For most of us, the luxery of playing games with the volume shaking the walls and lossening fillings is a pipe dream. Children and wives need to sleep and your apartment neighbors may be homcidal maniacs, you don't know. 4tomsma4her brings us a review of the Kinyo KY-100-5.1 surround sound headphones to see if maybe we can approximate the effects of 5.1 sound without getting in trouble.
I'm a night gamer. This is due in large part to the fact that I have a four-year old daughter. The time from my workday's end to her bedtime is short - 2 to 3 hours - and this time is usually spent having dinner, making school lunches, reading stories, telling her not to jump on the dog or couch, et cetera. Besides, her imagination is full of fairies and princesses, which do not get along with headcrabs, nazis, or the undead. So there's no gaming until she's off to bed.
Once she's alseep, things around the house need to stay pretty quiet. In addition, my wife does not generally enjoy the sounds of weaponry and death. Plus, we live in a townhouse, and share a wall with a very nice older lady who probably does not like those sorts of noises either. As a result, I've been required to game with headphones. Which is fine. I like headphones. The problem, however, has been that setting found on so many recent games' audio options screens - the one that says "5.1 surround." For the reasons stated above - plus the fact a 5-speaker setup would completely take over my den, rendering it virtually impassible - gaming with a bonafide 5.1 setup has not been an option.
I'd been depressed about this for a while when, while wandering aimlessly through Circuit City, I discovered Kinyo's KY-100 headphones. The package promised true 5.1 surround sound, from a device that would stick to my head and that no one but me would hear. Could it be true? I decided that for the price - about 40 bucks - I was definitely willing to give it a shot.
Here's the disclaimer part of this review: I am not what you'd consider an audiophile. I like to buy expensive audio equipment when I have the money (which is almost never), but in my estimation, the difference in sound quality between a $500 Pioneer setup and the $1500 Bose equivalent isn't noticeable enough to merit the extra cash. Sacrilege, some may say. Well, that's where I'm coming from. I'm not an audio purist, and I don't know a thing about ohms or impedance or kilohertz. I just want stuff to sound reasonably good (end of disclaimer).
I was surprised to find that the KY-100s come packaged with a huge wad of cables and adapters. Unlike most audio products, they come with just about anything you'd need to hook them up to your system. Setup is relatively easy. Basically, you run your 5.1 audio output into the KY-100's small receiver/amplifier, which has 5.1 outputs for your regular speakers (if you've got 'em), a proprietary 9-pin output jack for the 5.1 headphones, and an on/off & volume switch.
The headphones sound pretty good. I'd compare the quality to what you'd get from a $60-$80 set of stereo headphones, except it's true 5.1 surround. There are actually three speakers in each earpiece, corresponding to rear, front, and center channels. Because the speakers are so close together, the channel separation isn't as distinct as it would be with a regular surround speaker setup, but it's dramatic improvement over simple stereo sound nonetheless. The KY-100s can also provide simulated surround from a stereo source, although it's not as impressive as the real thing.
Surprisingly, the headphones aren't any larger than those of ordinary stereo headphones of similar quality. Bass response is quite good, and the earpieces do an effective job of blocking out background noise. And despite the "KY" designation, no jelly was needed - the headphones were plenty adjustable and, although a bit heavy, were quite comfortable. The cable is long - I haven't measured, but I'm guessing it's a good 8 to 10 feet.
The KY-100's only real flaw is a subtle background hiss that's equally present at low and high volumes. It's the kind of thing that might be a deal-breaker for some, but I found that I only noticed it when I first switched the headphones on. Once I was playing games, it disappeared into the background. I also found that if I cranked the headphones to ear-splitting volumes (and they do get very loud) I picked up some interference from my hard disks and CD-ROM, but only when the receiver was right next to my PC.
I'd recommend the KY-100's to just about anyone looking for a low-budget way to dramatically improve their gaming experience. If you've been playing with stereo headphones, you'll notice a huge difference with games that provide true 5.1 sound. The switch from 2D to 3D audio with Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 was almost overwhelming at first. It really ups the level of immersion. In addition, it offers a substantial tactical advantage. There's nothing like true 5.1 sound positioning when you need to know where those bullets are coming from, or if you're trying to avoid being surprised from behind.
The KY-100s are probably not for the hard-core audiophile. But for under $50, they should satisfy just about anyone else.