For those who prefer analogue
Corsair's foray into the PC audio market came with the release of the HS1 gaming headset last summer. Positioned as a high-end USB-connected headset with built-in Dolby processing, we reckoned that the £70 retail price was worth it if you were serious about audio quality.
Now, some six months on, Corsair supplements the sole headset with an analogue version, unsurprisingly dubbed the HS1A.
Corsair takes much of what it learnt with the HS1 but snips retail costs to £55 by outfitting the HS1A with two 3.5mm (nickel-plated) connectors - headphone and microphone - for connecting to a PC-based soundcard or a dedicated audio player. This means that audio processing takes place before it arrives at the headset, and any special audio effects - pseudo 3D, for example - are down to the host hardware.
More of the same
Outwardly, the HS1A is little different from the HS1 - and that's no bad thing as it carries over the ear-friendly fit of the original. The closed-back design has generous-sized earpads that each house 50mm drivers. Supplied with microfibre-covered 'pads out of the box, Corsair also bundles in a synthetic leather set. Switching between the two takes but a minute and, interestingly, changes the perceived audio response - more on that later.
A micro-adjustable headband and large earpads combine to guarantee that a comfortable fit can be achieved in seconds. Subjectively speaking, the 350g headset feels a little heavy on first wear. The snug fit makes you forget about it when the audio is ramped up, however.
But these aren't just headphones. The presence of a unidirectional noise-cancelling microphone classes the HS1A as a headset. The mic. can be adjusted to one of 15 positions - though it can't be removed completely, should you wish to use the headset as a listening-only device.
While a change in colour is the only meaningful difference between the digital and analogue headsets on first glance, Corsair changes the appearance of the in-line volume control, which also carries a mute switch for the microphone. Now bereft of the LED-ringed lighting of the original and not quite so tactile, it does exactly what it says on the tin. A 3m-long cable and braided cording round off the package.
The built-in processing of the USB HS1 gives Corsair considerable control over the quality of the audio. The situation is obviously different when wholly reliant on the source, as the HS1A is. When hooked up to a high-quality ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Deluxe soundcard the Corsair cans produce the same clean sound we first encountered with the HS1. Indeed, the analogue set is the antithesis of cheap headsets that have a preponderance for heavy, muffled bass.
Leave the soundcard's settings on neutral and the HS1A headset seems bass-light on first listen. Interestingly, change over to the leatherette pads and there's a slight but noticeable increase in bass response. Persevere with them and you're rewarded by a sound that picks out details missed on low-quality models. Beth Orton's Trailer Park and Nick Drake's Pink Moon CDs come across suitably melancholic and sombre. Plugging in the digital HS1 gives just a little more atmosphere in both tracks, though.
Extended listening highlights that the sound quality produced by the HS1A headset falls just shy of the standard set by the HS1. One needs to spend a little while in the EQ settings of the soundcard in order to bring closer parity between the two, and we believe that Corsair's ability to program the HS1 is the defining factor here.
Fire up a few games and the HS1A headset is a decent performer, too. Rumbles in DiRT 2 are nicely conveyed and firing bullets in Call of Duty: Black Ops is plain fun. The microphone works well and general stereo separation is good. Much like straight-up audio, getting the best out of them requires a few minutes be spent in the soundcard's configuration panel, tuning it to your personal liking.
Corsair's first attempt at creating a quality headset resulted in the digital HS1 cans that processed audio through nifty electronics and a USB conduit to the system. Now launched as an analogue version with 3.5mm jacks for headphone and microphone, much of the good has been carried over. We like the neutral sound and super-comfortable fit, though just how good they sound is down to the quality of the soundcard and settings used.
Priced at a touch over £50 at the time of writing, making them decidedly cheaper than the HS1, we recommend you put them on a shortlist if high-quality sound and a comfortable fit are high on your list of criteria when purchasing a gaming headset.
Bundled leatherette pads
Better compatibility than HS1
Don't sound quite as good as HS1, subjectively speaking
The Corsair HS1A gaming headset is available from SCAN.co.uk*
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*As always, UK-based HEXUS.community forum members will benefit from the SCAN2HEXUS Free Shipping initiative, which will save you a further few pounds plus also top-notch, priority customer service and technical support backed up by the SCANcare@HEXUS forum.