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Old 06-02-2006, 01:12 PM   #1
Rob Williams
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Default Zalman ZM-RS6F+M Surround Sound Headphones

Iím sure you've all heard of Zalman and are familiar with some, if not all of their products. On the menu for today are these tasty surround sound headphones. I've been itching to get my hands on a pair of surround sound headphones so let's take a look and a listen.

After reading Wills review here, discuss it here!
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Old 06-02-2006, 02:30 PM   #2
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Ok, i know ive said it before.

And yeah, maybe i bitch to much....but a 10?
Im having a hard time finding out how that works.
I suppose, given its price point, to performance, when compared to other 5.1 headphones, it is a great bargain. But i feel its far from perfect
And not to be mean, but im curious what other head-fi products the reviewr has used to stack it up against directly.

For me, there are several issues with this headset.


If you only want the short and sweet sumerized version, skip to the bottom of the post now. If you want the full, somewhat repetitive skinny...keep reading.


First and formost, the biggest one is lack of inline volume control. If your going to make a "gaming" headset, it darn well should have one. Reference level between games can vary dramaticly. And not everyone has a keyboard that supports volume control. And even then, often times its a digital volume control that doesnt allow you to get it to that "sweet spot". Also, often times, the line level on a sound card is high enough that to make it listenable, you are underdriving the headphones, but to have enough power to drive the headphones, your also blasting your ear drums through your eyeballs. This is a big issue for me, and i think its somthing that shouldent be over looked. Even in the name of cost cutting.

In the same line of thought, the same can be said of the mic. Where is the mute - on/off switch on teh mic? So that if you have to sneeze, you can click the mic off to keep from blasting your buddies with it on the other side of your VoIP. Personally i also prefer a boom mic. But thats a moot point ill overlook as a purely personal preference issue.

And lastly on the design, and again, this could be considered a personal preference issue, but i feel its important enough for every potential customer who might buy it to know. The headphones are circumaural, and are a sealed design. Providing no ventalation to the ears. Also becuase they have "leather" ear piece, you get a sort of suctioning effect to your ear when they get damp. Personally, i sweat at my ears when im gaming heavily. And especially in a room full of hot computer hardware, and 20+ people with ambient temps hovering aroun 85F. And i found that these headphones made my head feel very muggy, becuase my ears could no breathe. I found this to be a huge drawback. Conversly however, the soft and plyable nature of the ear peice design, does allow for a comfortable fit over a pair of glasses, should you be one of those who requires the use of them. Which can be difficult with some other ear padding systems.

Now for the part that i really have the most problem with. Sound quality. WHen your looking at a pair of 5.1 headphones, its hard to know where to really begin your comparison...do you look at traditional 5.1 multimedia setups...5.1 home theater setups? Or do you look at basic sterophonic PC headsets, or mid range Head-Fi equipment? The comparisons to any and all of these, i think, come into direct account when reviewing this type of headset.

So ill start witht he lowest common demoninator, and work up.

Standard PC headsets in comparison to these, are about even. There are some really crappy headsets out there for quite a bit of money. However in the sub $50 range, i would say there are a couple models from companies like Senheiser, and Plantronics that offer better sound quality, and a superior boom mic. Really the only added benefit is the novelty of the 5.1 in the Zalmen unit. And with a good set of sterophonic headphones, coupled with a quality soundcard like a X-Fi, you will get amazing sound that could equaly rival, or perhaps best the 5.1 units. Its really close. And it would come down more to what you wanted to spend, and if you could really hear that much benefit of the 5.1 in regular use. LEts say you could...is it worth an adition $20? THats up to you.

Against the 5.1 multimedia speaker setup, there is no question that even a moderate quality 5.1 speaker setup will offer better spatial imaging then the headphones. Its just simple physics, as the speakers will be harmonicly enveloping. However, again, there are some really crappy 5.1 speaker systems out there. And for $50, all thats left is the really crappy ones. So the headphones get the win here. Plus you have the added benefit, of being able to not bother your neighbors, spuce, house mates, mother, etc. WHich is always a bonus.

Against even a low end Head-Fi setup, these would be eaten alive. Im sorry, but the Zalmen unit does not offer good imaging in stero, and does not offer good dynamic range. They fall flat on their face lone before they get all the audio out. Even useing 5.1 upscaling to push all the drivers in the Zalmen, somthing as respectable in cost as a pair of Grado SR-80's (which can be had for around $80) will desimate the Zalmans in sond quality, imaging, soundstage, and dynamic range. Put those Grados into a Bit-Head or Air-Head headphone amp, and well...its a slaughtering, not a contest.

And of course up against a true 5.1 home theater setup, in terms of dynamic range, imaging, and over all sonic enveloment, the headphones cant compete. The low frequency of the headphones is certaintly not a strong point, and the 5.1 really feels forced in is locating, rather then feeling truely naturally surrounded by the sound.

So, ive given Zalmen a preaty big black eye there...so thats means they are crap?

Well, no. Becuase they are the best 5.1 headphone out there in my oppinion. But thats just in that single segment. In terms of comparison to a real headphone, or even a higher end PC headset, they simply cant compete. And really get beat up by physical speakers.

So if te novelty of a 5.1 headphone intrigues you. And you have no other basis for what good sounding headphones should sound like, or proper 5.1 surround sound should sound like. THen perhaps they are the headphone for you. And for the gamer who has somone who constantly bitch to them about their loud multimedia speakers, they are probibly ideal.

However if your a descerning audio fanatic who has spent the moeny to get an X-Fi, and taken the time to piece together his Home Theater system, or 2 chnnel sterphonic setup component by component. Then you will be whoafully diasppointed with these, and will hate yourself for wasting $50 that you could have spent on a new game, or some other similarly priced item.

So to sumerize.

Are they a good set of headphones? No. But they are the best in the 5.1 segment.
Should i buy them? Well, thats if you feel they are worth the $50 and have nothing to compare them to, then what came with your Discman.
Are they worth a 10? Definately not...but i would say that for their uniqueness, and offering the best product in their segment, they deserve a solid 7.5-8 , with deductions for soggy ears, and lack of in-line volume control.


Ok, im done now.
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Old 06-02-2006, 02:35 PM   #3
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Looks like a nice set of headphones. Did you notice any problems with interference? I.e. whenever my cell phone goes off I hear a lot of buzzing and high pitched whining... it also tends to happen with other cordless devices. Any experience with that?
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Old 06-02-2006, 03:01 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Buck-O
Ok, i know ive said it before.

*snip*

Ok, im done now.
So, they're the best in their segment but don't deserve a 10 huh? What constitutes a 10? Superior performance? Check, they're better than the other 5.1's, you said it yourself. Quality? I've seen these headphones myself and they're very well made and I've been around studio grade equipment. Check there too. Good sound? I know Will directly compared them to his HT setup and having heard it personally I can say honestly it's a decent setup. No it's no Klipsch setup but still not bad. So, check. And as to the sweaty ears thing, that's a YMMV thing, my ears don't sweat when I wear headsets and I happen to prefer leaterette earpieces to foam since they last longer and easily wipe clean and as for you having a sweaty head, ewww, I'd hate to be wearing foam earpieces and have them get all soaked with sweat. Having worked in a hardhat for years I know what foam starts to smell like after repeated sweat soakings, to be blunt it stinks.

If a product does what it advertises and does it better than it's competition it deserves a 10. Yes, an inline volume control would be nice but then again considering how complex it would be (a 5 pot stack is rather sizable) it ends up making the cable effectively as long as the distance between the headset and the control because you don't want the weight of that big of a pod hanging off the cable and thereby off your head.
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Old 06-03-2006, 12:45 AM   #5
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Well, the foam thing is simple, get a head set with closed cell foam padding. What foam cant absorb, it cant fester.

Compared to other 5.1 headphones (all three of them worth talking about) its good. How do 5.1's comapre to standard headphones, even in the low-fi range, i would say not a single 5.1 headphones is not capable of competing with a proper headphone in frequency responce, imaging, and sound stage. And giventhe higher price of the 5.1's, thats poor. And the problem mostly stems from packing so many drivers into a unit, they A: need to be small and B: need to be cheap. Two of the biggest strikes against headphone drivers that lead directly to poor quality audio.

Its difficult to really calsify this sort of product, becuase its got a certain coolness factor, and amongst its direct peers, its a better then average product. But against the market as a whole, and against set standard of head-fi, it barily scratches teh surface of acceptable. And i dont think you can overlook that fact, even if it is better then its peers.

Becuase if you removed the novelty of 5.1, all you would be left with is a crappy set of headphones.

So, i gues maybe we should put it in a differnt perspective.
Take Hyundai. Hyundai makes better then average cars. And they have come a long way to build some nice pieces of kit. If you compare a Hyundai to a Kia, then yes you could honestly say that a Hyundai is a 10. Becuase in the Korean car market, they are at the top. However, when you compare it to a Honda, or a Toyota, or the rest of the market, it quickly falls from a 10, to a 7-8.

Or like the old Sony Clie. Yeah, the Color screen when it was firt released was quite a novelty. And amonst other PalmOS driven devices, it was really stellar. However, strip away the color screen, and the high price point, and all your left with is a crappy Palm Pilot, with a limited OS, that would be slaughtered by even the lowest end of Pocket PC devices. Was it good with its peers. Yes. Was it a great value, thats up to the person buying it. Does it deserve top honors amongst the rest of the market...no. Because there is better out there, that dont have its shortcomings.

I guess maybe im looking through a bit wider prism. But i think its bad to not look at the bigger picture of the whole market segment when putting a number to the total worth of the product to the general consumer. And to that end, i also believe there is no such thing as a perfect product.


Ok, ill quit being pissy now. I dont want to piss anyone off by coming off as a complete dick.



(this is the line where Rob edits in *ooops, too late*)
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Old 06-03-2006, 08:44 AM   #6
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I agree with most of what you said this time. I may or may not agree that this product receives a 10, but I don't have them in front of me, so I have no opinion whatsoever.
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Old 06-03-2006, 09:10 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackAndy
Looks like a nice set of headphones. Did you notice any problems with interference? I.e. whenever my cell phone goes off I hear a lot of buzzing and high pitched whining... it also tends to happen with other cordless devices. Any experience with that?
Andy
Thats more dependant on the sound cards ability to handle, and reduce EMI (electro magnetic interference) through its amplifier. Then it is directly related to the audio output device you have it connected to. Unless that device has its own seperate amp, like a pair of multi media speakers, which could also be suseptible to EMI, in the same way the sound card is.

So, these headphones wouldent suffer any less then another set of headphones in the same circumstances. But the extra long wire doesnt help in reducing it.

You can help combat this problem however. By making sure your wire leads to your head set dont run next to anything that could produce EMI, like a clicking HDD, or a cell phone, or a cordless phone jack, or even a wireless router. And try to keep the excess wire from coiling up over a power cord, or other electrical device. That way the cord is less likely to act as an antenna for the EMI and be transfered to the amp of yoru aoundcard, and in return, to your ears.

Seconedly, make sure your microphone line input is muted in your volume control at all times unless you are useing it. And keep it clear of any EMI prduceing devices as well. As that line input usually has a gain amplification, and will make the problem seem worse. Infact, with the individual wire nature of the Zalman mic, i would just unplug it all together untill i needed to use it.

Hope that helps.

Last edited by Buck-O; 06-03-2006 at 09:14 AM.
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