Hello! It’s Friday, and it’s time for the headphone showdown!
Although you might not agree with me, I think virtual surround sound is great. It provides a generally more immersive experience, for me, and it’s nice to be able to hear all the work of sound design teams without having to fill my room with speakers.
I’ve reviewed a lot of gaming headsets recently that include 7.1 virtual surround sound for PC gamers. Time to throw them all in a digital pot and see which one comes out the winner!
The Challengers- Individual Reviews Linked In Name
Razer Kraken Chroma 7.1 V2: The latest version of Razer’s main headset, the Kraken V2 fixed just about everything I didn’t like about the originals…and it only really gave up the ability to collapse down in the process. The sound is nice and rich, comfort is great, and it’s entirely hardware-driven with a USB connection and a built-in DAC of decent quality. At $99, it’s a great all-in-one package.
And it’s the only one on the list that fully works with Macs, including the 7.1 features, if that’s something you need!
Logitech G433: Kind of like the Krakens, only a bit more modular and using DTS Headphone: X. Surround sound is provided by a separate USB DAC, so you can connect these to any analog source if you want to. They come with an extras package that rivals HyperX’s best stuff. Also $99.
Logitech G533: The lone wireless contender in today’s showdown. It provides the same sound performance as Logitech’s more expensive G933, at the cost of some extras like RGB lighting and Dolby Headphone support. At $149, it’s fairly well priced for a wireless headset.
Astro A40: The Astro A40 is often the go-to recommendation for surround sound gaming headsets. But it doesn’t come cheap. It’s $249, and it includes full support for both PCs and Consoles. It uses a custom implementation of Dolby Headphone and can upmix any stereo signal. It’s quite comfy. But do you need to spend this much to have a good time playing games in surround on PC? (No. No you don’t!)
What about the Steelseries Arctis?
I’ve already gone on at length about the Steelseries Arctis lineup. I think they’re great headsets, particularly if you’re not into chest-thumping bass. But they’re more of a good all-arounder rather than specifically being a good surround headset. They offer a decent implementation of DTS Headphone: X. But if PC surround sound is your main focus, I think the ones listed above are all better choices. You still can’t go wrong with an Arctis, especially if you like its design and versatility.
What about Windows Sonic/Dolby Atmos?
Windows 10 recently added support for its own custom free virtual surround, and Dolby Atmos as well. They both sound great, and I’ve particularly enjoyed my time with Atmos.
They use the software layer to achieve surround compatibility in Windows 10, and this doesn’t play nicely with every game out there. Some games, mostly older titles, look directly to your hardware to see how many channels to output and ignore what Windows reports in software. Some newer games do this as well. Fallout 4 is a notable recent example.
All of the above headsets show up in Windows as true 7.1 surround devices! So that’s good and ensures maximum compatibility.
All of these headsets have profiles that are going to appeal to different types of listeners. And I find myself gravitating towards different models depending on what I’m listening to.
The Kraken V2 has a boomy, bass-titled sound with a pleasant hump in the midbass region. Sub-bass is strong but not over-emphasized. In spite of this bass dominance, the rest of the spectrum comes through surprisingly well. You’d expect that the highs would get crushed or the mids/vocals would sound weird and dark due to all the bass energy here, but that’s not the case. The rest of the sound spectrum is still presented with enough clarity to sound good. It’s a very Bose-like approach to sound that’s just generally pleasant to listen to.
The Logitech headsets both use the same Pro G driver, and have a relatively neutral sound signature with gentle emphasis in the bass and upper-mid regions. If you’re picky about neutral audio, then these are going to serve you well! They work well across all types of audio, but they don’t stand out as fun or impressive in the same way the other two models do.
The Astros have an aggressive, fun profile. Particularly in conjunction with the default EQ on the included amp. Bass is deep and explosive, mids are musical and warm, and highs are crisp and sparkly. They’re the most fun to listen to straight out of the box.
Winner: Astro A40 or Krakens for people who want a “fun” signature, Logitech G533/433 for those that want something closer to neutral.
7.1 Surround Sound Quality
Here again, this will appeal to different tastes.
The Krakens use Razer’s proprietary headphone surround sound system…something you can try out for free with any pair of headphones. It’s the most subtle and neutral out of the bunch. You won’t hear any aggressive reverb, or coloration of the sound. Instead, the sound field is extended in a circle gently outside of your head. It’s very effective for placement, and worth checking out if you’ve hated other headphone surround systems.
Plus, you can fully customize the placement of the virtual channels to your liking, so that it’ll sound the best to your personal ears.
The G433 and 533 both have a great implementation of DTS Headphone: X. DTS Headphone tries to simulate the feeling of being in a room full of speakers, so it’s a bit more “artificial” than Razer surround, but the sounds also come from farther away. You’ll hear a little bit of reverb on the sound, as the software tries to trick your brain into thinking it’s coming from a phantom speaker.
Logitech allows you to pick from three different room presets, and they’re all tuned well.
The Astros use Dolby Headphone and Dolby ProLogic IIx in conjunction, and the results are similar to DTS Headphone: X. The goal is once again to simulate a room full of virtual speakers. It sounds quite good…but Astro doesn’t allow you to customize this virtual room at all.
This is the only aggressive knock I have against the sound of the Astros.
Winner: Razer Kraken V2/Razer Surround for audio purists, G433/533 for those that want a simulated room full of speakers.
The Krakens and the A40s are the most comfortable.
Razer gets there through BIG ear pads that are filled up with nice cushy foam. The headband on the Kraken V2 isn’t that padded, but the aluminum frame is light enough that it doesn’t matter. Plus, the ear pads have special channels in them that are designed to relieve pressure on glasses, should you wear them. If not, you won’t feel them.
This is a really cool idea and I wish all headphones had it.
The result is that the Krakens just sit gently on your head, and they never cause fatigue.
The Astro A40’s are a little bit more bulky, but still use very nice cloth-covered padding on the ear pads and the headband. They manage to be comfy over long sessions, and they don’t get quite as warm as the leatherette pads on the Krakens.
Logitech’s headsets are not uncomfortable…they’re just both a little more noticeable on the head. They both have firmer padding, and a sports mesh fabric that does manage to prevent sweat…but at the cost of not being as soft on your skin.
Winner: Kraken 7.1 V2, followed by the A40's.
The Logitech G433 is the only one in this group that seems like its designed to be seen by other people outside of your gaming room/game tournament.
It’s a nice subtle design that doesn’t scream gamer at all. It uses a good mix of cloth, plastic, and metal. It sits close to your head when you wear it and it has a removable cable and boom mic.
If “not looking silly” is a high priority to you when selecting a surround headset, then strongly consider the G433.
The 533 is built about as well, but it’s a big bulky thing.
I think the Kraken V2’s are built very well, with a frame made mostly out of bauxite aluminum. It’s nice and light but feels really strong in the hand.
But the ear cups are HUGE and will stick out far from your head. That doesn’t bother me but it might bother you!
The Astro A40’s are a solid mix of metal and plastic. They have a slightly angular look to them that hasn’t really changed in the decade they’ve been on the market.
All four are built well for their prices and have designs I find generally pleasing…in spite of the bigness of the G533 and the Kraken V2. But the G433 edges out a win for its modern, more fashionable design.
Winner: Logitech G433
The Astro A40’s feature a removable cable and mic, and their own special desktop DAC/Amp combo device called the Mixamp. It’s a great little amp with plenty of controls.
I only wish it let you select different virtual surround rooms.
The Kraken V2s are the only model with RGB lighting. It’s nice and subtle, and easy to configure with Razer’s software. The cable doesn’t detach, but the mic does hide away inside the left ear cup.
The G533 comes with a wireless receiver, and its mic simply folds up into the side of the ear cup. It’s the most basic, no-nonsense headset of the bunch.
The G433 comes with a boatload of extras. You get a carrying case. You get an extra set of pads. You get two different cables for different connection scenarios. You get a USB sound card.
It’s a set of extras rivaled only by the infamous HyperX Cloud.
Winner: Logitech G433
The Kraken V2 has the best microphone for the price. And it sounds wonderful.
I’ve loved Razer’s digital microphones for a long time, and they’re the best reason to go with Razer’s USB headsets over their analog models…which still have decent mics. But this microphone is probably the best one I’ve ever used on a gaming headset. It’s crisp, it’s great at cancelling out background noise, and it’s good enough to record voice overs on.
The Astro A40’s mic is just as good sound-quality wise…but the headset costs over twice as much and it doesn’t have the same level of background noise cancellation.
The Logitech mics are both serviceable for voice communication, with a crisp, slightly-nasally sound that you probably wouldn’t want to record with. But for streaming or in-game chat they’re great.
Winner: Razer Kraken V2
The Kraken V2 is the only headset in the group that uses leatherette ear pads, and so it has the best isolation.
The Astro A40’s are the worst in the group, thanks to their semi-open ear cups…though you can buy an optional mod kit that comes with leatherette pads and plates that will close the cups. They go for about $60.
The Logitech models both provide adequate isolation for having cloth ear pads, but you’ll notice much more outside noise than you would with the Krakens.
Winner: Razer Kraken 7.1 V2
Looking for a fun sound with precisely-tuned surround, isolation, and comfort?
Get the Razer Kraken 7.1 V2
Looking for a more neutral sound with fun simulated- speaker surround , and nice outdorr-friendly design?
Get the Logitech G433
That’s right, I’ve got two winners here.
Sometimes that’s how it goes!
And it’s not like the other two headsets suck. Far from it! The G533 is a great choice if you want wireless, and a better implementation of DTS than the Arctis 7…though you do give up the Arctis’s analog connection capability. And the Arctis 7 looks less silly on your head.
The Astro A40 earns its premium price with its solid build, its fun sound, and its dedicated amp…but you probably don’t need to spend that much money, especially if you’re a PC-only gamer.
The Kraken 7.1 V2 will serve most PC gamers who want surround sound and a nice mic very well. And if bass isn’t your thing, the G433 is a new great alternative choice.
If you’re looking for other cheaper options, the HyperX Cloud II is great…though I think its included surround sound dongle is awful. You’d be better off using either the free option in Windows 10, or the free version of Razer Surround. And throwing their dongle in your closet.
$99 has been a sweet spot for gaming headsets for a long time, and in the world of Virtual Surround for PCs, that tradition continues!