The field of PC gaming-centric, surround-sound headsets is relatively narrow. There aren’t that many manufacturers out there in this space. There are a tiny fraction of recognizable name brands and then a handful of smaller names out there, all trying to grab a piece of the pie. The competition is fierce, too—let’s face it, PC gaming is a niche, surround-sound headsets an even smaller one.
One of those less recognizable brands is Cyber Snipa. Originally OEMs for other peripheral companies, they finally branched out and started their own R&D into PC gaming products. They now have a full line of PC-only gaming peripherals. You know the usual suspects: Gaming mice, headsets, mouse pads, keyboards, and other things.
Well, I got my hands on their flagship audio solution: The Cyber Snipa Sonar 5.1 Championship headset. Is it worth your hard-earned gaming cash?
The look and feel
First of all, the headset just looks sweet. They look futuristic and high-tech, while still remaining relatively small and unobtrusive. A lot of gaming headsets are ridicu-huge, and look extremely dorky. These are a lot smaller than other gaming headsets, especially considering the fact that they are 5.1 surround.
The ear cups are very comfortable; they use memory foam on the ears, while the headband is a very soft fiber with cushion underneath. The headset is also relatively light compared to other gaming headsets I’ve reviewed.
The build quality seems solid. While the parts are all plastic, I don’t feel like it’s going to break. The mic is on a flexible boom that stays wherever you put it. It’s not detachable, but you can easily bend it out of the way.
Each ear cup contains four speakers: three for position and one for subwoofer. The mic is noise-cancelling when drivers are installed so that it only picks up your voice and not surrounding room noise. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the Windows 7 drivers are still Beta, which is inexcusable considering how long Windows 7 has been out now. The driver didn’t feel sketchy, however; the audio control panel was simple enough to understand, and while it contains goofiness like Karaoke mode (which is supposed to cancel vocal tracks from music, but actually just kills the bass), everything was relatively self-explanatory. I’m not sure why audio peripheral manufacturers all put silly features into their control panels… I mean honestly, who really needs an “Olympic Stadium” audio preset that just makes everything echo like madness?
If you just stick to the basics in the control panel, everything works out swimmingly.
The only connection is USB—therefore it replaces your primary audio device in your computer. This means you have to either turn off your onboard audio in the BIOS or select the Cyber Snipa headset as your default audio device. Those who prefer to use their own audio cards are out of luck with this headset.
The in-line control box is pretty standard. It has mic mute, main volume, and individual volume wheels for each channel: Front, center, rear, and subwoofer.
The cord is nice and long, and comes with an attached velcro strap to manage it if you want to keep things neat.
Here’s where it gets tricky: writing about a sound experience is always annoyingly vague.
When listening to music, the headset sounds really, really good. To me. I will never claim to be an audiophile, so I cannot judge it’s ‘airy airyness-ness’ or ‘sublime angelic highs and Mephistophelean lows’. I will say that this is one of the better audio experiences I’ve had on a headset, especially a USB one.
However, let me throw in one major caveat: There were occasional pops and crackles in some of the silent spaces of the music. I did notice that it was during moments of disk activity. They were very faint, and not really annoying, but for some I’m sure anything less than perfection is unacceptable. I’m not one of those people, but there it is. I will mention again that the drivers I’m using are Beta drivers, so perhaps this will be addressed in a software update.
The bass is awesome. They give a deep, satisfying vibration without blowing out your eardrums.
Most gaming headset manufacturers don’t claim that their products are designed for music, but let’s face it: when you buy a gaming headset you’re buying an all-around audio solution for your system; you’re going to use it on Skype and to listen to music as well as playing games. General performance is indeed important. If perfect music audio is what you’re after, then these probably aren’t for you. Your mileage may vary. I think they sound pretty good with music. Not perfect, but pretty good.
Skype and other voice comms are fine. Nobody I talked to had any complaints at all about my voice quality.
To test the gaming performance, I fired up my old standby Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The Battlefield games have always been fantastic examples of sound design in PC gaming, and BF:BC2 is a prime example of a game that really pushes surround sound and makes it an important part of gameplay. Having a surround headset can actually give you an advantage in this game.
The game sounded freaking phenomenal. It totally came to life. Bullets thudded nearby with tense vibration, I got a little jumpier when enemies were firing on me, and the surround, while not perfect, works well enough that I could tell which direction enemies were firing from. Honestly, I’ve never heard perfect surround from any headset… There’s just not enough physical space to really differentiate. That said, these do the job admirably.
I’m always terribly skeptical when it comes to peripherals with brand names I don’t recognize. There are a lot of cheap manufacturers out there who are trying to break into the North American gaming market. You see lots of them at trade shows, and luckily most of them don’t make the cut. Therefore, when I receive a new peripheral like this, I’m always slightly annoyed. Do we really need another brand of gaming headset? Aren’t Logitech and Razer good enough?
Well, the consumers always win in a competitive marketplace. And hey, once in a while a no-name company comes up with something that’s actually worth your hard-earned spending cash. I believe Cyber Snipa is one of those companies—at least when it comes to this particular headset. This is their top-of-the-line entry, and it may be their only good product. I can’t really say for sure, since this is the first of their products I’ve ever encountered.
I have to say I’m impressed. I’m not easy to please, but these make the cut. I’m happy to award the Cyber Snipa Sonar 5.1 Championship surround headset our Icrontic Outstanding Product award. At $79.95 they’re not super cheap, but they are a lot less expensive than other, more recognizable, brands out there. They are available directly from Cyber Snipa as well as Amazon for $79.95.
Per FTC guidelines, we must disclose that Icrontic was compensated for this review: We get to keep the headset. Please see our full FTC disclosure for more information.