The Roccat line of gamer peripherals is a relatively newcomer to the US market. Designed and engineered in Germany, they are a handsome line and have unique features to help distinguish them from their competitors. After viewing their line at CES, I decided I would take their 5.1 surround headset for a spin.
The Roccat Kave is a dedicated 5.1 Surround Headset with an in-line amplifier. There are volume controls for each channel, a main volume control with mute and a mic mute. The boom mic is rigid and spins completely around on its plane. Dedicated 5.1 surround means that the Kave has one mini-plug each for front, center, side, rear and a USB plug for power. It also has two modes – game and movies – where “game” turns on the vibration unit for better game realism.
The Fit and Finish
The Roccat Kave is an elegant beast of a headset. Well built, a bit on the heavy side (420g / 14.8 oz), aluminum hinges for durability, it feels like a good solid piece of equipment and it did take me a while to get used to it sitting on my head. Once it settled in though, it was surprisingly comfortable. It’s a circum-aural, closed type headset – surrounds the ear and the cups backs are hard enclosures, but it does have air vents which are there for physical comfort – venting heat – however, it also relives some of the pressure on the ear drums caused by the sound-waves. The second bit wasn’t part of the explanation when I first had a look at the headset at CES this year, but I am sure is the explanation for my being able to wear this headset for well over an hour without noticeable fatigue.
The padding on the head band is not a solid piece but three individual little boxes with hollow centers – which also assists with the heat issue of wearing a heavy headset. The padding on the ear cups is generous and the pressure of the ear-cups balanced with the head band fit my head comfortably.
The headset has blue LEDs to let you know that it is powered up, when the headphones are muted - so you don’t put them on, crank up the volume when you don’t hear any sound, then hit the mute switch, and blow out your hearing for half a day. The mic mute indicator is also useful. Having accidentally overheard more than one “TMI” conversation over Ventrilo, I particularly like this feature.
The experience of listening to headphones is subjective because the sound is subject (apologies for the pun) to each individual’s ears. The shape of our heads, our ears and our ear canals all affect the sound and how we perceive it. Since I’ve started reviewing head-sets, I have also been studying the proper scientific method of measuring them. I debated picking up an inexpensive HATS (head and torso simulator) to assist in measurement, but after reading about this in-exact science and why so many excellent audiophile quality head phones do not conform to the “text book” measurements, decided to leave out the curve graphic for reviews. I shall only publish it when there’s reason to. i.e. distortion and/or a significant finding that the graph will support.
I always test headsets with the MMOs I currently am reviewing (Star Legends actually has some really good sound – believe it or not), but also with some PC games whose sounds I am familiar with. Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is one of them as is Call of Duty: World at War. Older games, but the sound is excellent. While a set of speakers will always handle positional audio better than a headset, the Roccat Kave did a very decent job of it. It’s hard. Very hard for headphones to do a front or rear image. The best is a feeling of distance if it’s directly behind at 6 o’clock and only if there’s a reference trail – and both games do that well. i.e. someone firing from behind you at say 8 o’clock will have the bullet whine follow through to 2 o’clock. Throw a grenade and then turn quickly and you will hear the explosion swivel from front to back, around the side you spun in. The Kave passed with flying colors for image.
Balance is pretty neutral, without emphasis on the mid-range (voices and bullets) even with the bass mode turned to Game rather than Movie, and this I verified with music – the same references I often use. As this headset was designed to handle both game and movies, I found it handled artificial bass really quite well, with Jennifer Warnes’ Way Down Deep sounding deeper that it had any right to on a gamer headset. Interestingly enough even as I say that it handled that particular piece of music well, it was at the same time, a little lacking in the deep fullness of explosions – in both games and movies. In music the deep notes of the organ pedals were there, but lacked authority – although I have to admit that few full-size loudspeakers can handle those 16Hz notes well and this headset is rated to 20Hz.
Listening to Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman in Time to Say Goodbye aw well as Placido Domingo and Santana in Novus – both showed that there could be a little more in the highs. Domingo and Bocelli’s voices were reproduced well enough to give me goose-bumps, but Brightman’s voice lost her brilliance and Santana’s guitar did not pierce your ears when he gets into the high squealy notes. That the highs could use a little more brilliance was also revealed in Lost Planet – the squeals of those monster insects can cut right through you when reproduced on good loudspeakers.
The Roccat Kave has an adjustable vibration unit to provide a little more realism in your gaming experience. Strangely enough, the only thing it seemed to do for me in “game” mode, was muddle the mid-range a little – I had expected it to boost the midrange. Having it on movie mode also did not extend the bass (as I expected), but sound coherence was better so I kept the headset in movie mode for the review.
Having individual channel volume controls (basically an equalizer) allows the gamer to boost the sound where it is needed. In this case, I kept the center channel boosted – which also helped with the bass. One thing I would like to see is volume markings on the main volume control. Yes indeed, it would be nice to know if your kid had cranked it to max before you put the head set back on.
Like every headset I review, I put the Roccat Kave through its paces, cranking up some of the most difficult pieces of music from Latin to Jazz, to polyphonic voices and throw movie sounds from Jurassic Park to Master and Commander at it to reproduce, to see if it sinks or swims. Except as noted, it performs remarkably well. It probably has one of the fastest response in any of the headsets I’ve reviewed thus far. It took everything I threw at it and gave it back to me pat. There was no confusion on complex and syncopated rhythms, little muddling on huge explosions and complex movie sounds – even if the bass extension could be better, it was brilliant on some of the better recorded rock music and voices were absolutely clear (I was totally amazed at how good Steely Dan’s Cousin Dupree sounded). The Roccat Kave may not be as musical as one headset or not as outstanding with pure FPS game sounds (voice and bullets) as another, but shone as an all-around good guy with excellent bang for the buck.