one assumes, you uncover a multitude of sliders that allow you to adjust the volumes of the Centre, Front, Rear and Sub channels respectively. This is an absolute boon and makes fast changes to the sound quality a cinch. Below that is the toggle that swaps between the game and movie modes respectively.
In design terms it's as solid and user-friendly as almost anything we've seen. Let's find out if the sound matches up.
Testing and Conclusion
Reviewing headsets is always enjoyable. Rather than spend ages replaying the same level or watching the same benchmark seemingly endlessly, we get a chance to watch some films, make our ears bleed with some music, and actually play games. It might seem small potatoes but when you spend month after month re-running the same bit of Crysis Warhead or driving around the same track, to get a chance to just sit and bash through something is a joy.
So what did we find out from the Roccat Kave?
Probably the most surprising thing was the actual surround. So often because of the, obviously, reduced airspace in a pair of headphones compared to a speaker setup it's nearly impossible to differentiate sound positioning. Anyone who has tried the Virtual Barbershop on Youtube will attest that a well recorded stereo setup can give equal sound direction as an average surround setup. However more and more games are finally catching up with films and giving proper surround. The Roccat Kave, with its separate speaker setup, handles these brilliantly.
Without a shadow of a doubt they give the most spacious surround sound this reviewer has ever heard. Everything from Sherlock Holmes to Up! came through with exceptional clarity and easy definition for our aural compass. Gaming in particular was a delight with the usual battery of OC3D titles, (Shift, Grid, Dirt 2, Crysis Warhead, Modern Warfare 2) being as good as we've heard them. As always our list of benchmark games is constantly scrutinised to find more suitable modern games to punish our hardware with and Battlefield Bad Company 2 shone to the point it's almost a cert to appear in future testing.
If you're looking for headphones for the surround, stop now because you've found them.
Now don't think for a moment that the brilliance of the surround is the be-all and end-all and the rest has been compromised to provide epic sound at such a low price.
Build quality is nothing short of spectacular. The Roccat Kave is finished in a lovely soft tactile matte black. The headband is made of very thick solid metal and gives a satisfyingly smooth slide when adjusting the size, without ever moving unintentionally. Everything about them screams quality. It's rare to find a collapsible headset that still feels utterly robust once "up".
Comfort-wise they are phenomenal. The ear-pieces are very soft and despite the Kave being sturdy and having a certain reassuring heft to them, they aren't heavy on the head and can be, and have been, worn for 16 hours straight without causing discomfort. They grip the head nicely so you haven't got sound bleed and all in all are supremely comfortable for all but the most pencil-necked of individuals.
The microphone is as easy to use, or put away, as any we've come across. It certainly wont move of its own accord which is a claim that can't be laid at the feet of many others we've tested. A small led at the end allows you to see at a glance if it's muted without taking your eyes off your target.
Finally the sound quality, away from the surround aspect, is unsurprisingly brilliant too. Volume is most certainly not an issue as they will go way louder than your humble reviewer finds remotely comfortable without once distorting. Yes here at OC3D we even go deaf so that you get the most honest reviews. Bass is tight and thumping without being muddy or blurred. Mids, and vocals especially, are crystal clear and even the highs are glassy without being harsh.
So if they are this brilliant they must be expensive huh? Well they retail around £70 which, for a headset that does surround sound, wonderful stereo reproduction, is easily portable, great remote volume control and has a clear, removable, microphone is spot on.
In short we've got absolutely nothing to criticise at all. Absolutely nothing. Even being really picky and anal we still can't find a fault.
Many thanks to Roccat for providing the Kave for todays review. Discuss in our forums.