Razer is taking a stab at multi-driver gaming headphones with its Tiamat 7.1 headset. The Tiamat isn't cheap, retailing for $180, but from the robust design to the 10 individual drivers, Razer has included numerous touches that set it apart from your typical surround-sound gaming headset.
Inside the package, you get headphones, the inline audio control unit, and a breakout speaker connector. There's also a pair of mountable plates that attach to the side of the headphones in case you want to cover the windows for a cleaner appearance.
The robust headband, leather cups, and revealing views of the audio drivers form a cohesive, premium-looking headset. Razer isn't known for upholding a modest design philosophy, but within the realm of gaming accessories, the Tiamat's pronounced design fits right in.
The stiff lattice that makes up the outer headband sits above the flexible and generously padded inner band. The leatherette-covered ear pads are incredibly comfortable, but for the first few days of use, they can get a little warm after extended use. Once they're broken in, this becomes less of an issue.
The left can houses the retractable, telescoping microphone. It's flexible, but rigid enough to maintain its position when tweaked into place. The quality of the microphone is great for casual communication, but it's fairly average in terms of sound quality. It's perfectly suited for gaming though, and it's nice to have the option to tuck it into the headset when it's not in use.
The Tiamat's 12-foot cable is wrapped in a fabric mesh that's durable and does a good job of preventing inadvertent self-tangling. The audio control unit is built into the braided cable, situated roughly 4.5 feet from the headphones. It enables you to control the volume levels for the entire headset, as well as individual audio channels. You can silence the headphones by depressing the volume dial, but you need to press a different button to mute the microphone. Next to that is the 7.1 toggle, which allows you to switch to 2.0 functionality for music and other stereo audio sources. The included 7.1 speaker-input adapter also interfaces with the control unit and is enabled via a third button. This allows you to divert audio to speakers without having to disconnect the Tiamat's connections.
The 7.1 (plus microphone) connection uses five 3.5mm cables, and the entire unit is powered via USB. Considering most sound cards are within reach of a USB port, this shouldn't be hard for most people to accommodate. What is disappointing is that the headphones will not function unless you have the USB cable plugged in. It would be nice if there were an option for un-amplified stereo audio in case you wanted to use the bare headphone functionality in the rare case where USB ports aren't readily available.
It should be obvious at this point that this is a PC-only headset. There are no included options for console connectivity, barring connecting it to a TV with a stereo headphone and USB port, which isn't entirely uncommon, but you won't get microphone or surround functionality. Razer does offer wireless solutions that function with the Xbox 360 and PC, and they're built for 5.1 channels with virtual surround at a price of $200.
The Tiamat's sound quality is nothing to scoff at, but it's best suited to gaming and films that use the entire spectrum of surround sound. The arrangement of tiny drivers does a good job of representing directional sound, allowing you to pinpoint enemy locations in shooters, for example, but the delicate high frequencies and roaring bass of an intricate piece of music aren't at their best in the secluded space of the Tiamat. The high frequencies tend to get lost amid the bass, resulting in a slightly muddy sound. The drivers are best suited when combining their efforts in a multichannel configuration, but their stereo functionality leaves something to be desired.
This 7.1 headset from Razer is a high-end product that delivers on Razer's promises, and for the right PC gamer, it's the perfect surround-sound solution. Some people may not see the value in individual drivers compared to the savings a virtual surround setup can provide, but the 7.1 Tiamat sounds great and the individual drivers more effective at reproducing and manipulating a 7.1-enabled soundscape than traditional virtual solutions.