ROCCAT Kave 5.1 Surround Gaming Headset Review

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5.1 mode performance

5.1 Mode Testing
We will be testing 5.1 channel mode on a system based on the Rampage II Gene motherboard.  This motherboard is ideal for audio testing because it has the SupremeFX X-Fi built in.  The SupremeFX is an 8-channel system that supports EAX Advanced HD 4.0, X-Fi CMSS-3D, X-Fi Crystalizer, Creative ALchemy, and supports Optical S/PDIF ports.  In 5.1 mode, each of the 3.5mm jack plugs will be plugged into the motherboard’s outputs.  

Roccat Kave Control Module Mixer

We started our gaming tests with Alan Wake.  With the ROCCAT Kave in 5.1 mode, we really enjoyed our gaming experience in this thriller.  The 5.1 capabilities of this headset shined, with a full, yet appropriate, amount of bass and crisp highs.  In 5.1 mode, the shortcomings we experienced in stereo mode were largely nullified by the additional drivers being engaged.  The “subwoofer” channel provided a level of bass that definitely enhanced the experience while not being blown out or overpowering.  The center channel output provided crisp, clear highs, particularly during dialogue or with certain sound effects.  While the simulated center channel made listening to character dialogue a pleasant experience, we would not say our ears were “tricked” into thinking a center channel existed in front of us.  A character speaking directly in front of us still sounded like she was more or less all around us, yet the Kave 5.1 provides enough auditory cues that we could detect the direction her voice was coming from.  The midrange still sounded slightly tinny or washed out at times, but that was largely overcome by the full sound coming from the full complement of drivers within the headset.  The surround channel performance was particularly impressive.  Sound effects and speech that originated behind the character sounded as if they were coming from behind the listener’s ears, greatly enhancing the sense of immersion in the game.  
We next attempted Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and we were immediately impressed by the immersion the 5.1 headset provided.  Engine sounds were full and satisfying, while police sirens and other sounds were crisp and clean.  The midrange was again a bit washed out, but this was compensated by more satisfying bass and clear highs.  The musical soundtrack to this game is hard hitting and upbeat, and we really enjoyed listening to the songs during races.  The positional effects were also well done, as we could clearly tell when another racer or a police car were coming up on the rear of the vehicle or was driving right in front of us.  As civilian cars were left in the dust, we clearly heard their sounds fly behind us as we blew past them on the streets.  
Roccat Kave Head Cushions
Finally, we wanted to see how this headset performs during an intense FPS, so we started up Battlefield 3.  In 5.1 mode, the positional cues provided by the headset were certainly an improvement over those in stereo mode.  We were able to properly detect where enemy soldiers and vehicles were when they were around our backs.  The quality of the sound was also impressive, with explosions and vehicle sounds having both the clarity of the highs and the punch of the bass that makes the experience truly enjoyable.  

Movie Performance
To see how the ROCCAT Kave 5.1 performs during movie watching, we started with a full-quality blu ray rip of “Hugo.”  Hugo is set primarily in a fantastic version of a crowded early 1900s Paris train station, so there are plenty of ambient sounds to experience with a 5.1 audio system.  We were very impressed with the Kave during dialogue-heavy scenes, with the characters’ dialogue coming through very clearly.  Again, the simulated center channel allowed the sound of the voices to come from in front of the listener to some extent, yet we doubt any set of headphones could truly replace the experience of a dedicated center speaker.  Nonetheless, the ambiance of the crowded train station, with its many passengers, trains, kids, pets, and stores, immersed us in the experience of the movie and impressed with the level of audio quality.  
We also tested the headset while watching another full-quality blu ray rip, this time of Avatar.  We picked this movie to see how the surround setup would perform during intense battle scenes.  So, we skipped toward the end of the movie during the most intense battle of the movie.  The sounds of the flying creatures and machines surrounded us, filling out the entire scene of the battle with a large amount of auditory information. 
Music Performance
We started up “Midnight City” by M83 to see how the headset would perform in 5.1 mode while playing music.  For this song, the headset performed literally flawlessly.  The high electronic sounds were perfect, the amount of bass was excellent, and the vocals came through clearly.  The synthesized nature of this song was perfect for this headset, and the Kave truly shined during this song.  We then tested “Anthology” by Thrice again to see if the experience improved over stereo mode, and it certainly did.  The bass was much more pronounced and effective.  However, we could still detect a bit of an issue with midrange reproduction with this song.  
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