Interview with James Hildebrandt of Psyko Audio Labs
Thank you for the opportunity to conduct this interview about your exciting new award-winning product, the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headphones. Let's hop straight to it.
TweakTown: What was your key motivation for designing a dedicated headphone solution that does not use software to create an artificial surround environment?
James Hildebrandt: The motivation started out to simply make a headphone that sounded like the game was happening in the room around you - the perfect room. I am a mechanical engineer and think in terms of the physics of sound so that leads to creating a physical surround sound system instead of a software or simulated based one.
Remember that it is really difficult to set up a perfect room audio experience. The speakers have to be exactly in the right locations, the room needs to have certain treatments to prevent dead spots or reverberation, plus you need to sit in the one small space where it is all tuned - which is called the sweet spot. My motivation was to simplify all that so you put on the headphones and you are instantly in that sweet spot.
TT: How do these headphones perform in the low frequency department when compared to a dedicated sub woofer unit?
JH: I think it is exactly like having a dedicated sub woofer unit. In fact, the Psyko headphones have two dedicated sub woofers - one at each ear - and they give the user the ability to adjust the amount of bass desired.
The psychoacoustic research finds that we have a hard time detecting the direction of low frequencies, so it doesn't matter much where you put the sub woofer in a well designed room. (By the way, our Psyko name comes from the word psychoacoustics, the body of science of how we perceive and interpret sound).
For maximum ability to detect the direction of sounds, which is what you want in maximizing your game performance, you actually want to turn down the bass, which is easy with our bass control on our supplied amp. If you can't tell where low frequency comes from anyway, turn it down to focus on the key information - where the footsteps, gun shots and voices are coming from.
TT: How do movie buffs fair with this new headphone technology? Are these marketed toward those users as well?
JH: Our focus is gaming, and this Psyko 5.1 model is really tuned best for gaming. It is made to plug right into your 5.1 computer sound card. The needs for each application are a bit different so we will be developing a movie version sometime in the future.
TT: Can you expand a little in simple terms; how the waveguide technology is used to direct individual channels of audio to the front and back of the users ears?
JH: In one sense it is exactly like a room system on your head.
Let's start by looking at how we perceive direction with a room system. When the left front speaker makes a sound it hits your left ear a bit before your right ear (by about 0.4ms). It is a bit louder in the left ear than the right. Those two elements let's you know the angle of the sound. But to tell if a sound is in front or behind you depends on how the sound flows past your ears and how it reflects around your outer ear.
Every angle around you creates a unique sound signal at your ear canal. Certain frequencies get amplified by the refection off your ear, certain frequencies get cancelled. The amazing part is that everyone's ear shape is like their own fingerprint, so, that means the frequencies you use to detect sound direction is unique to you.
Everything in the above description happens in our headphones. Every speaker up in the bridge, or headband, of the headphone is connected to a waveguide that delivers the sound to the correct location around the ear. Each speaker is located at the correct position along the waveguide to create the correct timing difference (that same 0.4ms as in the room) and volume difference between each ear.
So, the front speakers are located on the front waveguide that guides the sounds to exit in front of each ear, and likewise, the rear sounds are guided to exit behind each ear. The left front speaker is located along the front wave guide at the position that creates the same timing difference and volume difference between left and right ear, as you experience when the sound comes from the left front room system. Finally, Psyko headphones flow the front sounds past the front of your ear and rear sounds past the rear of your ear so you get that same signal at your ear canal as the room system.
TT: Are there plans to expand on this technology with other products?
JH: We are really focused on the gaming 5.1 market, but we are a creative bunch of folks and let's just say you may want to stay tuned!
TT: For music listening; how do these compare to other products featured on the market at the moment?
JH: Our focus is really to produce the best possible gaming experience and the sense of directionality, so music has not been our focus yet. However, people tell us that they can listen to music longer with Psyko headphones because they don't get that artificial experience of left channel only in the left ear and right channel only in the right. With Psyko headphones you get the sense of the music being in the room instead of being in your head.
TT: Is there any conflict with these when taking advantage of EAX features in games?
JH: Nope. Psyko headphones require exactly the same settings as if you were connecting up a set of 5.1 room speakers to the analog plugs on the computer. No software drivers needed.
TT: Can you tell me more about the power delivery to the individual driver unit located on top of the headband?
JH: Every speaker in the headband is treated exactly like every speaker in a room system. The five speakers around you in the room are simply the five speakers in the headband. For example, the signal that would normally go to the front left speaker in the room goes the front left speaker in the headband. It's that simple. The physics of the waveguides do the rest of the delivery to both ears with the correct timing difference, volume difference and flow direction.
TT: These headphones look quite large and solid. As is often the case with headphone solutions, will the user experience any fatigue or discomfort after long periods of use?
JH: Most people say they are lighter than they look. They take more space than most headphones, but most of it is air.
TT: Will there be an option in the future for users with less to spend?
JH: We are really focused on the current product. It will no doubt evolve but it is too soon to say which way it will evolve.
TT: Is there any plan to incorporate a software element to these in the future?
JH: We don't see the need for that.
TT: Can you provide frequency response and THD figures for these headphones?
JH: Not at this time.
TT: Thanks for your time, I would love to do some testing myself on these sometime down the track.
JH: Thanks for your interest in Psyko Audio Labs.