While not without some minor hardware and software flaws, the Vengeance 1500 is by far the greatest USB headset I've ever had the pleasure of reviewing.
If you're feeling crunched for time and don't want to spend the next 10 minutes reading my in-depth review of Corsair's Vengeance 1500, well, don't. I'll do away with the teasers now and tell you to just go buy one; it's that good. But as long as you're still reading this, you may be interested in seeing how the Dolby 7.1 surround fares in 36 different applications and games. Or perhaps you're interested in my thoughts on the comfort factor, the sound quality, or the updated software and addition of two minor bugs over Corsair's older HS1 headset. Whatever the case may be, my review is just below. Go ahead and read it. Or don't, because you're busy and all that. I understand. You monster.
Glancing at the spec sheets for the Vengeance 1500 and the HS1 that came before it last year, you'd be hard-pressed to find any differences apart from the slightly-improved dynamic range. Probably because there aren't any. No, the key differences between the two headsets would appear to be limited to design, the most obvious difference being that the Vengeance 1500 actually looks like a gaming headset. You know, flashy with a splash of blue. Thankfully the application of a faux brushed alumimum exterior, blue earcup rings and light blue stitching was a tasteful one, far from what I'd consider gaudy. It may not seem all that important, but this minor tweak marks the difference from seeing yet another black headset at a LAN party to seeing a Corsair headset - something that Corsair's brand image desperately needed.
The Vengeance 1500 excels in both comfort and durability. None of the moving parts squeak as they do on Logitech's G35, the plastic seems thick and flex-resistant, and yet the headset remains light enough to wear for hours on end whilst I get carried away in Skyrim. The oversized circumaural earcups combined with memory foam padding and an overstuffed headband make this one of the most comfortable headsets I've ever worn, second only to Razer's Megalodon. The Vengeance maintains a tighter seal than the Megalodon does, however, making it much better for immersion or tournaments at the expense of not being able to hear LAN buddies across a table without Ventrilo. My roommate frequently has to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention anymore if I have the music turned up.
That said, pinching just below the ears above the jawbone can pose a problem if the headset is not properly adjusted. It took a good two weeks of using these cans before I found the right sweet spot that I didn't have to take them off for a short duration after a couple hours of use. My trick is to keep the headband length shorter than usual. The cloth-wrapped earcups are nice and breathable, so I didn't have any trouble with my ears overheating.
Another change for the Vengeance over the HS1 is that the microphone is now attached directly to the earcup as opposed to the headband, allowing it to get slightly closer to the mouth. Like any good headset, the Vengeance allows the mic to swivel down to chin level or placed up alongside the headband way when not in use, though for better or worse it cannot be detached. The mic has a degree of flexibility similar to the Megalodon in that you can position it closer to or away from your face as desired, but the design is rigid enough that it won't flap around like Creative's Sound Blaster Arena did.
The 3-meter cable is covered in braided fabric and is as flexible as a shoestring, but this has the added danger of attracting my cat's jaws more than any other headset I've used in the past. About half of a meter down the cable is a digital control pod that looks to be the same as the HS1's pod, featuring two large buttons for volume adjustment and a microphone mute button. Rings surrounding the volume buttons will light up blue whenever the headset is plugged in, and will change to red if the microphone is muted. A way to quickly mute the headset is unfortunately missing, as is a clip to attach the control pod to clothing.
As far as LAN party travel is concerned, the only nod that we get from Corsair is a permanently-affixed Velcro cable wrap midway down the cable. The earcups will fold flat, but no longer fold inwards as they did with the HS1. Though this certainly isn't a deal killer, it'd still be nice if Corsair were to include a cloth carrying bag or hardshell case as some other headset manufacturers do. Oh well, at least the original box seems durable enough and easy to package.
Tying into the introduction of Corsair's Vengeance product line is a revamp of the software drivers that came with the HS1 headset. Currently at version 1.1, Corsair's new drivers power the same C-Media CM6302 audio chip, but reskin the interface to give a unique, minimalist look that fits everything into a single page. Sadly this reskin comes at a loss of C-Media's Karaoke and voice changing effects that hardly anyone uses, along with the standard EAX 2.0 effects that make music sound like it's from the inside of a concert hall or shower stall. The drivers do offer a nice 10-band equalizer to play with though, along with a list of five presets that take into account the physical drivers' own characteristics as explained by Corsair. The default EQs stand up well enough on their own, but there's always the option to tweak or create your own.
On the right-hand side of the driver window are three DSP modes for the headphones: Bypass, Dolby Headphone for 7.1 surround, and the Xear3D 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter that's ubiquitous on all C-Media and Asus Xonar sound cards. The space underneath these buttons changes depending on the active mode; Dolby Headphone allows for changing the virtual room size, while Virtual Speaker Shifter enables custom speaker placement to increase or decrease volume of the individual channels - handy for tweaking the center dialogue channel, or raising the volume on the rear speakers.
Given that this is Corsair's first attempt at reskinning the standard C-Media driver package, it should come as no surprise that there are a couple of small bugs to be encountered. In a standard C-Media driver installation, the Dolby Headphone and Virtual Speaker Shifter DSP effects could be combined. In fact on my Asus sound card, you can't select enable Virtual Speaker Shifter without enabling Dolby first. In Corsair's instance, however, it's an either/or situation, and enabling Speaker Shifter on its own only makes for an awkward implementation of Stereo. When Corsair fixes this oversight and allows for combination of the DSPs I'm sure it'll be incredibly handy, but until then the Speaker Shifter is dead weight.
The other flaw I noticed with the current v1.1 drivers is with the implementation of Pro Logic IIx, a Dolby technology that upmixes stereo, quadraphonic or 5.1 sources into 7.1 surround. Logitech's G35 manages to do this automatically whenever the Dolby switch is turned on, whereas C-Media products including Corsair headsets require manually setting the number of "input channels". Stereo content will sound soft and weak in Dolby mode unless the input channels are configured accordingly.
There used to be a function to do set the input channels in older drivers for Corsair's HS1 headset, but this has been removed in the v1.1 drivers. Fret not, you can still set the input channels in the Windows Sound control panel. Select the Vengeance 1500 and hit the configure button, then pick the desired channels and click next a bunch of times. After this is done, the Pro Logic IIx logo will light up in the Corsair driver panel. Be warned, however, that switching to Bypass or 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter mode and then back to Dolby Headphone will reset the speaker configuration to 7.1 mode.
I've emailed Corsair about these two flaws and they've acknowledged that the Engineers are aware of the problems and busily cracking away on an updated driver. That said, no timetable for release was provided nor were any indications of what fixes would be implemented. Personally, I'm willing to write these off for now as a minor inconveniences, forgivable mostly because the headset sounds so damn nice. But they do need fixed.