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We all love surround sound. Unless you're severely aurally challenged, having at least 5.1 sound will make a huge difference in movies and games; I'll never forget the first time I heard, rather than saw, a creature skittering around me in the PC-game version of The Thing. However, awesome as it might be to have five large speakers and a giant sub-woofer blasting away, there are several considerations that make this impractical for many.
First there is obviously cost, as a decent 5.1 setup doesn't tend to come cheap. Then there is space: in order to create a plausible sound-stage, you need a minimum size room. Another concern, especially for owners of older notebooks, is that they might not have more than stereo out. The most common one is probably people living in the same house and neighbours, who selfishly don't appreciate you rumbling the walls with explosions at three in the morning.
Well, headsets are an obvious solution, and today we're looking at a model that might just have all the answers: the Saitek Cyborg 5.1 Gaming Headset. Using a headset lets you experience your multimedia at any volume you want, and wired 5.1 models tend to be relatively affordable. Saitek also caters for people who don't have surround sound outputs on their PC/notebook, with the common trick of integrating a USB sound card. Basically, any machine that has USB 2.0 running XP or Vista will be turned into a fully 5.1-capable device - at least as far as the headphones are concerned.
There are only two immediately obvious downsides with this Cyborg headset, however: there is no provision to hook it up to consoles with anything but stereo, and as it lacks rumble/vibration, you won't 'feel' explosions and thumps in the same way as you would with a proper sub.
Some people remain unconvinced by headphone rumble, and I can see it being a personal taste, but most of its detractors haven't tried it on a good set. Owning the Tritton AX360, a top-end Dolby-certified 5.1 headset with its own dedicated hardware decoder box, I can confirm that - if done properly - rumble makes a lot of difference. Oddly enough, Saitek seems to think so too, as its low-end stereo GH20 Vibration Headset sports it. It seems a pity that the company haven't included this feature on the 5.1 model for those who want it; after all, if you don't like it you can just turn it off. It seems unlikely that it was excluded just to keep the price down, since at £54.80 the Cyborgs are more than twice the price of models offering comparable specifications.
The package is fairly basic: apart from the headset itself, with its detachable noise-cancelling microphone, you get a driver CD, multilingual user-manual and case. The user manual looks and feels cheap, but is clear and not prone to the hideous 'Engrish' you often encounter.
The included hard case comes in two halves which require assembly through the simple process of zipping the two pieces together. It feels kind of cheap and can't take much pressure, but is one hell of a sight better than nothing. It does look the part with a textured nylon outside and red felt-covered moulded-cardboard inside. Also, it will protect your headphones against scrapes and scratches, which is important considering their glossy piano-black finish.
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