Review: Razer Tiamat 7.1

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Razer Tiamat 7.1_1

The Razer Tiamat 7.1 Analog Surround Sound Gaming Headset isn’t new – in fact, it’s been around for a year plus. However, the company had some problems keeping up with the demand that stocks were pretty limited for months. Anyway, we will see what the hype is all about.

Most surround sound headsets in the market use sound virtualization technology to achieve a 7.1 channel surround sound effect for gaming. By doing this, the headset can keep its ear pieces relatively small in size. Razer, however thinks that it can do better by putting multiple drivers into each ear cup, using them to reproduce directional sound rather than employ virtualization. In effect, there are 10 discrete Neodymium drivers in the Tiamat 7.1! These range from 20mm to 40mm rather than the 50-53mm ones we find in higher-end gaming headsets.

Razer Tiamat 7.1_2

To drive the Tiamat 7.1, the headset requires a true 7.1-channel soundcard. Some gaming headsets utilise a USB dongle or a software solution to perform the audio signal processing necessary for virtualized surround sound, but not in this case. The good news is that most motherboards (I should probably say ALL) have on-board sound solutions nowadays that can output 7.1-channel audio. The bad news is that this chip is usually entry-level and may not give you the best audio quality.

In any case, users can either stick with their on-board audio or get a sound card, which can range from RM50 (which is no better than the on-board chip) or go all the way to something like ASUS’ Xonar Phoebus/Sense cards or the Creative SoundBlaster ZxR which can cost upwards of RM600-700. Of course, if you’re using a Tiamat 7.1, we would recommend the high-end solutions to get the most out of this headset.

Whichever route you choose, you will need to plug in the Tiamat 7.1’s in-line control box into your sound card. The control unit itself is quite large and houses a large volume wheel, a smaller rotary dial for selecting the channel (you can tweak each channel’s volume) as well as three buttons for the microphone (on/off), speakers pass-through (you can connect your 7.1 channel external speaker setup to the control box) and 7.1 channel mode toggle. It also needs a USB port for power. In total, there are five 3.5mm jacks plus the aforementioned USB connector. This is also where I’ll make my one and only complaint against the Tiamat: the colour-coordinate audio jacks are impossible for me to distinguish, due to my colour-blindness. I had to get help from a family member to plug the Tiamat in.

As for comfort, it’s quite subjective – personally, it fit pretty well and is just slightly heavier than my current Audio Technica ATH-AD700; it’s also slightly tighter. The ear cups are made of a soft ‘leatherette’ which seemed a bit stiff; I personally prefer cloth-like material (e.g. felt) which isn’t as hot when worn for long periods. Also, the synthetic leather tends to break apart after a while, but Razer does sell replacement pads.

ASUS' Xonar U7 USB Sound Card was used to test the Tiamat 7.1

ASUS’ Xonar U7 USB Sound Card was used to test the Tiamat 7.1

To test the Tiamat 7.1’s performance, I used three different sound sources: an on-board Realtek sound chip, a SoundBlaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro PCIe card and finally an ASUS Xonar U7 USB sound card. The first one gave me problems with side audio signal – levels were so low I couldn’t compensate using the control box or the PC’s mixer. The sound card gave me better results but the Xonar U7 seemed to be the best, at least where gaming is concerned.

For music, the Tiamat 7.1 does a pretty decent job, but that’s not what it is designed for. The same goes for movies – the 40mm drivers just don’t seem to have enough juice. When it comes to first person shooters and positional audio, too much bass can make it more difficult to discern your enemies’ location and this is where the Tiamat shines. Paired with a good sound card, you can clearly hear if someone is trying to sneak up behind you for a knife kill. It was equally impressive in Planetside 2, another game which reward users who have a good audio setup.

On headsets that employ virtualized surround sound, a panning sound source usually transitions from one ‘channel’ to another (e.g. front to side or side to rear) pretty seamlessly. There’s no sudden ‘jump’ or break in the audio. This was my main concern with the Tiamat 7.1, where the individual channels are handled by different drivers. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and the positional audio was definitely above average.

Having used other headsets like the ATH-AD700, Plantronics Gamecom 780 and Logitech’s G930, I can say that the Tiamat 7.1 is capable of holding its own against these highly-acclaimed products. However, it does cost significantly more plus you will still need to buy a good sound card. If you factor all this in, the Tiamat 7.1 can seriously put a dent in your wallet. If there’s one thing that makes the Tiamat 7.1 stand out, it’s the design and build-quality – this headset is top notch in these two departments. Ultimately, users have to decide if this head-turner of a gaming headset is worth the asking price.