razer tiamat 7 1 review 11When Razer announced the Tiamat 7.1 surround sound headset equipped with 10 drivers (speakers), a good chunk of the gaming community got very excited by the prospect of being able to play with surround sound without making the neighbors go beserk. However, a delay in the manufacturing had users wonder if the Tiamat 7.1 headset would finally see the light of day. Well, one of them has landed in our office, and we took it for a spin. In this review, we will go over its design, audio properties and ultimately , its user experience. Will the Tiamat 7.1 give you that edge in the next gaming session? Read on…

Context

It’s always nice to have come context, so here’s where I come from: I’m a former developer from the game industry and I have played video-games since I was 7. My favorite type of games are first person shooters (FPS), although I also play real-time strategy (C&C), smash them all (Diablo) or casual games.

Industrial design

As usual, Razer has put considerable work in the design of this product, and this starts with the packaging, which is nice, solid, and frankly would probably make you feel like you spend your money on the right thing (we’ll assess that later).

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The user experience starts with the opening of the box...

The headphones themselves are pretty big, and I had a “I’m going to wear that?!” moment. But, before I tell you about how it felt on my head, let’s take a quick tour. First, Razer made sure that you can see all those tiny speakers and drivers from the translucent side of the Tiamat 7.1. It’s pretty smart as it mentally solidifies the 7.1 status of those headphones. There is an optional cover if you don’t want to see them.

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Secondly, there is a retractable microphone built into the left side. Given the size of the headphones, Razer had some room to work, but still, I really like the idea of having this being retractable, mainly because I don’t use the microphone very often and therefore it should be around 100% of the time.

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At the top, there is a soft band that makes the Razer Tiamat 7.1 surprisingly comfortable to use. I say surprisingly because one would expect this to be quite heavy, while in fact it does feel relatively light once worn on the head. The earcups are also very comfortable and do a good job of covering the whole ear (at least mines). After an hour or so, I felt a little pressure, but it was just fine. Note that ear cushions are user-replaceable, which is important if you plan on keeping those for a while.

Installation and connectivity (excellent)

The connectivity of the Razer Tiamat 7.1 has been the object of much attention: it is a complete system that integrates perfectly with most existing setup, which means that you can easily switch from Speakers to Tiamat and vice-versa. The included adapters also make it easy to plug into an existing 7.1 surround sound setup.

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The Tiamat headset comes with a “control box” which is directly attached to the headset cable. The box allows one to tweak the volume of every channel with the main analog control. It also has interruptors to mute the microphone, switch from headset to speakers and switch from 7.1 to stereo. In the back, you have another cable that goes to the PC, and a micro USB port that splits into analog 7.1 connectors.

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The whole thing is dead simple, and the color-coded connectors make it just about impossible to get it wrong. The box itself is built with quality materials and doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy at all. These controls are in my view one of the best thing about the Tiamat 7.1, and one feature (and quality) that few competitors do emulate.

There was no particular drivers to install. Assuming that you computer supports 7.1 audio, all you need to do is to make sure that the Windows sound system is properly setup to output 7.1 surround sound. That’s it.

Audio quality (good++)

I’ll tell you the truth: I’m not really an “audiophile”, and I usually have a hard time discerning the difference between a “very good” headset and an “excellent one”. The audio quality of the Razer Tiamat 7.1 feels really good, but I’m just about sure that I’ve tried  high-end headphones that had better “sound fidelity”. That said, Tiamat is not about listening to Mozart in front of your PC, it’s about immersing you into a gaming experience by using 7.1 surround sound. And that, it is very good at that.

It is admittedly very tricky to have surround sound working properly on something that is so close to your ears, and I’m not sure how we could measure the “realism” of the surround sound. But gaming is about being believable, not about being realistic. Overall, I would say that the sound quality is very good for gaming, but I may want to pick something else to listen to classical music, which is often about range of sound reproduction, rather than sound spatialization. Also, to setup your expectations, I think that a setup with speakers would provide better surround sound, but at the expense of all the advantages of having a headset (small, quiet, possibly cheaper).

One thing that I would suggest to Razer is considering adding active noise filtering. I’m not sure about what it would really take to do it, but in a computer environment, that can only help. I can’t blame the Tiamat 7.1 for not having it today, but I surely would pay a little extra ($50?) to get the headsets to actively cancel noise. I’m willing to spend good money on noise-cancelling phones that I can bring on a place, so why not get a comfy gaming headset with a microphone at the same time?

Alternatives (many!)

Of course, like any other “high-end” accessory, the question is whether or not you “need” it. Many discussions about the Tiamat 7.1 on various forums revolve around this topic. There are a flurry of “gaming” headsets that may be considered as an alternative. Of course, the choice will depend on what you are looking for.

If you seek absolute audio quality (as in “you’re an audiophile”) and don’t care much about 7.1 surround, well this is not for you, and there are other (expensive) options out there. If you want surround audio, but don’t care much about comfort, and/or if you are on a budget, there are also other options, including 5.1 headsets.

Just to name a few, look at the Logitech G35 ($80), the Turtle Beach PX5, the Triton AX Pro, the Corsair 7.1 ($78) or the Raptor 7.1 ($71). On paper, they are all “surround”, and can vary greatly from the Razer Tiamat 7.1 in terms of audio, design and comfort. However, pricing is always a valid concern, so do your homework. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of those in the office for a direct comparison.

Note that it is also possible to get decent spatialization with plain stereo headphones, by using sound processing on your computer. This requires installing a software, and tweak some settings, but I’ve heard some convincing demos from Dolby and others. In that context, if you like the look of the Tiamat 7.1, but don’t care much about multi-speaker based surround sound, check out the Razer 2.2 which is a stereo Tiamat with a similar design – that sells for $100.

Conclusion (very good)

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In the end, I think that the Tiamat 7.1 edge goes beyond its audio quality: it’s the industrial design – the whole package. The sad reality is that most people don’t really discern the differences in terms of sound “quality” (between “very good” and “great”), and those who can hear the difference aren’t really well served by reading a review anyway – they need to try it for themselves (which is what I ultimately recommend). Also, to answer our original question: I’m not convinced that the Tiamat 7.1 can give you that big if an edge when enemies come from behind, but it does make the games more immersive.

My take on the Tiamat 7.1 headset is that it is a formidable headset design, which is functional, nice, and aggressive (as in “badass”) at the same time. The connectivity options and the overall ease of use and comfort is as important, or even more important, than a (slight) improvement of sound quality alone (I’m assuming that none of the competitors sound “horrible”, but again, I haven’t tried them all).

I’m very impressed with what Razer has done with the Tiamat 7.1, and I hope that they will consider adding a noise-cancellation feature and detachable cables next time. A wireless option would be awesome too, if possible at all. In the meantime, this is one of the coolest gaming audio accessory that I have seen in a while.

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