Sennheiser HD580 DSP
I work off hours, often from home. As such, I am awake at very odd hours. I often awake at 1AM. Since I love movies I frequently would like to watch a movie at that hour but I live in an apartment and well, I don't want upset neighbors and a visit from the police. Because of this I got a set of fairly good headsets. The Sennheiser HD 580 comes with their proprietary surround sound unit to emulate rear channel speakers.
The headsets and DSP surround unit are shipped in one large box that contains individual boxes for each unit. I found out that this is because the DSP unit is available separately. The headsets were very comfortable, lightweight and with a velvet lining for the ears. The cables are not the typical heavy cables but rather extremely thin cables more like that which are found on a personal stereo headset. The headpiece fit snug to my head and did not provide that claustrophobic feeling I have found with many older headsets. The sound reproduction was extremely good. The bass was a bit too pronounced but I have more on that later. The higher frequencies were excellent, crisp and clear. The mid range gave the feeling of listening to a speaker rather than a headset. The sound is greatly diminished with the headset so you will have to ride the gain up on the volume control pretty high. Just remember to set it back down before returning to the speakers or you could blow them out. By themselves the headsets are worth the $179 street price but there is more. You also get the DSP audio processor with the package.
The DSP audio processor is about the size of a large remote control (200mm x 80mm x 20mm) and weighs 700g. The units are metric demonstrating the German origins of the unit. The booklet that accompanies the unit is in quite a few languages and includes a full description of the unit and of Sennheiser's contribution to the field of audiology. There are numerous controls on the unit that allow you control, albeit minimal, of most aspects of the virtual sound field. The unit is Dolby ProLogic compliant and can process regular stereo input into fair good ProLogic surround. The sound field with the ProLogics circuits on is noticeable and does provide the promised depth. The right-left separation is excellent. The bass can be adjusted in 15 steps allowing you to compensate for the bass boost the headsets seem to provide. The unit is not a passive one, you have to connect a power transformer to the same cable that connects to the sound source. This is excellent design as it permits you to keep the transformer plugged in near your receiver and removes the need for another cable connection to the unit. The unit allows for two headsets to be connected at the same time and permits independent control of the volume. There are also controls for the 'ear' of the headset. This permits you to position the virtual speakers (as the booklet refers to them) higher or lower according to your preference. You can also choose where your virtual seat is in the virtual room the unit creates. You can move this 'seat' back and forth in the room. The ProLogic circuits provide for 'Theater', 'Hall' and 'Club' modes. There is even a ProLogic test circuit that helps in the calibration of the sound field. The settings are displayed with a 15 LED arc that is used for all adjustments. You can store two sets of configurations and switch back and forth easily.
I tested the headset and processor on all aspects of my home theater system. With Dolby 5.1 or DTS as the source I lost the dialogue since there is no way for the center track to reach the unit. This may be a limitation of the receiver I used for the test. I got around this by switching the decoder to Stereo mode and permitting the processor's ProLogic circuits to do the rest. The results were rather good. For television the unit gave a rich sound field on programming sent this surround. When using Prologic tapes the results were excellent. The best results were using the unit with Dolby 2.0 surround DVDs. There was an apparent depth to the experience. The Matrix will always be best with speakers but this unit is great for most non-rear channel extensive films. When using the set for CD music the sound was rich and full. There was excellent directionality to the sound and excellent separation.
One excellent use for these headsets is with your computer. I tested them with CDs, MP3s and DVDs and the results were fantastic. The fully spectrum of sound came across clear and well reproduced. This is especially good for laptops or computers with smaller speakers.
All in all it is a pretty good deal except if you expect full 5.1 sound emulation. There are trade offs in life and having to listen to music or watch a movie without disturbing others means sacrificing the full surround sound that you can get only with six speakers. Still, for those late nights, early mornings or quiet times you want full rich sound this headset and processor will make the experience better than normal headsets.