Razer was kind enough to send me its latest surround sound PC gaming headset, the Tiamat 7.1. The last analog surround sound headset I tried was pretty average, to say the least, so I was curious to see if our friends in Carlsbad had come up with a more compelling product.
You can tell the Tiamat is a Razer product as soon as you unpackage the headset, with Razer logos adorning both cans and the headband. Black and green are dominant throughout, so if you’re already a fan of Razer’s design philosophy, your head will feel right at home. The covers on both cans are clear, allowing you to see the five drivers contained within (which makes for ten drivers total). Assuming you’re into the whole gamer aesthetic, it’s a very attractive package, and reminds me of the old see-through Game Boys from the mid-1990’s.
The Tiamat felt a bit tight on my ears for the first minute or so, but after some minor adjustments they became quite comfortable. I’ve been using them for a few days now, and there hasn’t been much to complain about regarding comfort. I would say the Kave 5.1 is a more comfortable headset overall (which is a shocker, given how heavy it is), but not by a wide margin.
The Tiamat 7.1 is an analog headset, meaning it uses different cables for specific audio channels when connecting to your PC. You still have the green and pink cables for front/stereo audio (depending on what mode the Tiamat is in) and your microphone, respectively, but the Tiamat uses three additional cables as well. Yellow (or orange, depending on your motherboard) handles the center speaker and subwoofer, black covers rear surround, and gray is for side surround. Much like Captain Planet and the Planeteers, the five cables combine to create one fluid audio experience; the end result is eight magical channels of audio in your ears, as well as your shouted obscenities being pushed from the microphone out to the virtual world. You can use the Tiamat 7.1 as a stereo headset, too, simply by clicking the 7.1 button on the volume controller. And if you’re the kind of oddball who uses 7.1 speakers AND a 7.1 headset with your gaming PC, the Tiamat has connectors that allow you to connect the speaker cables into the Tiamat controller. It’s a nice touch, and it means you won’t be fiddling around behind your tower every time you want to switch between your speakers and your headset.
Now we’re at the most important part: audio quality. When it comes to first-person shooters, the Tiamat performs admirably when you need precise positional audio. Pinpointing enemy locations in Quake Live was as easy as ever, and the same goes for other games like Counter Strike and Battlefield 3. The Tiamat also succeeds where the Kave 5.1 fell short, meaning the audio from the different drivers blends in quite well – not enough to be muddled, but it’s not airy and disjointed, either. Even stereo music sounds great through the Tiamat, be it new Van Halen or old Small Faces. I did get the same sort of buzzing and interference with the Tiamat as I did with the Kave 5.1, which leads me to believe the static – which is only noticeably present when no audio is being played – is from my motherboard and not the headsets.
Is an analog surround headset like the Tiamat 7.1 truly better than a virtual surround headset? Ultimately, I think the answer is no…at least that’s how my ears hear it, anyway. That doesn’t mean the Tiamat is a bad purchase, nor does it mean that analog headsets have no place in the universe. For me, the Tiamat offered no immediate, noticeable advantage over using a virtual surround sound solution. I didn’t net any additional enemy kills in the variety of games I played while using the Tiamat instead of my usual headset (an ASTRO A40), so there’s no distinct advantage to point to. That said, the Tiamat is comfortable with pretty good sound quality, and it looks slick next to something overly gray like the Logitech G35. If you’re looking for a new PC gaming headset, and you’re comfortable with spending $150-$200 on such an accessory, then the Tiamat is worth a look, for sure. I would recommend pairing the Tiamat with some sort of sound card from Creative or Asus, as the onboard audio chip on your motherboard might not be up to the task (and, while not confirmed, might help with any sort of static issues). --Devin Connors