Zalman Theatre 5.1 Speaker Headphones Review
When I first saw these headphones I jumped on the Internet to look for some reviews before making my purchase, every review I read seemed to love these headphones and rated them highly so I decided to purchase them as a Christmas present to myself! I paid $75.00 (Cdn) from a local retailer and hurried home with my new toy fully intending to enjoy a Movie in glorious 5.1 surround sound.
I tend to stay up much later than the rest on my family and tire of attempting to listen to a movie at such reduced volume that I end up sitting on the edge of my seat with the remote-control poised to lower the volume during the required explosions and gunfights that are peppered throughout most of the Movies I tend to watch. I recently started watching the Movies on my PC with a set of Headphones, this enabled me to listen as loud as I wished without having to feel any guilt at the volume levels but the only drawback was the lack of any decent Bass, not that you can expect much bass from most headphones anyway. I assumed the Zalman 5.1 headphones would suffer from the same drawback but the enhanced sound field with a true 5.1 set-up would at least make the most of the situation.
Before I start talking about these headphones I should mention that 'sound' is often a matter of taste and what one person feels is superior sound will be dismissed by others. I won't try and describe the sound but indicate on a scale of 1 to 10 where it sits based on my evaluation. I also need to mention that as humans we are 20 times more likely to perceive a change in position of sound rather than the quality of the sound. If this sounds confusing try this experiment, close your eyes and have someone move around you while clapping. You should be able to quickly determine the location of the person as they clap from the sound cues created in the real 3D world we live in, but you will hard pressed to compare the claps for any type of quality comparison! In fact the sole purpose of any given speaker/headphone system is to recreate the sound stage of the original recording. When this happens you can actually acoustically position where each instrument/vocalist was standing when the recording was being made! This quality is where most of the high-end products will excel. This of course the point of 5.1 speaker configuration the added speakers help to fully recreate the Movie in a 3D sound field using the added sound cues that are available from these extra speakers, in fact even the most basic speakers used in this configuration will sound quite good as Movies are tailor made for these type of sound position clues where listening to music demands much more as all this information must be done with only a single pair of speakers.
So without further ado here are the specifications for the Zalman 5.1 Headphones:
Features as listed on the back of the Zalman's package:
They contain six actual speakers. In addition to the two main speakers, there are also two smaller speakers to the left and right (or front and back, however you want to look at it) of each of the main speakers. The front two speakers perform the duties of the center channel, higher frequency or voice. The two main speakers take care of the left and right channels, and the rear two speakers handle the surround channels. I noticed after opening my pair up that the main Left/Right channel was using a 32Ω driver while the Center/Rears used a 16Ω driver I found this a little odd for two reasons the first being that the general rule in 5.1 speakers is to match all the speakers. This is done because using different drivers causes some strange effects where the sound stage from each speaker overlaps each other, so why would different drivers be used in the headphones when 3 identical drivers would ensure this would not occur? the second thing is related to power draw, to the sound card a 32Ω load is much easier to drive than a 16Ω load but it would also result in the 32Ω drivers operating at about 1/2 the volume that the 16Ω drivers would play at. Again I'm not sure the logic behind the choice of drivers.
The Zalman headphones weigh in at 11.24 oz, this a noticeable weight on your head (they are housing 6 speakers). Perhaps my head is wider than average but I felt like the headphones were to tight and they actually gave me a slight headache after using them for about 1.5 hours
After setting up my system for 5.1 speakers I listened to "The Incredible's" and found the overall sound field was as good as any other headphone system I've used but not remarkably better so I decided to set-up the headphones the same way I set-up my 5.1 system, I generate a test tone and use a sound level meter to adjust the volume of each speaker until each one produces exactly the same volume from the listening position (this is the correct method and is fully advocated by the industry). My particular sound card has a test where a pink noise signal is played to each speaker in sequence so I placed the sound level meter approximately where my ear would be and proceeded to adjust all the channels until they registered the same volume on the sound level meter. I was alarmed to see that the Center and Rears were set to maximum volume and the Left/Right channels were barely turned on, this meant that the volume needed to be set to maximum in order to achieve any decent overall volume. I suspected the issue may be related to the use of an on-board sound card versus an add-in one one but for my testing purposes the volume was sufficient to continue.
To determine if the Center/Rear channels were actually working I simply muted all the channels except the one I was testing. I'm glad to report that each channel was functioning as it should the Center was being used for voices the Rears were used for surround and the Left/Rights were used for music and other ambient noises.
I found that the Center channel seemed to pull to the Left so I invoked a toggle that swaps Center/Subwoofer to Subwoofer/Center and found it now pulled to the Right I'm not sure why but once all the channels were tuned on the problem was not noticeable.
After listening to various movies I can say that the effects seem to be similar to a true 5.1 system but I have a few issues:
The next question is are these actually a better choice then the other available options? No other solution I've seen actually uses 6 drivers for 5.1 sound but many other Headphones exist that use 'SRS' and claim to be a 'Surround Sound' headphone, they range from $30-$200.
I decided to try something I dug out my pair of Labtec Axis-002 headphones and proceeded to set my DVD player software to 'Dolby Headphone' with the small room setting and had a listen to the same selection I had used with the Zalman headphones. Well after switching back and forth I really couldn't determine which was doing a better job of recreating a 5.1 sound field both appeared to reproduce the surround effects equally well. The big problem here was that the Labtec Axis-002 headphones were much more comfortable (Behind the neck headband design) and the sound was better overall. I had originally purchased them for $35 based on reviews by gamers for being extremely good for Voice communication and with awesome sound quality which extended to the decent Bass they could produce. So I then dug out my set of Koss 'Plugs' these are best described as an ear plug with a ported tube running up the middle to get the sound directly into your Ear canal. These little guys cost $25 and are remarkable in terms on sound quality and decent Bass output. Again these were able to create an outstanding 5.1 sound field and had a better overall sound quality than the Zalman headphones.
I have read many reviews where they mention the enhanced ability in games to pinpoint footsteps etc. in the environment, again I wonder if the reviewer has ever worn any type of headphones while playing these games. I wonder because I learned very quickly the advantage of using headphones brings to the world of gaming. I was constantly accused of cheating when I'd blast some guy that I clearly heard coming around a corner! I was actually ranked in the top 100 players for Soldier of Fortune and It was partly due to the enhanced sound stage the headphones were able to produce compared with regular speakers.
I guess you've figured out by now that I was very disappointed with the Zalman headphones, I admire the idea of a 5.1 headphone but until they can get better sounding drivers and figure out how to shave some major weight from these things I can't possibly find any reason to recommend them to anyone.
My overall rating for the Zalman Headphones is 4/10
If you want the best solution for your Gaming, Movie and Music listening then I'd suggest you pick-up a set of Bose TriPort Headphones at more than double the price of the Zalman headphones the price may seem steep at $190 (Cdn) but I can only say that these are the best headphones I have ever used (and I have used many different headphones) the sound stage is a 9.5 in my books and the Bass created by the Bose headphones is just short of astounding! The bass is best described as clear, strong and sounds exactly the way it should sound if compared to a set of regular speakers with the Bass extending to much lower levels than I thought any headphone could ever deliver. I often find it difficult to choose between using the Bose headphones or my main 2.1 speakers Monsoon speakers!
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