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One potential stumbling block for the Fatal1ty headset is its use of USB, as opposed to 3.5mm jack, for connectivity. For the majority of buyers, that's a good thing as the headset packs an in-line sound card which takes care of everything a dedicated card would otherwise be required for, such as virtual 5.1-channel and EAX effects. However, anyone already owning a dedicated sound card will doubtless be a bit miffed that it is bypassed when using the Fatal1ty headset.
Overall at the price point the Creative Fatal1ty headset is hitting, around £45 at time of publishing, it's hard to complain about the inclusion of what is, as we'll come to later, a pretty decent sound card. It's not like finding an alternative headset is difficult for those with dedicated sound cards.
On the subject of the non-requirement for a dedicated sound card, then, Creative deserves a great deal of credit for the driver and software package it provided with the Fatal1ty headset. Features such as the X-Fi Crystallizer, which adds (as best it can) detail into compressed audio, CMSS-3D, which offers virtual surround sound, and Creative ALchemy which enables reproduction of DirectSound effects (something that's no longer supported by DirectX 10). Not to mention supporting EAX effects in games which use them - many do.
Although not as good as a dedicated Creative sound card could produce, the Crystallizer still did a decent job of improving a selection of Napster tracks. Obviously as with all similar solutions there's a limit to how much better compressed music can be made to sound, but Creative's effort is among the best. Obviously the Fatal1ty headset isn't designed for listening to music, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it for that, but for occasional listening or background listening while playing a few rounds of Counter-Strike, its definitely good enough.
Gaming performance lives up to Creative's reputation. There's a decent amount of bass which is obviously great when a few grenades start flying around and helicopters are soaring overhead. The removable microphone lives up to its noise-cancelling pretensions too, with nary a complaint from several friends using both in-game chat in Left4Dead and firing up Windows Live Messenger voice chat, too.
CMSS-3D, too, is by far and away the best virtual surround system I've ever used. The result was far better than that achieved by the Saitek Cyborg. Creative's support for effects such as EAX and DirectSound allows its products to beat out the competition in this area. I had almost forgotten, having become used to stereo speakers, how tense Bioshock can be!
I still prefer using stereo headphones in stereo mode, and surround sound speakers for surround sound, but if you simply must have virtual surround effects from a headset then I can't think of a better alternative to the Fatal1ty. Without using a dedicated sound card of course, but that's beside the point.
Creative has a long reputation for producing great audio equipment and the Fatal1ty Gaming Headset HS-1000 doesn't let down that legacy. Thanks to Creative's excellent back-end support the Fatal1ty is definitely the only virtual surround sound headset worth considering.
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