“To a large degree, there should be no difference in the quality and basic approach between audiophile headphones and a gaming headset,” EPOS tells AusGamers. We’re discussing the ins and outs of audio with Andreas Jessen, Senior Director, Global Product Management and Marketing, Gaming and Maja Sand-Grimnitz, Head of Global Marketing, Gaming at EPOS. The newly formed audio company and the same team that has driven the excellent Sennheiser gaming range, which is currently being sold as EPOS | Sennheiser.
Even as a fan of all things quality audio, what goes into creating a headset designed for gaming is still something of a mystery. This distinction or lack thereof between audiophile and gaming is a telling one. And it’s reassuring. It points to and explains the quality we’ve seen across the EPOS | Sennheiser range for years. According to EPOS, “the magic happens when you approach the development as an audiophile headset, dedicated to gaming.”
So let's break that down. Better still, have EPOS do exactly that.
“Audio quality for us is not a 20-20.000 Hz frequency range,” EPOS explains. “But instead it is an in-depth philosophy on how much colour our headsets should add to the work audio engineers have brought to a game. Every headset in the world will ‘colour’ the audio in some way and if this is not tightly controlled you can end up with headsets that are overly muddy because of an extreme and unbalanced bass response, or a midrange that is not kept flat, resulting in voices sounding different than in real life.”
“To a large degree, there should be no difference in the quality and basic approach between audiophile headphones and a gaming headset.”
Talking about audio colour is one of the ways the industry describes what putting on a headset sounds-like. Are the highs crisp, the bass chunky, can you hear the full spectrum of the background music. Or, in the case of gaming - footsteps of opponents that might be lurking around a corner. More than specs on a sheet, a gaming headset is an intricate bit of audio technology across hardware and tuning.
As per our recent review of the EPOS | Sennheiser GSP 600 Gaming Headset
Series, we wrote that it featured “a wide, crisp, and detailed range that carries over to games -- where all that extra detail can be heard in everything from sound effects to background music in cut-scenes.”
“Audio quality is definitely one of the most important factors not only in the development, but also in the manufacturing,” EPOS continues. “A lot of the quality in the audio actually comes from the fact that we check every single headset before it leaves our assembly line, and if the speakers are not within our tolerances it is scrapped and not sent to customers.”
This quality check happens throughout the development and production process, and as expected with a range of gaming headsets, EPOS is able to draw from a pool of parts it knows and trusts. But even then, the process is rigorous. “We have a core selection of speakers we use for our headsets - some large and some small depending on which headset we are designing,” EPOS tells me. “The speaker component alone is just one piece of a greater system. Another aspect of getting the audio quality right can be that we use a certain type of damping paper to tune the audio in a certain direction or give the speaker more air so it can breathe better. Putting [a speaker] into a system with confined space and air and making sure that every single headset performs to our standard is tough.”
Compared to a pair of headphones the microphone is perhaps the immediate differentiator for a gaming headset, to accommodate chat between teammates, or a simple catch-up with friends over Discord as you game. “A lot of gamers buy a gaming headset because gaming for them is a social experience,” EPOS confirms. “Having clear and easy communication not only makes that experience better, it will sometimes mean the difference between a win or a loss in a 5v5 game. We don’t only create gaming headsets at EPOS, we have headsets for Enterprise and even for Air Traffic controllers. We know how crucial good speech intelligibility is, and we are bringing those innovations to gamers.”
“Having clear and easy communication not only makes that experience better, it will sometimes mean the difference between a win or a loss in a 5v5 game.”
Of course this is the part of the journey where we talk about esports, and the competitive side of gaming - where professional athletes depend on in-game chat. To that effect EPOS works in a similar fashion to other audio companies in its field by partnering with esports athletes through the development and testing process.
“At EPOS we look for esports partners that are as excited about what premium audio can do for the gaming experience as we are,” EPOS tells me. “That allows for in-depth talks about what their thoughts, usage, needs and desires for the audio products they use entails. This provides us with valuable insights and inspiration for our product development both for competitive usage and in general.”
Interestingly this partnership extends to audio engineers that work on some of the biggest esports tournaments in the world, and all this shared knowledge is kept and curated for future products. “Some [of the] key things we’ve learned from working with esports professionals include controlling the gaming experience is key, as well as being able to trust their equipment. Too many buttons or settings that can go wrong is just not acceptable in a competitive match.”
“Most professional gamers use stereo signals, as they have ‘grown up’ with that,” EPOS adds. “Balancing of L and R speakers becomes really important there, as a small dB difference between L and R can mean the difference of thinking an enemy is 15 degrees to the left or 25 degrees to the left. Then of course, comfort is vital, as a headset that doesn’t sit correct or leave you with heated or hurting ears becomes a distraction when you need to focus.”
Gaming headsets differ from headphones in that a gaming session usually lasts a lot longer than a couple of songs or a typical podcast episode. In that sense comfort, and more importantly long-term comfort, becomes as important a consideration as that of audio quality.
“Gamers are one of the headset groups that wear them the longest.”
“Gamers are one of the headset groups that wear them the longest,” EPOS confirms. “We do a lot of research into pressure points on the head, and where these pressure points could cause irritation or discomfort after extended wear. How big is an ear cup? How heavy can it be? How easy is it to adjust so you don’t have sound leakage? Comfort is definitely our third pillar.”
“It is a lot of back and forth depending on prototypes and how they perform in our different tests,” EPOS continues. “For example, if we do a wearing style test and realize the headset is too heavy, then it is back to the drawing board. If a button is too hard for the user to press then we totally redesign it, or consider a different concept – perhaps a touch interface.”
The Future of Gaming Audio
Talking about the construction and different aspects of a gaming headset as an intricate collection of technology and design is without a doubt true of the EPOS range. In addition to the three pillars above - audio quality, chat, and comfort - the same methodology applies to surround sound, spare parts, portability, wireless capabilities, digital-to-analogue converters, and more.
Bringing things back to EPOS as a brand an an extension of the EPOS | Sennheiser range of gaming headset, the team has a clear vision of both its future and that of gaming headsets as a whole.
“While we can’t reveal too much of what’s to come, watch out for 2021 product launches, where we can definitely confirm that we will continue to adhere to and build on the quality that our current portfolio of EPOS│ SENNHEISER products are known for,” EPOS concludes. “At EPOS we pride ourselves on crafting audio products from high-quality materials that are built to last. Three components are vital when it comes to our design: curated aesthetics, choice of material and high wearing comfort. We believe that audio is what completes the gaming experience and that the look, touch and feel of the product is something not to compromise on.”