Arctic Sound P531 5.1 Channel Surround Gaming Headset Review

Posted Sep 22, 2010
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When we talk about premium gaming headsets, names like Razer and SteelSeries come into mind. That’s because they are known for making top quality headsets – something which most other manufacturers can only dream of achieving. And since most premium gaming headsets these days come with 5.1 or 7.1 channels of surround sound, it really takes a good engineering effort to build a top quality headset which can deliver a good gaming experience coupled with some satisfying music and movie related performance.

Sure the market is tough, but that doesn’t stop new players from entering it taking shots at some of the best in the business. Same goes for Arctic Sound – a brand of the famous Arctic Cooling, whose other Audio products we have reviewed recently. While the Arctic Sound headsets we have already reviewed were aimed squarely at gamers, none of them were their flagship model – the Arctic Sound P531 which is a 5.1 Channel Surround Sound headset, with four drivers in each ear cup, a subwoofer, and vibration feedback for bass effects.

Other features include a USB connecter, highly ergonomic design, and a volume controller with the ability to control the volume of each individual channel independently. But having all these high end features and an affordable price tag really isn’t enough. In fact what’s most important is how the headset performs in todays games, followed by movies and music. So lets get started with the review.

Specifications

Center

Front

Surrounding

Subwoofer

Microphone

Frequency response

20 Hz -20k Hz

18 Hz -20k Hz

20 Hz -20k Hz

12 Hz -24k Hz

Sensitivity

108 dB/mW

100 dB/mW

108 dB/mW

39dB±3dB

Impedance

32 Ohm

32 Ohm

32 Ohm

8 Ohm

2.2K Ohm

Drive unit

Ø30mm

Ø40mm

Ø30mm

Ø27mm

Ø9.7 x 5mm

Output power

200 mW

400 mW

200 mW

600 mW

Plug

USB

Cable

3m

Weight

462 g

Warranty

2 year

Product Code

ORACO-ERM22-GBA01

EAN-Code

0872767003552

Since there are four separate drivers for each channel in both cups, you get a true surround sound experience. Looking at the numbers, each driver looks to be perfectly capable of handling a wide dynamic range of frequencies. But the actual sound you get can often be very different from the claimed numbers, which we found out when we reviewed the Arctic Sound S111 portable speakers.

That’s why thorough testing is in order to get a good feel of how well this headset performs.

Packaging and Design

The Arctic Sound P531 come in a large soft cardboard box with silver finishing – pretty much like other Arctic Cooling / Sound products we reviewed recently. In fact the box was a bit too thin for my liking and I was afraid that the headset might have been damaged a bit while in transit because the box clearly was. But thankfully, the large plastic window on the front is actually a full plastic enclosure that serves as an extra layer of protection inside the box.

The box design was pretty straight forward with sides and the back dedicated to highlight major features of the headset, while the large plastic window on the front gave you a glimpse of the actual product. Inside the box, you’d find the headset along with the product’s user guide and the drivers CD.

The headset themselves are made out of plastic with a black and metallic gray finishing. They only support USB input through the three meter long cable, which has a volume control unit about 1 meter down from the headset. While the volume control unit is designed pretty well – it has separate knobs to adjust the volume of each channel, along with an LED activity indicator – it is position is a bit awkward. If it were a bit more closer to the headset, it would be better accessible. The unit also functions as a sound card for the system and doesn’t rely on your system’s sound processor.

As for the design of the headset, Arctic really did a great job engineering the unit. The circumaural ear cups are covered with faux leather coat which is excellent for noise cancellation. And before you think that the headset might not be easy on your ears because of it, then you would be relieved to know that area which makes contact with the ears is covered with a piece of soft cloth providing ultra comfort.

The ear cups also swivel 180 degrees and turn about 90 degrees, plus you can also adjust the height (length) of the headband to get the most comfortable fit possible. Speaking of the headband, it is very soft and flexible and distributes the weight of the headset quite evenly. Even after having the headphones on for hours I didn’t get tired nor felt the weight at all.

Arctic really did a good job with engineering the P531 headset. While the plastic build might seem to be on the cheap side, it really helps keeping the headset lighter and costs low. Plus the ergonomic features make it one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever used. I’ve been using the P531 as my daily driver for about a month now and usually use them for about 9 to 10 hours a day without feeling tired.

Performance: Gaming

The P531 is primarily a gaming headset and that’s exactly where I would be evaluating its performance. Anything beyond gaming (which includes movies and music) is a bonus and really wouldn’t affect my overall opinion (and rating) of the headset. For my test run, I would be running a number of different popular games to see just how good Arctic Sound P531 performs with Surround Sound enabled. My test run includes Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City, Left 4 Dead 2, Counter-Strike: Source, Modern Warfare 2, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

Episodes from Liberty City shouldn’t be a stranger to anyone. It’s the collection of both DLCs for GTA IV, and is thus set in the same Liberty City we have come to know and love. Running GTA IV or EFLC in a 5.1 channel surround environment is an immersive experience in its own right. Walking down the streets at Star Junction, you can distinctively hear the pedestrians chatting while the radio is playing in the passing cars, and this is just one example. While I intended to do a test run of 15 minutes only, I ended up playing for over 5 hours because the gameplay experience was just so immersive.

Left 4 Dead 2 is cooperative FPS depicting a Zombie Apocalypse. So while being ambushed by the horde is just another day in the post apocalyptic New Orleans, the 5.1 channel surround sound really helps identifying the special infected even when you are sawing through an onslaught of the horde, which really is a make or break situation in multiplayer matches when you are up against human players instead of the AI.

Counter-Strike: Source, the classic tactical shooter which defined the online FPS genre is the only game in my test suite which relies on audio as much as it relies on visuals. In fact, most people would argue that correct positional audio is more important in CS:S than visuals because you can hear the opponents approaching or reloading long before you can actually see them around the corners. To this extent, the P531 held on pretty well. Thanks to the 5.1 channel surround, I could accurately tell if the approaching footsteps were coming from the front, sides or the back.

Both Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2 are fast paced FPS shooters with lots of action going around all over the multiplayer maps. So identifying gun fire from far off positions is vital to your survival, and the headset really shined in this department. Vehicle sounds in Bad Company 2 could be heard from far off, so I could take better positions to take them on.

Performance: Movies and Music

I didn’t have high expectations when it came to movies or music with the Arctic Sound P531. That was because of my past experience with other gaming headsets that tend to be mediocre at best when it comes to music or movie experiences. For movies, I tested the Blu-Ray version of Avatar and Robin Hood, both of which were run at 5.1 Channel DTS Surround. Since music is only encoded in stereo, I had to change the Input mode in the Arctic Sound configuration utility to 2 channels. I played through Linkin Park’s latest album, A Thousand Suns, as well as Eminem’s Recovery.

For both of the flicks, the sound experience was surprisingly rich. The wildlife at Pandora really felt alive, while medieval Nottingham gave a dark and gloomy impression. Sound effects of arrows whizzing from left to right were very compelling, the voices were distinctly recognizable, and weren’t eaten away by the noise of the battlefield.

Music did require a bit of adjustment to get the optimal experience possible from the P531. I had to fine tune the volume levels and the equalizer before I could get a satisfying mix of low and high frequencies. But once done, the music experience turned out to be a lot more than what I had hoped for. The headset was pretty accurate at reproducing the entire dynamic range. High frequency notes were perfectly audible while the bass was convincingly deep thanks to the added effect of the built in vibration feedback.

Conclusion

With premium gaming headsets costing north of $100, the lower price tag on the Arctic Sound P531 did raise a bit of eyebrows over here. At first, I wasn’t really expecting a very good gaming experience from the headset let alone some decent movie and music performance. And looking at the packaging and holding the P531 in my hands didn’t really help alleviate those fears either.

Sure the plastic material didn’t have that premium feel to it – but then again, it didn’t have that hefty weight that usually comes along with those headsets. Plus the excellent ergonomic features and comfortable fitting started to sway my opinion about this piece. And once I threw a couple of games at it, I was comfortable enough to rank this headset up with the best in the industry right now. The Arctic Sound P531’s performance was excellent, and was able to reproduce digital surround audio quite accurately and really brought the game worlds to life.

And the magic didn’t stop at games either. The Arctic Sound P531 actually surprised me with its performance in movies where most gaming headsets usually fail. And with a little fine tuning, it also handled music pretty well and most audiophiles would be happy with its music performance.

So with a sub $70 price tag, excellent performance in games, movies and music, along with a comfortable and ergonomic design, Arctic Sound P531 gave us a tough time trying to come up with an excuse of not to give it our Editor’s choice award.  Gamers everywhere around the world should now rest assured that they don’t really have to shell out more than a $100 if they want a superb 5.1 channel gaming headset.

WCCF-Award

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