The wireless gaming headset suffers tremendously from inherently flawed drivers that mangle surround sound. The hardware and stereo quality are at least commendable, but these can't justify the $150 asking price on their own.
It's a well-known fact that headphone cords are evil. Tangled knots, snags, and those strange line marks on our necks that we discover in the morning are all indisputable evidence of this. Well, I for one have had enough of it, and look forward to joining my HTPC and couch-gaming brothers in a new cordless utopia. You see, Corsair has sent me their latest Vengeance 2000 Wireless 7.1 for review. No doubt this will be as good as its most-excellent wired headset that came before it, only without the corded woes, and without the surround sound since that too was a burden. Wait, what? Read on to see how the Vengeance 2000 disappoints as I put it through a record 38 compatibility tests in my in-depth review.
Before I dive straight into the negative aspects of this headset and why it fails to live up to my expectations, it's important to point out where the Corsair Vengeance 2000 actually succeeds since it's in many ways still a good headset for stereo. Let's start by going over the physical design, since Corsair has made numerous improvements here that deserve recognition.
Right off the bat I can tell you that the Vengeance 2000 is much more comfortable to wear for extended gaming sessions than the corded Vengeance 1500. Though the 1500 was until recently the second most comfortable headset I'd ever worn, it tends to clamp down where my jaw meets my ears unless I position the headband just right. This headset eliminates this clamping entirely, but does so without feeling loose either.
The Vengeance 2000's weight is another non-issue, weighing about the same as the 1500 despite the extra payload of a new battery and charging circuit. This might be attributable to the material changes that were made to the headband, giving the trim a rougher plastic feel. The new headband still seems to be fairly durable, doing well to resist caving in under pressure. The pivot joints also seem to to be well-built and oiled, freely moving without squeaking in either direction.
Next up on the list of improvements is the fantastic volume roller on the left earcup, drawing obvious mental ties to Logitech's G-series headsets. The wheel is made of textured metal and has a light ratcheting effect to it for precision stepping, featuring a perfect amount of resistance that allows for swift volume adjustments. The control here is so good that I'll often find myself using the headset's volume roller over the controls on my keyboard, and will even try and fail to reach for it when using the older Vengeance 1500 headset that lacks it. The left earcup also serves as home to a solitary button for controlling power, made complete by a flashing blue light which cannot be disabled. A microphone mute button is unnecessary here, replaced by a semi-flexible microphone stalk that self-mutes when swiveled upright.
The earcups have also changed ever so slightly from past models, their swivel movement now reversed so that when you twist them flat, the headset will lay flat instead of rocking back and forth on the outer edges. Better still, the earcups are now attached to the headband with a dual hinge design that allows for more freedom when tilting up and down. The earpads are made of the same breathable memory foam as before, but have been trimmed down a few millimeters in their depth. Though the shallower earcups still excel at creating an immersive sound stage, I no longer consider the headset to be as isolating. If anything, it's a healthy cross between the Vengeance 1500 and the Razer Megalodon that allows for more interaction with your LAN buddies at lower volumes without getting too open-ear.
The wireless aspects of the Vengeance 2000 are fairly vanilla, doing little to set the headset apart from its competitors. Corsair's wireless kit includes an integrated lithium-ion rechargeable battery rated for 10 hours, a 2.4GHz RF transceiver, a transceiver dock with an integrated 5-foot USB cable, and a 5-foot USB A to micro-B charging cable. These implements do well enough to cover the basics of wireless just dandy, but for a street price of $150 I guess I was expecting a little more in the way of premium features.
What I would have preferred to see here is a charging solution built into the transmitter dock such that I only need to have one cable plugged into my computer for the headset at any given time. Likewise, a 5GHz frequency option would have been nice for gamers living in apartment complexes with overcrowded 2.4GHz spectrum, and configurable buttons for skipping tracks in iTunes or answering Skype calls would've been an absolute treat.
Even without these added niceties, the headset's wireless performance still lives up to my expectations for performance. My own testing shows that the battery can last a solid 10 hours and 26 minutes at a comfortably loud 33% volume. This should be plenty of time for most gaming sessions, but don't expect to watch the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy on a single charge, let alone a Farscape marathon. Also, be forewarned that the headset will emit a warning beep once every minute once a low battery threshold has been hit that might prove irritating to some. Of course, you can always plug in a charging cable and continue playing games uninterrupted.
In my modestly-sized townhome with four serviceable 2.4Ghz wireless networks in range, I found wireless interference to be a non-issue which has yet to interrupt my VoIP calls or gaming. In fact the only times I ever encountered wireless interference was when I walked behind a wall, stood next to the microwave, or went down into the basement. As much as I lament the ability to nuke a Hot Pocket and listen to music at the same time, my newly-found wireless freedom in the living room and bedroom is a significant improvement over the short leash of my corded headsets, especially since I like to pace around during Skype calls.
I should point out that the wireless hardware in the Vengeance 2000 brings about a soft hissing noise whenever an audio source is active in Windows. You can hear the hiss in XBMC's menu screens or during periods of dead silence in games and movies, but just about any level of music or ambient effects will quickly drown it out. To be fair, Logitech's wireless G930 suffers from the same issue, but to a lesser extent.
A safety booklet included with the headset makes reference to the lithium ion battery being removable, though it's unlikely you'll ever need to remove the battery until the headset's ready to be retired and recycled. Corsair has explained over a series of emails that they're committed to servicing headsets with worn-down batteries through their RMA warranty process rather than asking users to install the batteries themselves. For users outside of warranty, Corsair plans to sell replacement batteries for a nominal fee, though the fine details here still need to be ironed out.
Software Drivers - Simple to a Fault
It's been a strange and mildly-frustrating ride to see where Corsair has taken their drivers throughout the Vengeance lineup. With the mice and keyboards, the main points of criticism were various bugs and poor documentation, though that's slowly being addressed. With the Vengeance 1500 headset, stability was never an issue, though the reskin of C-Media's drivers caused its own set of minor problems.
Now with the release of the Vengeance 2000, we have a whole new driver that's been stripped down to a skeleton feature set. Once downloaded and installed from Corsair's website, users will have access to a new headset control panel featuring a giant "Bypass" button to toggle on/off C-Media's Xear 3D surround effect. There's also a 10-band equalizer, volume and mic sliders, and a room size selector for the surround effect.
Corsair Vengeance 2000 control panel. Mouseover for Vengeance 1500's panel.
Word from Corsair is that the new design is the result of marketing giving direction to simplify the interface to only provide essential controls. Though improving user accessibility is always a noble goal, I feel as if Corsair has taken the ethos of simplicity to a worrisome extreme here that ultimately hampers customization and compatibility.
So what's been taken out from the Vengeance 1500's driver, you ask? Well, the Dolby Headphone surround virtualization and Pro Logic IIx upmixing have both been stripped out completely, and there's nary a peep as to why. Left/right balance and the microphone loopback controls have also been cut - the loopback now permanently enabled at a soft volume. C-Media's Virtual Speaker Shifter is also missing, not that it ever worked properly with the Vengeance 1500, so don't count on being able to adjust the channel positions and volume manually.
Perhaps most worrisome is that outside of Corsair's software, the speaker count in the Windows Audio control panel is made inaccessible. Contrast this to past Corsair headsets where the speaker count could be manually configured from Stereo to 5.1 and 7.1 surround, which played a vital role for those headsets' outstanding game compatibility ratings. Though it's common practice for headset manufacturers such as Logitech and Razer to disable manual speaker configurations, they will at least set the output channels to 7.1 surround to help preserve compatibility with games. With the Vengeance 2000, Corsair saw fit to leave the speaker count as plain old stereo, thereby preventing numerous games including Grand Theft Auto IV from even enabling surround sound. I'll be covering this massive oversight in greater detail later on in the review.
So with the new drivers being as crippled as they are, is it possible to revert back to the v1.1 drivers that are used by the HS1 and Vengeance 1500 headsets? Unfortunately, no. It's not even clear yet if the Vengeance 2000 uses the same C-Media CM6302 chip as the older headsets, since Corsair went out of their way to intentionally obscure the audio controller string in the Information dialog box. Rather than showcasing the actual codec used as is commonplace with other C-Media hardware, the drivers now report a mysterious "Vengeance 2000" audio controller that leaves us all guessing.