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Corsair Vengeance 1300 & 1500 Gaming Headsets Review

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AkG

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Late last year Corsair released their first attempt at a serious gaming headset line: the Corsair HS1 USB 7.1 which created a virtual soundstage by leveraging the USB bus for multiple channels. This was quickly followed by an analog version dubbed the HS1a. As owners of both the USB HS1 will attest to, both may have been very successful in the retail market and comfortable to wear, they were only moderately successful when it came to providing the best audio gaming experience possible. Corsair never sits on their laurels for all that long and continually improves products so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the spiritual successors to the HS1 series are already upon us. The new Vengeance 1300 analog stereo headset and the USB based Vengeance 1500 7.1 gaming headset promise to take gaming audio to the next level or at least past the benchmarks achieved by the previous lineup.

Corsair may have gone back to the drawing board to fix the HS1’s minor sonic imperfections but that doesn’t mean they’ve ignored the long list of positive aspects introduced with the original award winning design. The 1300 and 1500 headsets both share the same– albeit slightly tweaked- comfortable design which graced the HS1 while retaining the same basic and well heeled 50mm headset driver. What has changed –besides the name – is some specifically tweaked acoustical properties which should set both products well apart from the competition. In fact, Corsair goes so far as to state that while the 1500 is meant to provide the best – for its price range - positional audio experience, the 1300 is engineered to provide “audiophile quality”. That’s truly a hefty claim which if true could put the Vengeance 1300 in an entirely different category of audio equipment and could make it the first “gaming” headset to pull double duty for music aficionados as well.

With an MSRP of $99.99 for the 1500 and an even more reasonably priced $79.99 for the 1300, Corsair’s new headphone lineup is certainly meant to be affordable but both will face extremely stiff competition from everyone from Sennheiser to SteelSeries to even Razer. If the new Vengeance headsets do have the audio abilities to back up their claims, they may just become the new darling of the industry as everyone is looking for not only great sound, but also a great deal.


 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications


Vengeance 1500








Vengeance 1300





 
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AkG

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Initial Impressions

Initial Impressions


(Note: All images have the 1300 on left & 1500 on right)


While the colors may have changed since the Corsair HS1, both the Vengeance 1500 and 1300 boxes are very similar in appearance, details and features to the previous generation. While the front has a small plastic film window to allow you to glimpse the headset housed within, the back of each box is dedicated to ensuring anyone will know exactly what they're will be getting.


Much like the boxes they come in both, the Vengeance 1300 and Vengeance 1500 look great and while the black with blue pin striping is not as eye catching as some, the more elegant and sophisticated look of the Vengeance series will draw stares from those around you at the next LAN gaming event. Compared to the previous HS1 series these headsets may only be slightly improved in the looks department but they still boast some much needed improvements.

One of the largest differences between these two headsets is the 1500’s cloth ear coverings Dolby Headphone certification which means it supports fully directional audio over a virtual 7.1 channel setup. The 1300 meanwhile uses leather ear pieces and also allows for positional audio but instead of being Dolby Headphone compatible, you’ll need a CMSS (or equivalent) supporting sound card for subtle 3D sound support.


While the Vengeance 1500 does have a more aggressive look with brushed aluminum covered sides, the finish is rather thin and doesn’t really provide all that much additional structural rigidity. Underneath this thin metal veneer lies the exact same plastic chassis as found on the Vengeance 1300. To perfectly candid, we preferred the more subdued looks of the 1300 to the aggressively styled 1500, but this is personal preference only and neither has a distinct aesthetical advantage over the other.

Both feature a nearly identical unidirectional noise cancelling condenser boom mic which can be rotated and adjusted to your heart’s content. The only difference between the two is a small strip of brushed aluminum on the 1500 which mirrors the finish alongside the ear cups.


Speaking of the ear cups, the ones used on both Vengeance headsets are large and should fully encompass your ear. We prefer this circumaural style as it is much more comfortable for long term gaming sessions when compared to smaller ear cup designs which lay flat on top of your ears.
 
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AkG

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Initial Impressions Cont'd

Initial Impressions Cont'd



Since these headsets are geared towards the gaming crowd it is not surprising that Corsair opted for a closed design. The upside to making these headsets closed is a reduction in ambient noise leakage past the headset and into your ears. At the same time, this design allows less noise from leaking out as well and disturbing those around you.


While closed designs do have some drawbacks in certain auditory departments, the 1500 and 1300 rely on rather large 50mm drivers to power them, negating some of these limitations. With all other things being equal, a single high quality 50mm driver will produce better sound fidelity while featuring less sound distortion at higher volumes than a single 40mm driver.

Of course, this single 50mm driver has to pull double duty as a sub woofer and tweeter whereas headsets that rely on multiple drivers can tweak each to be more efficient at certain frequencies (i.e. high, mids or lows). This likely won’t matter all that much for music since most tracks are encoded in stereo format only, but for gaming this means the Vengeance 1500 will have to rely on virtual speakers to create its surround soundstage. This could put it at a distinct disadvantage compared to other headsets like the Cooler Master Storm Sirus which uses multiple drivers to create a true surround soundstage.


Even though both Vengeance headsets use a very similar design and have nearly identical feature sets, the small points of variance are what make each of these two headsets completely different in their pricing, marketing and most likely performance. Remember, the Vengeance 1300 is an analog stereo headset which requires a soundcard so it will like and die by the quality of both the source material and your chosen output device. All you need to do is plug in the two 3.5mm plugs (one for the headphones and one for the microphone) and its all set to go.

The Vengeance 1500 on the other hand uses a USB interface alongside an integrated DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) and its own custom software / driver stack so it doesn’t require a soundcard at all. This could have some distinct advantages to anyone that relies on a motherboard’s onboard audio but people with high end soundcards will see their investments go to waste.


Both headsets come equipped with a very generously long 3 meter braided cable so they will pretty much reach anywhere close to your computer. Both designs also make use of an inline controller which controls the volume levels and can mute the attached microphone. While they do differ slightly in appearance and how each goes about changing the volume, the only practical difference with these two controllers is the Vengeance 1500’s glows a very bright and annoying blue when plugged in whereas the Vengeance 1300’s does not. We prefer the more subdued controller on the 1300 but once again, it all comes down to personal preference.

Unfortunately, while you can indeed control the volume of either headset with this handy controller, it can’t be used to quickly adjust the mic’s gain. At first this may seem like a minor issue, having to Alt+Tab out of a game to adjust mic volume will lead to some serious annoyances over time.


The Vengeance 1500's Software



Corsair’s USB Headphone Control Center for the Vengeance 1500 is simple but there are a few options. The full band equalizer contains all of the usual suspects including the possibility for different profiles (both user created or preset) and the standard master volume adjustments. There’s also the option to engage a bypass audio source but the real meat of this software lies in the Dolby Headphone and 7.1 Virtual Speaker features. Both allow for in depth customization of the virtual surround sound outputs of the 1500. Honestly though, we wish that some of these options would have been controllable through a USB dongle. Instead, you’ll have to exit out of whichever game you are playing in order to adjust outputs of individual zones or change profiles.
 
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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 for a total of over 24 hours of audio tracks. A wide variety of genres was used in order to ensure that we encompassed most people’s listening choices.



Since both the 1300 and 1500 headsets share nearly identical specifications with the sole exception of the interface and accompanying hardware, their tonal properties are nearly identical and they exhibit a fairly neutral sound. This means they don’t overly favor the highs, mids or lows and rather recreate the music the way it was meant to heard.


Vengeance 1300 Results


Let’s start this off by saying that while Corsair’s Vengeance 1300 may not be quite up to audiophile grade and certainly won’t be replacing your Denon AH-D2000s or AKG K701s anytime soon, they impressed us quite a bit. In fact, when it came to music, we preferred these over the more expensive 1500.

Some consumers may not like the rather neutral tonal properties of the 1300 since preference is usually given to additional weight – depending on personal taste -being placed on either bass, highs or mid tones. On the flip side of that coin, we like how Corsair has included the barest hint of forwardness to the mids and vocals without overly emphasizing other areas of a music track. This attribute may be why Corsair considers this headset to be “audiophile grade”, as audiophiles usually like to have full control over music’s tonal properties and most prefer – ourselves included – letting the music envelope us the way the original sound engineer meant it to. Honestly, this headset is surprisingly neutral and provides surprisingly crisp, clear and highly enjoyable music.



While the mid range is this headset’s best feature, the highs and lows don’t receive quite as much attention. On the positive side, both are far superior what we’ve experienced with the HS1 but that’s not to say they’re stellar either. For argument’s sake let’s call the 1300’s performance here to be adequate and in line with our expectations for a $80 headset.

The highs are still not perfect and won’t impress a true audiophile, but their tonal response is well above average and easily surpasses more expensive gaming headsets. With that being said, when multiple high register instruments are playing at the same time – such as during classical music – the individual instruments do have a tendency to blur together. The more instruments playing at the same time the worse this blending becomes and the resulting sound does sometimes come across as muddy and indistinct rather than crisp and sparkly.

The low end displayed by the Vengeance 1300 is also reasonably good, with much improved over the previous generation and it outpaces the competition in this field as well. The low end doesn’t consist of thuds but actually has a decent response curve which offers more variation than any headset we’ve reviewed to date. When there is only one main bass instrument being played – for example bagpipes – they sound almost good enough to be considered audiophile grade. This is somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that when multiple bass instruments are playing the lows have tendency to spill over and onto one another. Obviously Corsair still has work to do if they want to be taken seriously by the audiophile community but this headset is one hell of a step in the right direction.

Before moving on it is worth pointing out that the Vengeance 1300’s require a good soundcard to get this level of clarity. If you are only using onboard sound, this headset’s level of richness and depth of sound will be significantly degraded. “Garbage In, Garbage Out” is an accurate phrase, but considering this is one of the few sub $100 headsets which will exceed what onboard audio is capable of producing, this “caveat” is in and of itself impressive. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link, but the Vengeance 1300 won’t be the weak link for most consumers.


Vengeance 1300 Results




As mentioned previously, the Corsair Vengeance 1500 headset sounds much like is sibling but with some notable exceptions. First of all, we found the 1500 to have more veiled tonal properties and its soundstage tends to be much smaller. To put this into layman’s terms, the 1500 sounds a lot like what the 1300 does when it’s connected to onboard audio rather than a dedicated sound card. The highs are much more imprecise, the lows are downright “muddy & thuddy” and even the mids are not all that crisp.

This difference is not the fault of the headset per se, but the issues can be laid down at the feet of the inferior USB DAC that Corsair has opted for. We know the headset components are better than this but the 1500 will never realize its fullest potential due to a possible bottleneck on audio processing front. This is a bloody shame as there are several decent USB DAC’s available on the market but in order to meet the sub $100 price point we assume that sacrifices had to be made.

The audio quality pushed out by this headset may not be the best; you won’t need to invest in a high end soundcard to get the “best” from the Vengeance 1500. As long as there’s a free USB port on a notebook, PC or Windows-based tablet, they’ll produce a consistent acoustical profile. The included –admittedly basic - software will also help mask some of these issues and turn the set into a moderately decent one via equalizer tweaking and masking.

The clarity offered up by the 1300 is unattainable here but for the sub $100 range the Vengeance 1500 is still decent option for their niche. You also get access to a virtual 7.1 soundstage via the USB software, so this too can be considered a positive aspect. Most importantly, not everyone is willing to invest the necessary funds to get a dedicated soundcard so the additional $20 investment and a reduction in clarity may be worth it to some.
 
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AkG

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Gaming Results

Gaming Results


For these games we use the Sennheiser 595 and Cooler Master Storm Sirus headsets for comparison purposes along with the Corsair Vengeance 1300 & 1500 headsets.

Games Used:
Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
BattleField: Bad Company 2
BattleField 3
Borderlands
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1 & 2
Just Cause 2
BioShock 1 & 2

A Quick Note about Comfort


For long term comfort during marathon gaming sessions the original Corsair HS1 series were hard to beat and the new Vengeance series is just about as comfortable. The large, ear-surrounding cups won’t pinch your ears and when this is coupled with the Vengeance’s rather light weight design, worries about long term comfort can be thrown out the window.

Unfortunately, cushions on both headsets are about half an inch too thin which can cause your inner ear to press up against the cup’s inner chamber. We also noticed a fair amount of sweat buildup on the 1300 after less than an hour of gaming in a warm room which is most likely due to Corsair’s choice of leather wrapped padding for the ear pieces. These two small but easily overlooked issues highlight the difference between what audiophiles demand in their gear and the reality of sub-$100 products. So while Corsair hit the nail of the head in terms of comfort for their products’ price range, there were still some sacrifices made to ensure a certain price point was met.

We should also mention that the Vengeance 1500 comes with ultra soft and breathable cloth coverings, making it more suited for long gaming marathons. To be blunt, this gaming headset is just as comfortable to wear as many higher end, audiophile-grade competitors.


1300 Results


With gamers being the primary market for Corsair’s Vengeance 1300, it certainly had some big shoes to fill but nonetheless overachieved in nearly every way possible in this category. It offers a depth of clarity that is truly impressive for such inexpensive headphones and doesn’t require the volume to be jacked up to “11” in order to hear nearly every single in-game sound. Many sub-$100 headsets require a ton of output compensation due to their lack of sonic abilities whereas the Vengeance 1300 allows for the volume to be left at normal levels without sacrificing audio detail. This really is one of the first budget friendly headsets we’ve reviewed which boasts this ability. The design of the 1300’s closed earpieces just enhances this perception of an all-enveloping soundstage by effectively blocking outside noise so it doesn’t intrude and disturb your gaming enjoyment.


Vengeance 1300 mic is also above average in its abilities. As long as you do not have the volume set overly high it shouldn’t allow much – if any – ambient noise to leak through onto a channel. Of course, for politeness sake you should still set your game to “push to talk” as reduced noise is not the same as none.

All in all, when it comes to gaming there is simply no area that the Vengeance 1300 really needs to be improved upon. While this headset may not provide a true surround soundstage it does feature deceptively crisp and clear sound reproduction abilities. They may not replace our usual Sennheiser HD595 as the go-to audio arsenal for gaming but for its price range the Vengeance 1300 is simply superb.

As an added bonus, since the 1300 is meant to be paired up with a good sound card, many products from Creative, Auzentech and ASUS along with a few higher end motherboards have the capability to turn a pair of stereo headphones into a passable –but virtual- 7.1 listening experience. This negates any perceptional limitation for people who want surround sound capable headset. Believe it or not, when we paired up the 1300 with our Xonar Xense, its 3D audio capabilities were clearly superior to those of the 1500.

Of course, as with the music section your personal opinions may indeed vary from ours and the sound card choice will of course make a huge difference with this headset. To get the most from the 1300 you need to have a good soundcard as it held back from showing true audio greatness when attached to cheap soundcards or onboard audio solutions.


1500 Results


While the 1500 may have a slight edge over its analog sibling on the comfort front, when it comes to in game audio things weren’t quite as rosy. While this headset does in fact do an admirable job of creating a believable virtual surround stage, it still requires you to exit (or alt +tab) out of a game in order to tweak the sound output of the virtual “speakers” using the included software. When compared against other competing headsets which use a USB controller hub to do this, the Corsair Vengeance 1500 seems antiquated, less precise and generally more hassle prone. This software only solution may have been the de-facto standard way of doing things for years, but as Bob Dylan once crooned “the times they are a changing”. Corsair needs to rethink and update this essential component if they want to stay competitive in this cutthroat price range.


While the Corsair Vengeance 1500 does do a very good job of creating a virtual surround stage, the fact still remains that at heart it is still a stereo headset that’s using some fancy yet less than perfect emulation software. With so many hardware-based true surround sound headsets available, virtual headsets themselves seem quaint and old fashioned. More importantly, no matter how good a job a virtual headset does, the end result is usually inferior to what true 5.1 or 7.1 headsets can accomplish. This limitation becomes abundantly clear when the 1500 is compared against the similarly priced Cooler Master Storm Sirus, a headset that includes a USB controller dock alongside killer surround sound abilities.

While the sound quality produced by the 1500 is slightly inferior to that of its sibling when the latter is hooked up to a quality audio source, the overall gaming experience is still decent. Explosions sounded great, directional gunshots and ricochets were quite realistic and teammate’s voices were easily distinguished but the USB interface + DAC just couldn’t replicate a completely distortion-free experience. It may not be the best gaming experience we have ever had with a surround sound headset but we’d actually take the Corsair 1500 over our Logitech G930 or G35 in a heartbeat.

The gaming abilities of the Vengeance 1500 headset may indeed be better than the HS1 it replaces, but the improvement is simply not enough by today’s standards. This niche of the marketplace is overflowing with highly desirable products in the same general price range as the Vengeance 1500 which causes it some serious issues when used in a gaming environment.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


When taken as a whole the new Vengeance line proves that Corsair is certainly moving in the right direction when it comes to their audio gaming peripherals. It is equally obvious that they did listen to the HS1 detractors and the resulting new 1300 and 1500 are better, higher quality products than their predecessor. However, both of these headsets are not equal in all things so let’s break them down.


Vengeance 1300


High quality sub-$100 headsets are hard to find these days but Corsair has done the impossible with their Vengeance 1300. Granted, calling it “audiophile grade” is a bit of an exaggeration we couldn’t help but we couldn’t help but be impressed with the clear, undistorted sound emanating from its 50mm drivers. Whether it was belting out explosions during high intensity gaming or playing relaxing music, this headset delivered one of the best experiences we’ve had from an inexpensive set of cans. There were some minor bass response issues and the earpieces’ finish caused sweat buildup but those can be easily overlooked in the face of the 1300’s long list of accomplishments.

Even though the Vengeance 1300’s performance is dictated by your chosen audio output device, its unique mixture of abilities should please just about anyone. One can almost consider this a “gateway” audiophile headset as it will in all likelihood provide vastly increased audio performance over what most consumers are currently using and maybe, just maybe, push some into the wonderful – if expensive – world of audiophiles.




Corsair Vengeance 1500


Taking a look back at this review, it may look like Corsair’s 7.1 headset is a complete flop but we consider the Vengeance 1500 to be a simple missed opportunity on many levels. Its virtual 7.1 setup does provide decent auditory performance and enhanced situational awareness when playing games and the cloth finish around the ear cups is some of the best around. However, it just can’t match the less expensive 1300 when actual sound quality is taken into account.

The fact of the matter is Corsair has chosen a less than optimal DAC to power this USB headset and the software provided is a bit to simplistic. The end result is a somewhat lackluster tonal range coupled good amount of frustration as you constantly have to leave games in order to adjust volume. The Vengeance 1500’s reliance on virtual speakers and mediocre software is what separates it from great headsets like Cooler Master’s Storm Sirus. Remember, the Sirus uses multiple speakers to create a more realistic soundstage, comes with an easy to use USB controller hub, boasts Analog abilities alongside USB and most importantly retails for the same price as Corsair’s 1500.

Make no mistake about it; the Corsair Vengeance 1500 is a decent headset which is an improvement over its predecessor, the HS1. It is stylish, comfortable for long term use and it even comes with a good adjustable mic. However, unlike the Corsair Vengeance 1300, there is no critical feature that will entice you to choose this model over the competition.



 
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