Bass and treble woes
While the headset stands out a little bit with surround sound, that little extra may have pushed its price up too high to stand out from the competition as a whole. There is a plethora of headphones that are as good or better at just about everything, and some include highly-desirable extra features like wireless connectivity.
About the Corsair HS65 Surround gaming headset
Here are the specs of the headset we tested:
- Cost: $80
- Style: Over-ear, closed-back
- Colors: Carbon (Black), White
- Drivers: Custom-tuned 50mm neodymium drivers
- Wired connections: 3.5mm in, USB-A (via dongle)
- Device compatibility: PC, Mac, PS5/PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and more via 3.5mm
- Microphone: Flip-to-mute, Omni-Directional
- Virtual surround sound: Dolby Audio 7.1 Surround (via Corsair iCue on PC/Mac), Tempest 3D (PS5)
- Weight: 282g
The Corsair HS65 Surround headset looks like a bundled version of the HS55 Stereo headset, albeit with a few design tweaks that make it remarkably similar to SteelSeries’ Arctis lineup. But its key point of differentiation is it includes a small USB dongle that connects to your computer and a smart interface with Corsair’s iCue software. The dongle itself doesn’t pack in the smarts to pump out Dolby surround sound, though. You’ll need to run iCue in the background to activate that feature.
The USB dongle has a 3.5mm combo jack that connects to the wire attached to the headset. That wire will let the HS65 Surround headphones connect to just about anything else that supports an analog audio connection, and it also can let them tap into software surround sound like Windows Sonic or the PS5’s Tempest 3D. But you won’t get Corsair’s included surround sound from platforms that don’t use a USB dongle, of course, so in those cases you’d be paying extra for a feature you can’t use.
What we like
Great communication chops
Sound is an important part of gaming headsets, and many prioritize it above all else, but a gaming headset also has to offer a quality microphone so our teammates can hear us over gunfire and explosions, too. . The Corsair HS65 Surround does a surprisingly good job at that.
The mic picked up my voice remarkably clear for a headset at this price. It even maintained a reasonable volume whether it was close to or further from my mouth, so positioning is not an issue. Corsair enables latency-free SideTone through iCUE. While it’d be nice to enable that feature without the software, it’s great for hearing the volume of my own voice so I don’t shout at teammates when the game audio ramps up.
Corsair’s choice of an omni-directional microphone, which picks up sounds from all sides, is a bit odd, though. If you want your teammates to hear your loud mechanical keyboard, then this headset might be for you, since it picks up a bit of background chatter. Thankfully, my voice came through much louder and clearer than anything else, and it even avoided clipping plosive consonant sounds from my speech.
Corsair nails the comfort
It doesn’t matter how good the audio is if a headset makes you want to rip it off after a half hour. Even some high-priced headsets falter on comfort, but Corsair seems to have put in a solid effort here. The ear cushions are super soft but thick enough to keep my ears from pressing hard against the insides of the earcups.
Corsair also loaded the headband with a wide strip of cushion that does a great job evenly distributing the weight of the headset. I have a bald head that really puts that aspect of comfort to the test, and this headset didn't leave me feeling tender on the crown of my head.
This all pairs with the headband’s adjustable metal sliders, which offer decent flexibility, and yolks that can adjust on two axes, letting the headset clamp around the ears with fairly even pressure. This isn’t to say this is the most comfortable headset I’ve ever worn, but for the price they’re comfortable enough.
This headset isn't the be-all-end-all when it comes to audio quality, but it does produce bright and clear sound. I’m able to enjoy most of the range of what I can hear while listening to music, whether that’s the shimmer of cymbals or the slinking of a bass line. The Corsair HS65 Surround makes sure a healthy chunk of the spectrum is present at all times, and the EQ is auto-balanced enough for music.
Mid-tones are the most emphasized, which makes dialogue come through clearly. There’s enough audio-punch for game sound effects, like booming explosions and gunshots, to rip through, as well.
What we don’t like
Bass falls to the background
As punchy as the audio can be, even at the bass-end of the spectrum, the bass tends to fall to the wayside when there's more going on across the whole sonic frequency range. There’s still a bit of thump, but it gets harder to pick out the nuances of those bass notes when the mids and treble come in to dominate the sound.
Listening to some solo bass lines with sparse guitar and synth on top let the bass shine through, but it definitely gets buried once a few instruments get layered up top with vocals. Some of the highest frequencies, like cymbals and chimes, also lose their poignance when it gets busy. The soundstage isn’t terribly wide either, which makes picking out individual instruments trickier.
Limited surround sound utility
Surround sound can be a game changer, especially in the home theater, but in games, if you can hear what’s coming up behind you, you won’t be so easily caught off guard.
Unfortunately, surround sound is not much of a game changer here. The Corsair HS65 does get a nice little boost to its soundstage when surround mode is enabled. It can spice-up music a little, but it’s not a guaranteed solution for 360-degree awareness in video games.
Generally, a game that’s got good sound design will make it possible to pick up on the direction of things even with stereo headphones, and some games will have their own special surround sound modes available. I gave the HS65 Surround’s Dolby surround sound audio a go in Overwatch, and instead of improving my awareness it threw me off.
The headset spaced sounds out a bit, but it didn’t necessarily place them right; When I was jumping around as Reinhardt and heard the heavy footfalls of another Reinhardt just behind me, I thought I’d been flanked. I spun around to find nothing but empty air.
After jumping around some more, it was clear I was hearing my own character seemingly from behind me. Meanwhile, with the surround sound turned off, my sense of sound position was back on point.
Should you buy it?
No, there are better options
Surround sound is the main selling point for the Corsair HS65 headset, but it’s implemented poorly compared to similarly priced competition. It has other nice qualities, but so do its competitors—and those competitors offer more meaningful upgrades or features to rise above the most basic budget headsets.
Within spitting distance of the HS65 Surround’s price, there are wireless gaming headsets like the SteelSeries Arctis 1 or Razer Barracuda X. Some, like the HyperX Cloud Stinger Core, also have questionable surround sound, but you can find it for much less. These are all great alternative wireless headsets, but at least the HS65’s microphone quality is on-par with SteelSeries’ clearcast mics.
If surround sound isn’t on your wist-list, you can save a bit opting for the older Corsair HS55 instead. Meanwhile, the HyperX Cloud Alpha S used to cost more but usually goes on sale for a killer price—and it actually delivers effective surround sound.
If you’re really into quality sound, you can also jump into the $100-$200 price range to find some extra impressive headsets that level up on build quality and pack in more features, like 300 hours of wireless gameplay on a single charge of the battery from the HyperX Cloud Alpha Wireless.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Mark Knapp has covered tech for most of the past decade, keeping readers up to speed on the latest developments and going hands-on with everything from phones and computers to e-bikes and drones to separate the marketing from the reality. Catch him on Twitter at @Techn0Mark or on Reviewed, IGN, TechRadar, T3, PCMag, and Business Insider.
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