ROCCAT Kave 5.1 Surround Gaming Headset Review

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Kave 5.1 Stereo Performance

Stereo Mode Testing
We will be testing stereo mode on a laptop based on the Intel 965GM chipset which features Intel “Extreme” audio.  
In “Movie” mode, we listened to a variety of music tracks we are well familiar with to evaluate performance while listening to music.  
Unfortunately, we found the stereo performance of this headset during music playback was lacking.  Listening to “Anthology” by Thrice, the entire midrange spectrum sounded tinny and had a hollow texture that colored the entire experience with an unpleasant undertone.  The highs came through quite well in this mode, with sounds like cymbals and higher-pitched guitar riffs establishing a well-formed upper spectrum.  But Dustin Kensrue’s vocals suffered from the muffled midrange, sounding as if he was singing into a tin can and losing much of the quality of his voice.  The bass in this mode was also underwhelming, which can be a positive note for some purists, but I found the experience lacking the punch that I wanted when the harder portions of the song hit their stride.
Roccat Kave Mute Button
For our gaming tests, we first loaded up “Alan Wake”, the newly-released thriller for PC.  Being first developed as an Xbox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake finally made it to the PC nearly two years later and relies heavily on lighting and sound to create a nightmarish atmosphere, so a quality set of headphones or speakers really helps enhance the experience.  The Kave did a good job of reproducing the atmospheric effects, with the weather effects and sound effects coming through clear and crisp.  We could even detect some positional cues, with dialogue and sounds coming from behind the character sounding somewhat like they were coming from the appropriate direction.  The flaws with the midrange production did affect our experience here, though.  Many of the sounds suffered from the same tinny or muted sound in the midrange that we noticed during music playback before.  

Next, we tested Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.  The newest version of the Hot Pursuit franchise again places drivers in a variety of supercars and souped-up police cars, with both factions trying to control the roads of Seacrest County.  This version of the game was released for PC in November, 2010 and features a built-in 5.1 audio engine.  We jumped into a Dodge Charger and hit the streets.  The sounds of the engine surrounded us and the spectrum of highs and lows were enjoyable, but the midrange lacked some clarity.  It was difficult for us in this game to detect where car sounds were coming from when competing racers were behind us, however.  The music soundtrack to this game is very energetic, and we did enjoy hearing the music while racing.  
Roccat Kave Side View
We next wanted to test the gaming capabilities of the Kave in stereo mode in a FPS, so we started up Battlefield 3.  Battlefield 3 is still one of the most popular first person shooters on the market today, and being able to quickly detect the location of enemies becomes essential to survival in a game like this.  So, we were particularly interested to see how the positional effects of a game like this would sound in the Kave in stereo mode.  During an intense multiplayer battle, we really paid attention to how we could detect sounds around us, and we found that the Kave did an adequate job of recreating surround effects, but it was difficult at times to locate precisely where sounds were coming from.  The sounds on the battlefield of gunfire, vehicles, and explosions were recreated with sufficient clarity and accuracy, but we did find the bass to be a bit lacking the satisfying punch that we want during a game.
With the stereo tests done, we wanted to see how this headset lives up to its name during 5.1 use.  
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