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Cooler Master Storm Sirus 5.1 Headset Review

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AkG

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At this year’s CeBIT the Cooler Master booth had many surprises in store for the competition, one of which was the latest edition to the “Storm” line: a 5.1 headset dubbed the Sirus. The Storm line is geared towards the professional gaming market and has been defined by its bold, innovative and above all else great designs. This mantra carries over into this new Sirus since it isn’t your typical “5.1” headset that creates a virtual 5.1 audio space using stereo speakers and some audio trickery. Rather, it has multiple speakers in each ear cup which are positioned to create a true directional experience. The Sirius also bucks the trend set by its competitors by including both Analog and Digital connectivity options as standard while its USB DAC has some pretty nifty advanced features built right into it.

For this pre-launch review, Cooler Master has given us a pre-release sample of the Sirus to play with. Normally, we wouldn’t mention this is because the software provided is currently in its beta form of any software-related issues could be fixed in the final release.

Upon first glance the CM Storm Sirus may look unique but placing multiple speakers per ear-cup is not exactly a new idea. To be honest, there are quite a few competitors out there who have been doing just that but while there are some that actually do a decent job at creating a surround sound stage, there are many that miss the mark. That’s why for the most part these headsets make up a dreary armpit of the marketplace filled with bland, boring and muddy “true 5.1” products.

Does the Storm Sirus have what it takes to be one of the few exceptions in the 5.1 headset market? With an MSPR of $129.99 this is certainly not an inexpensive gaming peripheral so it really needs to hit the mark in order to overcome some of the more entrenched competition.


 
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AkG

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Initial Impressions

Initial Impressions



Since this is a pre-release sample and thus came in nothing more a white cardboard box we cannot really comment on what the final packaging will look like nor how well it will protect the Sirius. With that being said, the picture above shows what the final version of the packaging should look like.


Upon first glance the Cooler Master Sirus headset looks much like Logitech’s G930 with a relatively boxy ear cup design which is backed up with a good amount of foam padding, an ultra wide headband and a thick black adjustable mic. The predominantly silver colour scheme with silver highlights gives it a much more distinctive look than the G930 though and the finishing texture has an almost rubberized feel to it which should significantly improve durability.

After slipping them on for the first time the differences between the Sirus and Logitech’s G930 become apparent. While the G930 is -in a utilitarian way- a good looking headset, it can’t really be deemed overly comfortable. Meanwhile, the Cooler Master Sirus gaming headset is extremely comfortable with padding in all the right places.


What makes this headset so comfortable is the fact that the default ear-cup covering is cloth instead of the cheap vinyl which most of the competition uses. If you prefer additional noise cancellation abilities, Cooler Master has thoughtfully included a pair of easily installed leatherette (aka vinyl) replacements which in testing noticeably decreased ambient noise levels.


Another reason why the Sirus headset is so darn comfortable is the ear cups themselves are large enough to easily cover nearly any ear size. As with cloth covering, we prefer cups which fully encompass the ear rather than laying flat on top of the ear’s cartilage. After 8 hours or more at a LAN event you too will thank Cooler Master’s engineers for this feature.

When plugged into your system's USB port, the logo on the sides of the ear-cup lights up in an nice – yet not overpowering – red glow.


With all that being said, these are not quite as comfortable as the Senneheiser HD595s for one simple reason: we feel the tensioning arm is a tad too aggressive. To be blunt, the Sirus does put more pressure on your skull than is needed to keep the ear cups in place. This is pretty common and simply over-expanding them for a while will reduce this pressure (be careful not to break them if you try this). We had to do the same thing with our HD555s and once we had done this with the Storm Sirus it became almost like wearing a second skin: cozy, comfortable and not noticeable in the least.


Once uncovered, Cooler Master’s 5.1 design comes into sharp focus. They have opted for three 30mm drivers in a triangular configuration with the front and back units forming the lower corners of the triangle and the center “speaker” being higher and centrally located. Below this triangle of 30mm drives lies and additional 40mm driver for lower range response.

The upside to using smaller 30 and 40mm drivers is their lower weight when compared to their larger counterparts but they have the potential to be less precise at higher decibel ratings. With all other factors being equal, the rule of thumb is that a 40mm driver will start to distort before a 50mm will, and a 30mm will start to distort the output before a 40mm. We’ll see if this is the case with the Cooler Master Sirus headset later in the review.


As mentioned previously, the Sirus has a large adjustable mic arm which strongly reminds us of the one Logitech uses on the G930. As far as mics go it is fairly typical of modern headsets as some ambient noise will leak in and over the channel but for the most part it does a very reasonable job of things.

In our experience this mic just isn’t as good as the one found on SteelSeries’ Siberia V2 and while it is adjustable it doesn’t retract into the headset for easy storage when not in use. On the positive side, the arm has a built in red LED which glows when the microphone is muted which is a great feature as it can help keep you from embarrassing yourself.
 
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AkG

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Initial Impressions Cont'd

Initial Impressions Cont'd



The most important feature of the Storm Sirus headset is actually not the headset itself but rather the accessories which come with it. Most headsets come in one of two flavors: USB or Analog. If you have a high end sound card a USB headset does you very little good and if you’re using standard hookups, an Analog headset is not a great choice. This really does limit your future upgrade directions. However, the Sirus strides the path between these two options by implementing both Analog and USB connections.


The secret to this headset’s amazing adaptability lies in one crucial difference from many of its competitors: the connector. The Sirus itself uses neither a USB plug nor Analog connectors. It uses a 10 pin mini-DIN connector to which either the Analog adapter cable or the USB controller block can be attached. With this one simply little tweak you need not worry what a given gaming system has in the way of capabilities as you will be able to fully utilize s headset on nearly any setup. Both connectors are included within the box so there should be no worries about buying additional accessories.


We like the fact that this unit doesn’t address the USB adapter like some secondary afterthought. It is implemented within a large and well thought out base station (called the Tactical Mixing Console) which allows real time control over the output of each individual (front, rear, center, bass) channel and also the master volume as well. Since the dial and accompanying buttons are large and easy to find, increasing or decreasing channels to best fit an audio environment will quickly become second nature.

Knowing which channel you are adjusting is also made easy since the Tactical Mixing Console gives visual feedback in the form of backlit words such as “bass”, “master”, “center” and so on. With just a quick glance you instantly know which channel(s) you will be adjusting when you spin the dial. To cycle through the options, the center of the three buttons needs to be pressed while the other buttons control muting sound and the microphone.


The cables for all parts of the Storm Sirus are covered in a nice tight braid which is both durable and quite flexible.


Taken as a whole, we think that from a comfort, features and specifications point of view, Cooler Master has done a very admirable job with the Storm Sirus. Let us now turn our attention to the included software and see if they did as good a job there as was done elsewhere.
 
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AkG

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Storm Sirus Software

Storm Sirus Software



The software which accompanies the Storm Sirus is both seemingly simple and yet very powerful. On first glance, it seems almost lacking in the most basic of functionality as Cooler Master has taken the interesting design philosophy of hiding most of the features consumers have come to expect in a gaming grade headset. Without playing around with the software for a few minutes, there is literally no quick and easy way to know there’s much more than just some basic volume and mic controls.


Simply right clicking on the two large icons on the control panel’s side reveals a drop down menu with a veritable cornucopia of options. For instance, right clicking on the microphone allows for volume adjustment and the selection of one of four voice masking features (via what Cooler Master calls “Magic Voice”) which are: dinosaur, rubber duck, male and female tonal shifts. Voice masking technology doesn’t usually appeal to us but it is one of the advanced features we use in judging whether or not a software package is complete. Many consumers actually like sounding different when online and while four choices is a good start, Cooler Master really should add in a few more.


Moving on to the speaker setup, Cooler Master has gone for an excellent 10 channel equalizer setup which is sure to fit most users’ needs. We much prefer this to the more typical 5 band EQs most use. It is also nice to see numerous presets included which should help novice users tweak the sound profile to better suit their personal tastes.


Another nice feature is the possibility to adjust the soundstage’s size from small to large. For big “rock concert” recordings having a massive soundstage is ideal and for small “live at the (fill in the blank)” events such as Eric Clapton Unplugged where the recording was taken in a small venues, a more intimate sound stage is optimal. There are also four more advanced sound masking profiles, but we consider these more along the lines of gimmicks since for example we’re hoping music isn’t normally recorded in an underwater venue.

Cooler Master has taken an additional step which most of their competitors shy away from by giving the ability to turn the Sirus into stereo, quadraphonic, 5.1 (default / native) modes while even allowing for a 7.1 virtual setup. This is certainly a great feature to have as it allows someone to custom tailor the audio output based upon a given scenario (for example, stereo for music, 7.1 for Blu-ray, 5.1 for games and so on).


Overall, the software which Cooler Master includes may not be as intuitive or easy to navigate as some other products but the list of features and options it offers is certainly well above average. Even compared against the best in the industry for software features the Sirus can most certainly hold its own and even beat Logitech and Corsair in some areas. Hopefully future revisions will simply tweak the layout and navigation setup to make this a true industry leader.
 
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AkG

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Sound and Tonal Properties

Sound and Tonal Properties


For this round of testing we used a combination lossless flac, 320kb/s mp3 and even some lower quality recordings in a variety of genres with a total of over 24 hours of listening enjoyment. A wide variety of genres was used in order to ensure that we encompassed most people’s listening choices.



The only major difference between Analog and USB tonal properties is the USB output results in audio which is more veiled, less crisp and ever so slightly muddy. On the positive side, the difference between the two isn’t night and day so if you are unwilling to invest the amount needed for a good soundcard, USB should offer you a more than enjoyable listening experience.

One of the main benefits of USB connectivity is the fact that the incoming audio quality will be the same regardless of the system the Storm Sirus is used on. This is nearly impossible to recreate on the Analog side of things without investing in the same high end sound card for all of your systems -something which is not even possible for laptops and portable systems.



As for the sonic signature the Sirus is capable of producing, let’s start with its greatest weakness: bass. To be blunt, the bass is muddy and it distorts early and often. We would go as far as saying the bass is overly bloomy, very one dimensional and consists mainly of “boom, boom, boom” or to be more accurate “thud, thud, thud”. This in and of itself would be more than reasonable if your tastes run towards trance, house or rap. However those small integrated 40mm subwoofers are easily pushed beyond what they can accurately reproduce without distortion so bass heavy music sounds worse than it should.


Some of the woofer’s built limitations can be overcome via software tweaking (i.e. EQ and LFE settings) but this only mitigates the issue rather than outright eliminating it. Even after being tweaked, songs such as “March of the Cambreadth” by Heather Alexander / Alexander James Adams loose much of their depth. Don’t expect these cans to rock your world, liquefy your brain or do anything even remotely resembling what good, rich, multi-layered bass headsets can accomplish. If you are more into American pop, where the bass consists of a drum machine and / or synthesizer, then Cooler Master’s Sirus is more than adequate.



On the high end of the register, the highs are not what would be called “bright and sparkly”. In this range the sound produced by the Sirus isn’t the worst we’ve ever heard but even simple combinations such as cymbal heavy music can overcome its somewhat limited abilities. A good cymbal reproduction should be rich and have an almost tangible feel while retaining a “clean” sound. Cooler Master’s headset on the other hand lacks this vibrancy which makes it mediocre at best for higher notes. If you like modern rock and roll, or simple music (from a tonality point of view) the Sirus will be more than adequate. If your tastes run towards Jazz or Classical it will be a sub optimal choice.



This brings us to what these cans were obviously designed to do: play up the mid tones and emphasize vocals. Cooler Master obviously put a lot of time and effort into this all-important area for gamers and it really does show. Vocals are by default not only forward but surprisingly crisp and clear. If your music tastes run toward spoken word this headset will likely be pure nirvana. Choir music from such artists as the West Point Glee Club or any Broadway musical allows the Sirus to really stretch its legs. However, this isn’t to say we have never heard better, but compared to most other products in its niche the Storm Sirus is well above average in this respect.
 
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AkG

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Gaming Results

Gaming Results


For these games we use the Sennheiser 595 and Sennheiser PC350 headsets for comparison purposes along with the Cooler Master Storm Sirus headset.

Games Used:
Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
BattleField: Bad Company 2
Medal Of Honour
Borderlands
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 & 2
Just Cause 2
BioShock


Analog Results




While the music listening section in this review wasn’t exactly favorable, we can’t forget that the Storm Sirus is first and foremost a gaming-grade product and this is where it excels. We found its high levels of comfort along with some surprising abilities to recreate a realistic surround sound stage to be very refreshing. Not many 5.1 or 7.1 headsets can impress us with their out of the box performance and yet the Sirus certainly did.

When used straight out of the box without any additional setup, the Sirus’ rear channels were a little too suppressed for gaming and there were quite a few times when enemies snuck up from behind with nary a whimper. For whatever reason, the center and front levels were more “forward” and simply overshadowed the low key – yet telltale – signs of an approaching player. By upping the rear channels’ volume by a good bit we were able to eliminate this issue and in fact were able to react quickly enough to kill would be assassins. If anything, this should demonstrate the need for good software to accompany gaming headsets and luckily Cooler Master has just that.

If you are playing a more active, up close and personal style then the default setup of having a very forward nature to the central and front channels with a reserved rear channel should be perfect.

All in all, the analog performance of the Sirus was better than we first expected it to be. Directional sounds were clearly defined once the software was set up to our liking and everything from voices to gunshots could be heard without any issues.


USB Results



This is the only USB headset we would even remotely consider for long term day to day use in a gaming environment. USB connectivity results in less options and sometimes sub-par sound recreation but things have changed with the Sirus. While the loss of some advanced EAX sound effects and some sound fidelity can’t be overlooked, the USB controller hub which comes with this device is second to none and brought the experience to the next level.

Being able to instantly adjust settings on the fly in a matter of seconds and hearing the difference while still in a game is simply priceless. There was no trial and error as there was with the analog setup. With a simple twist of the Tactical Mixing Console’s knob the sound stage could be changed as needed by in-game conditions. In our opinion, this small addition has taken an above average 5.1 surround sound headset and made it into an impressive, immersive gaming product. The Sirus may not have the best DAC in the world, and we will still use the analog option for listening to music, but when it comes to games the ease of use gained by the control console easily offsets any USB limitations.

The only caveat worth pointing out the fact that attention must be given to the USB port configuration on your computer before plugging in the Sirus. This headset – as are all 5.1 / 7.1 headsets - is a bandwidth hog and a USB 2.0 bus is simply not wide enough to accommodate its needs as well as other input devices. We strongly recommend making sure you can at the very least minimize the devices which will share the bus and when possible place them on different onboard controllers. This should not be a very big issue for most as many newer motherboards come with a USB 3.0 controller which is separate from the USB 2.0 ports but consult your motherboard manual before making any assumptions.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Let’s get this off our backs straight away: while this may be a pre-release version of the Storm Sirus, we feel like Cooler Master has introduced one hell of a gaming product. It may not be perfect but if some of the very minor missteps can be corrected in time for launch, this thing will be a force to be reckoned with.

In many ways the Sirus 5.1 feels like it borrows ideas from both the Corsair HS1 and Logitech 930 and combines them into a well rounded peripheral. It has the long term ease of use and overall comfort of the Corsair’s headset alongside the advanced abilities seen in Logitech’s software. Granted, the Sirus’ software certainly needs some work in the ease of use department since accessing some features becomes a game a trial and error but at least those advanced capabilities are there for those willing to make the effort to find them.

The Sirus is not however just some imitator or pretender. Cooler Master seems to have extracted the essence of other products and has created a headset that combines their competition’s most-loved features with almost none of their weaknesses. The 5.1 positional audio of this headset is beyond average and in fact works very, very well across a broad spectrum of environments and scenarios. Further enhancing the 5.1 soundstage is the ability tweak the acoustical profile of a particular game with ease and without the need to exit or load any other application. Both hardware and software options are at your finger tips when in USB mode while the analog mode allows for additional fine tuning though the included software. That central USB hub really does make a huge difference and to be honest, it is worth giving up some audio fidelity – via the Analog connectors which are included - in order to gain such a crucial advantage in gaming.

Naturally, there are some limitations here. First and foremost is the aforementioned trial and error layout of the software which will likely be daunting to any first timers. There are also complications which arise from using the USB bus for the transmission of high bandwidth audio signals. Finding the right combination of ports and controllers may be a bridge too far for some but in order to ensure mouse and keyboard performance it must be done when the Sirus is used in USB mode. Finally, if music listening is important for you, look elsewhere since this headset is primarily geared towards a gaming soundstage and thus suffers in this area.

Since this device also comes with analog connections, it is easy enough to swap over to analog when you want to listen to music. This much needed flexibility means you can use the best solution for a given situation and swap from one to the other in mere seconds.

The Cooler Master Storm Sirus can be easily classified by two words: situational adaptability. Its combination of both USB and analog connections allows it to fit the needs of nearly everyone who is currently looking for a gaming headset. If high fidelity is needed, the analog route is there and for on the fly adjustments, look no further than its USB connection. Audiophiles will likely bitch and moan about the Sirus’ somewhat limited soundstage but for its target audience, we find very hard to recommend anything else.


Pros:
- Great positional audio
- Very good assortment of advanced features
- Ability to tweak each speaker’s output individually
- Above average comfort
- True 5.1 setup
- Both USB and Analog capabilities
- Built in adjustable mic


Cons:
- Less than optimal music abilities
- Headset does not fold flat for ease of transportation
- No case or cover included to make transportation safer
- Software needs an interface overhaul

 
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