When I think of a “flagship” gaming headset, I imagine a ~$300 product at the top of a product line with multiple connection options, exceptional build quality, plush comfort features, and audiophile-level sound performance. I think of the $329 Cloud Orbit S and Arctis Pro Wireless in particular, both of which offer all these things and are currently part of my headset reference gauntlet.
Corsair launched their new Virtuoso flagship gaming headset just before the start of the year, and it’s their first proper entry into this performance bracket. It has a robust build, wireless and wired connections, a built-in hi-res DAC, and an excellent microphone.
Oh, and they knocked about $100 off the typical price for this type of headset. Sound too good to be true? It is, but only a little.
The Corsair Virtuoso comes in two models. The standard version is $180, and you can get it in Carbon(Black) or Best-Buy-Exclusive White. The ear cup sides are plastic, and the microphone capsule uses a 4mm diaphragm.
For $210, you can step up to the “SE” version, available in Gunmetal. It has the same core sound features. The ear cup sides are made from aluminum, and the microphone diaphragm is much larger at 9.5mm. The SE also includes a nice magnetically-clasped carrying pouch.
After much debate, I decided to buy the SE version, and that’s what my review is based on. I was drawn in by the additional aluminum, the bag, and the bigger mic.
The battery lasts for 20 hours if you turn the lighting off. It includes an accelerometer to turn the headset off when you remove it. It’ll operate in wireless mode with a PC or PS4, and has a hi-res DAC you can use with a PC over USB-C. You can also connect it via a standard 3.5mm connection.
Unfortunately, the sound quality is the worst thing about the Corsair Virtuoso. It’s not bad. But it has a different signature than I was expecting, and it took me a few days of adjusting to it before I could hear some of its charms.
To wit: the sound signature is more peaky and sculpted than I was expecting. There’s a bump in the high bass, a bump in the upper mids, and some raggedness in the treble. It’s unusually impacted by positioning on my head, as well. It’s a few steps short of being “W-shaped.” The upper mids are sharp enough to give it a strident character on acoustic material, and the overall tone is quite unlike the more expensive offerings from HyperX or Steelseries.
The sharp, detailed midrange is the most prominent aspect of the sound. It renders female vocals with an aggressive bite, though it also adds some additional clarity to positional effects in games. At high volumes it’s a little bit too shrill and cold to handle, and that’s easy to test because the built-in amp gets quite loud.
The bass is underwhelming to my ears. Although it digs deep, all the way to the bottom of the audible range, it’s warm and creamy and lacks a sense of bite or precision. This looks like a headset that will put out some serious bass slam, with its big frame and plush ear pads. Alas, the bass is a little too controlled, bland, and muddled for my tastes. The elevation in the upper bass would overtake the midrange…if the mids weren’t so cold and prominent.
My sound quality opinions above apply both to the wireless mode, and the USB-C hi-res mode. With a standard 3.5mm connection, believe it or not, things smooth out a little. The sub bass gets a gentle boost and the upper bass calms down. The midrange loses some bite. And the treble gains a touch more detail.
This all makes me think that, when powered on, Corsair decided to apply some additional EQ to the headset. You can apply your own EQ settings in their iCUE software, and they also include some pre-set profiles to pick from…though I think they all sound worse than the default EQ. In fact, they’re essentially the same profiles Corsair’s been using since the original Void.
I enjoy listening to the much cheaper HS60 Pro more than the Virtuoso out of the box. That’s a sad false start for a headset that costs this much.
There is one saving grace to Corsair’s cheap flaghship: soundstage. Even without the virtual surround turned on, the stereo field is nice and wide. Perhaps that’s what they were going for with the non-standard tuning?
The wireless connection has some small digital artifacts present, so you’ll get the best audio quality either over USB-C or a standard wire. Just like on the HS60 Pro, turning on Corsair’s surround mode adds even more digital noise. Speaker positioning with surround on is good, and the headset is also compatible with the Windows Sonic spatial audio platform.
Again, this headset doesn’t sound bad. It’s just a little too cold and sharp in the midrange, and muffled in the bass, for my personal tastes, and for the price point. I was hoping for a signature closer to the DT770. That headphone has a big peak in the treble, yes, but the bass response and the midrange are both accurate and sumptuous. With a flatter bass response and a warmer midrange, the Virtuoso would have the sound quality to match the rest of its design.
I think you could still get used to these and enjoy them. But they don’t quite have the accurate sound of other audio products at this price. The AKG K361 has a similarly cold character to its mids for those who like that bite, and a more accurate everything else. It’s not wireless, and it doesn’t have its own DAC or microphone, but its $99 price point leaves you a hundred extra dollars to buy more goodies.
Unlike the HS60 Pro, the Virtuoso uses ample amounts of memory foam padding on both its headband and its ear pads. It has a decently slow rebound and is thick enough to seal around my glasses.
The only issues here are the clamp and the lack of angled drivers. The insides of the round ear cups are flat, just like the above-mentioned Beyerdynamic DT770. Beyerdynamic gets around this by covering the inside of the cup with a soft foam, and ensuring that the pads are so thick your ears won’t really touch the back wall.
Corsair didn’t quite nail either of these things. The inside wall is unpadded hard plastic, and the cups aren’t quite thick enough to totally elevate these off my ears, so the back edge of my ear just contacts the hard wall.
The ear cups rotate laterally and vertically, which is great for comfort. Unfortunately, the lateral rotation is so stiff and robust that it basically locks into place. So instead of conforming easily to your head, you’ll have to twist them, check the fit, and repeat until you find the right angle.
Still, with some careful positioning and occasional readjustment, these are reasonably comfortable. The headband is much more cushy than on the HS60 Pro, though the weight of the aluminum used throughout the frame means I sometimes develop a hot spot and need to re-seat them after about an hour.
I can wear the headset on the 9th of its 11 clicks of adjustment, so it should have enough room for most heads.
If you want your headset to instantly fit well, or you’re sensitive to clamping force, these won’t be for you. The fitting process reminds me a little of the Sennheiser HD25. There’s a lot of fiddling you can do with the placement thanks to its adjustable frame and round cups, and once you get the sizing locked in, you’ll enjoy wearing them. But getting there is more of a process than on most other headsets.
This is the category where the Virtuoso largely triumphs. It’s one of the best-built headsets on the market, at any price. In a week and a half of use, the all-metal frame and hinges haven’t uttered a single creak or squeak. There’s sometimes a bit of frame noise as parts brush past each other, particularly on the right ear cup’s vertical swivel, but that’s nothing a future revision couldn’t fix with some additional rubber damping material or lubrication.
The Virutoso is built like a figurative tank. It’s a solid, metal-infused thing that screams premium from every angle, even if you decide to opt for the cheaper plastic-cupped version. The design is similarly impressive, with a timeless pro headphone look that’s more stylish and modern than most of the competition. These look like they belong in a nice studio.
Instead of jamming huge RGB light rings into the cups, Corsair opted for a basic light-up logo in the center of each cup. On the SE version, the unique micro-perforations in the aluminum mean that the cutouts practically disappear when the lights are off.
The design has one single stupid flaw. The USB-C port is placed towards the back of the left ear cup. That’s fine for charging, but if you want to use the built-in DAC to listen to the headphones, the cable exits the cup then rams promptly into your neck and shoulder. Your body will constantly rub against the cable, causing microphonic sounds to enter the ear cup.
You could try routing the cable over the top of your shoulder, but that causes new challenges and still doesn’t eliminate the shoulder rubbing. The positioning of the port is baffling considering how thoughtful the rest of the design is. Hopefully a future revision will move this port either to the right cup, or to the front of the left cup somewhere closer to the mic port.
The microphone here is fantastic. Corsair claims it’s “broadcast quality,” and while that has no actual specific meaning, I’ll allow it. It’s deep, resonant, and accurate even in the bass regions. Positioning is easy thanks to the included sidetone feature, and background noise isolation is good. The sensitivity is also high enough that you shouldn’t have trouble being heard.
Impressively, the mic sounds almost as good in wireless mode as it does wired. Here are some quick samples I recorded.
The Corsair Virtuoso SE is a solid attempt at a flagship-level headset for less money. The sound signature isn’t my first choice. The comfort takes a little getting used to. And the USB-C port is in a weird spot.
But, it packs in a big features list, a wonderful build, and a great microphone for about $100 less than the market norm.
The features list earns it a spot on my “keeper” shelf, but the second a better-sounding version two comes out, I’m selling it off. You might really enjoy the sound signature, and I think it’s still within the realm of “Acceptable.” It just falls short of the rest of the surprisingly solid package.