Zalman Theater 6 Surround Sound Headphones Review - Movies
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To test the headphones, I chose two recent movies which are knownfor the quality with which they present their audio, as well asvisuals: The Matrix: Revolutions, and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In addition to this, I also tested The Last Samurai which, although not as demanding as the two films, still has aurally demanding battle scenes.
The Matrix: Revolutions
I chose The Matrix: Revolutions for one very importantreason: 100,000 picobytes. That's how much space it took to make thebattle for Zion's Dock sequence. Most of it was state of the artsgraphics work. However, what's state of the arts graphics if you don'thave state of the art sound?
I put on my headphones and began watching specific scenes. (Startingwith the "Give 'em Hell" track of the DVD) and then realized that mybest hope of getting the true feel for the surround would come by mynot watching, but rather simply immersing myself in the sounds of thescene. Bullets flying, machines crashing and exploding, control panelsbeeping left and right - yeah, that should help make for a good testingenvironment. (It would also help hide the fact that I was listening toa movie at work.)
I plugged in one jack at a time to check the signal strength of each of the areas.
Front: At first, the speaker seemed incredibly weak, which was due to the sound card.
Rear: The rear speakers were another story entirely.Although weaker than the center speakers, listening to the backspeakers alone did present me the opportunity to hear some of thelocation-specific background noise. It was very bass-heavy, which isn'tsurprising. But I had a hard time differentiating the "back" from thecenter, unless I listened closely. The proximity of the speaker to theear made the sound feel more like it was near the center than in theback. Although this is better than the synthetic 5.1 you'll find withsoftware driven headphones, this still wouldn't match the quality of afull 5.1 system.
Center: The center speakers are by far the mostdominating of the pack. That's because the center speakers' locationautomatically has them dominating the sound-scape. The lows are prettygood. Not over powering, but not as intense as you're likely to find ona pair of stereophonic-only headphones, for example. The high rangesworry me a bit here. The sound quality is OK, until you reach extremelyhigh ranges (over 14KHz). At that point, the sound seems to drown out abit. (For an example of duplicating this effect, grab a pair of cymbalsand bang them around a bit. Record the sound and then play it back.Sounds a bit different, no? That's because most recording devices can'trecord the highest frequencies because digital sample rates are simplynot fast enough.)
Listening to the scene once more with all the jacks connected,offered me a pretty good culmination of sounds. The stereo effects wereexcellent, allowing me to be able to discern whether a sound was to myleft, my right, or right in front of me. Unfortunately, the sound Iexpect to hear from a 5.1 speaker system wasn't quite there. Sure, youWILL hear when things are behind you, beside you, and maybe even infront of you, but the lack of power to the front and rear in relationto the center, coupled with the proximity of the speakers, dampened thesurround sound effect a little too much for my taste. This shouldn't besomething which detracts from the headphones' appeal to someone wishingto purchase them, unless they consider themselves audiophiles. In thatcase, the fidelity (quality) of the sound might become a bit of anissue.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The reason for my choosing this movie is quite obvious. One of themost popular movies in all cinematic history is not without its audiocredits. The use of surround sound - especially during the scenes forthe battle for Helm's Deep - is something which anyone wishing for atrue movie going experience will appreciate. Even before I listened tothe individual channels, I could hear the surround sound effects.(Scenes used included "Battle of the Hornburg", and "Breach of theDeeping Wall" on the theater version DVD)
Rear: The sound quality in this movie is immediatelyobvious. The stereo-phonics within the back speakers in this scene, aswell as the need for the other speakers, attests to the quality ofsound production in this movie. Although I find that a number of soundsare heard across all speakers, what they focus on is most important.
Front: Good sound. There's better localization for the front than there is for the back.
Center: As expected the bulk of the action occurs here. I almost didn't miss the missing channels. (Almost.)
The overall sound experience here was very enjoyable. With arrowsflying past my head, the clanking of armor, and footsteps of soldiersall around me, I didn't quite feel like I was in a theater, but Icertainly felt surroundings. In fact, there were times when I foundmyself looking left and right because of unexpected sounds such asthunder, rain, and the occasional death of an Uru-Kai.
NOTE I also watched Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King withthese headphones. I was impressed by the clearness of the panningdisplayed in the first few scenes ("Finding of the Rings" on the DVD).
The Last Samurai
Between The Matrix: Revolutions and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,I've pretty much covered any situation you're likely to meet in regardsto audio in modern movies, from medieval armor and arrows flying, toshooting robots down with bazookas and electro-magnetic blasts.However, a good battle scene should always contain good stereo-phonicsand surround sound, if available. This movie was no exception. One ofthe scenes best heard with these headphones was Chapter 37, where theSamurai are being shot down like fish in a barrel. Spectacularlocalization. Too bad for the samurai. (Why does Tom Cruise never diein any movie he's in?)
This film did have one more test, however. The sound of rain is oneof the best indicators of how well a surround sound system works. Ifthe speakers have you believing that you're actually listening to rain,then the speakers are good enough for you. The focus on Japan's rainyclimate during this film allowed me to experience just that, inaddition to the sounds of the Tokyo soundscape circa 1875. Theheadphones' surround sound capabilities did not disappoint here. Infact, the soundscape was quite clear and engulfing.
Movie buffs will be more than satisfied with what they hear whenthey put on these headphones. Although it won't match the spatial andlocalization qualities and abilities of a good set of 5.1 surroundsound speakers, the headphones are a great substitute for those wholong for the 5.1 experience in a restricted environment, such as anairplane, or a thin-walled apartment. High-range fidelity is a bit of aproblem, as are the lowest frequencies, but over all the individualityof each speaker is good, and puts them a cut above stereo headphonesfor listening to movies.
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