Cooler Master Storm Sirus 5.1 Gaming Headset
(4.0 star rating)
Cooler Master’s Storm gaming division has brought out some seriously competitive peripherals since its creation in 2008 but the Sirus is the company’s first headphone - a true 5.1 Surround set featuring separate left, right, and center channels as well as a dedicated subwoofer on each side. Cooler Master claims that the Sirus was developed with both gamers and audiophiles in mind - not an easy sell as both tend to be picky about their headgear. Let’s see if the Storm division has managed to hit these two markets with a single set of headphones.
Packaging & Accessories
The Sirus comes in a large black-and-red carboard box displaying the headphones and desktop control unit through a window on the front. Getting past the packaging reveals the headphones, control unit (a.k.a. Tactical Mixing Console), analog adapter, spare earpads, and documentation. Updated drivers can (and should) be downloaded from the company’s website.
The accessory pack is good, though the lack of a carrying case or bag means these probably aren’t for gamers on the move. The spare earpads, surprisingly, do not come with a second pair of the plastic mounting plates required to attach them to the headphones. Changing the pads is therefore slightly more involved than it could have been, but most will probably just pick one set of pads and stick with it.
|Overhead view||Control unit|
Design & Build Quality
The Cooler Master Storm Sirus is a full-size circumaural headphone with a swiveling unidirectional boom microphone. The black and gray color scheme is accented nicely by the familiar red CM Storm logos, which are backlit when the USB connector is plugged in. The swiveling boom mic is sheathed in rubber and mounted on a flexible stem. A small light on the top of the mic indicates when the microphone is muted. Swiveling the microphone away mutes it automatically. The plastics used in the construction have a nice rubbery coating, giving much of the headphone a quality feel. The fit is adjustable but the headphones do not fold. Long-term durability should therefore be excellent – after all, the fewer moving parts, the more rigid and durable the structure.
The single-sided cable attached to the left earcup is around four feet in length. It is thick and sheathed in nylon for extra durability. The termination is a 10-pin DIN plug. An included analog adapter converts the DIN connector into four sets of 3.5mm plugs for those who already have high-end sound cards with 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. The Sirus can be used portably, with an iPod or other audio device, by plugging in only the center channel, but this is hardly convenient and not at all recommended. Alternatively, the DIN connector can be plugged into the Tactical Mixing Console, which connects to the computer via USB and houses a digital-to-analog converter. In both cases a second USB connector delivers backlighting to the mic and headphones.
Besides housing a digital-to-analog converter, the Tactical Mixing Console is used as an external control unit for the headphones. Around four inches in diameter, the Console holds a large digital volume control knob, three buttons, and a series of lights. Two of the buttons allow the user to quickly mute the mic and headphones. The third toggles between the audio channels controlled by the knob. Choices include front, center, rear, bass (subwoofer), and master (all channels). The 6-foot cord, rubberized undersize, and hefty weight of the control pod make it easy to position and the large, smooth volume knob and softly-lit indicator lights make it a pleasure to use under any conditions. One complaint is the configuration of the wheel – contrary to common sense, raising the volume requires turning the knob counterclockwise rather than clockwise.
Finally, a word on the customization software available for the Sirus – it’s easy enough to install and provides access to a number of tuning options for the headphones but there is some duplication of basic features from the Tactical Mixing Console. One feature the software does add is the ability to control the left and right speakers in each channel individually, rather than being confined to adjusting the pair.
A more serious complaint about the software is the layout – the advanced features are not readily accessible and it takes some poking around to get to some of the menus (hint: right click the speaker/mic icons in the left pane of the window). Among other goodies, voice masking options and a 10-band equalizer with presets for gaming, music, and movies are all available for your tweaking pleasure.
|Software - speaker shifter||Software - volume controls|
- Frequency response: 10 Hz – 20k Hz
- Sensitivity: 105 dB/mW
- Driver Diameter (Left/Right/Center): 30mm Driver Diameter (Subwoofer): 40mm
- Impedance (Left/Right/Center): 32 Ohms
- Impedance (Subwoofer): 16 Ohms
- Frequency response (mic): 100 Hz – 100k Hz
- Impedance (mic): 2.2k Ohms
- Sensitivity (mic): -46 dB
- Connector: USB (2x) or Analog (3 channel) + USB (1x)
Comfort & Isolation
The Sirus is average in size as far as full-size headphones go but is on the heavy side due to the reinforced structure and eight discrete drivers - weighing in at a massive 415g (without the cable), it may just be the heaviest thing I’ve put on my head. For comparison, my audiophile-grade Sennheiser HD580 headphones weigh in at just 274g and my AKG K701 studio monitors – at 309g.
Despite this, the Sirus is very comfortable and secure on the head. The trapezoidal earpads are large enough to enclose the entire ear and the headband pad is nice and thick. Of the two sets of included earpads, the microporous cloth pads remain cool longer while the pleather pads provide slightly better passive noise isolation. In either configuration the Sirus won’t exactly compete with a set of industrial noise blockers but it will shut out light background noise such as a pesky cooling fan and make louder noises less intrusive.
The Sirus is tagged as being ‘built for gaming enthusiasts and audiophiles alike’, which is at least half true. For gaming the headphones are excellent, as revealed by a full run through Portal 2 as well as several dozen hours sunk into Just Cause 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The Sirus also uses proper moving-coil transducers for bass drivers in place of the vibrating motors used by some other gaming headsets – a good thing for realistic bass portrayal but perhaps not for those seeking more tactile feedback. All in all, the bass response was sufficient and the bass control switch – while moderate in overall effectiveness – did not increase distortion or cause the bass to overwhelm the rest of the sound.
The positioning provided by the hardware 5.1 surround system is more accurate than with my previously reviewed 5.1-enabled Arctic Sound P531 and the Sirus has very limited dynamics, which tends to bring background noise and fine detail forward. This makes it easier to hear enemy combatants but perhaps slightly more difficult to tell how exactly far away they are. All in all the surround system works well but make no mistake - the ear can still tell a difference between surround sound from a headphone and surround sound from a well-tuned speaker system. The Sirus simply gets as close to the real thing as I’ve seen a headphone get. The gaming box, therefore, is easy to tick off.
Moving on to music playback - the second supposed purpose of the Sirus - things get a bit less cheerful. The Sirus does go very loud and the audio quality is noticeably better than with the average stock earbud or entry-level portable headphone but it just isn’t competitive with similarly-priced dedicated stereo headphones. Interestingly, the Sirus actually sounded better plugged directly into my aging Creative Audigy 4 Pro than it did with the Tactical Mixing Console plugged in via USB but in both cases some of the qualities that make it a good gaming headphone get in the way of accurate music reproduction.
The bass, for one, sounds slow and flabby. Medium-to-high quantity, it falls in the range where neither hardcore bassheads nor serious audiophiles will be pleased with it. For casual use it should be sufficient but expect a striking display of mediocrity instead of deep rumble or tight, quick punch. The abovementioned limited dynamics don’t do the Sirus any favors either – it suffers from a case of ‘one-note’ bass and average accuracy all around. Detail normally portrayed through the body of the note is often lost and the multitude of drivers working in unison does not provide the cleanest overall sound. Sennheiser’s $100 HD428, for example, easily beats the Sirus both in overall clarity and tonal accuracy. On the upside, frequency sweeps reveal no significant peaks or dips in the response and the Sirus does a good enough job of covering the advertised frequency spectrum.
Lastly – a word regarding the microphone. It was used to make several voice recordings and tested in a couple of Skype and gaming sessions. The quality of the mic is excellent – it picks up detail well and avoids background noise better than most. However, even when angled perfectly and turned all the way up in the software, the mic isn’t quite as sensitive as the clip-on ZM-MIC1 I use normally. Those who routinely receive complaints of low mic volume with other units may therefore run out of overhead too quickly with the Sirus.
Cooler Master Storm Sirus 5.1 Gaming Headset
Priced at $130, the Cooler Master Storm Sirus is quite a bit dearer than entry-level 5.1 headsets such as the Arctic Sound P531 we reviewed last year, but it is also quite a bit better. The build quality is solid and it is about as comfortable as a full-size 8-driver gaming headset can be. The Tactical Mixing Console is an excellent addition to the multimedia experience, providing convenient access to mute functions and a volume control as well as on-the-fly tuning of the surround sound system. The surround sound capabilities provide an immersive gaming experience and - potentially - a competitive edge when using the Sirus. The audiophile aspect of the headphone’s appeal is debatable, however - the sloppy bass and poor dynamics leave too much to be desired when it comes to music playback.
The bottom line is this - those who are more serious about gaming than music will find an excellent frag fest companion in the Sirus. Audiophiles, however, will want to stick a good set of stereo headphones instead.
Pros: Comfortable, good build quality, convenient control unit, good accessory pack, works well for gaming.
Cons: On the heavy side, mediocre sound quality for music playback
Rating: 4.0 out of 5