March 28, 2004 by Russ
Gentle Reader, your first question may be: "Why is Silent
PC Review reviewing headphones? Aren't headphones supposed to be, you
know, not silent?" While it does seem off-topic on the surface,
there are some good reasons why this sort of product, and this product in particular,
is right up our alley:
- Why review a pair of headphones? One of the basic reasons for reducing
the noise coming from your PC is to stop it from drowning out the noises you
actually want to hear. Rarely is pure silence the goal, more often the goal
is the removal of the distracting noise coming from the computer. Perhaps
this review could be considered part of "Step 2" of SilentPCReview:
"Now that you've gotten rid of the noise you don't want, how do you
get the sound you do want?"
- Why this particular set of headphones? Well, largely because of who made
them, Zalman. Few companies have made as big an impact in the silent PC market
as they have. If Zalman wants to make the leap from stopping noise to making
it, we might as well give them a listen. Besides, they were a big hit at CES
in Vegas late last year.
- Real Surround Sound Headphones produces a real surround field as if it is
being reproduced from a complete multi-channel speaker system with separate
front, rear, and center channel speakers, and thus enhances discrete sound
source, directional, spatial, and realistic effects.
- Enhanced spatial and realistic effects by separating front, rear, and center
- Easy achievement of real surround-sound by connecting the front, rear, center
jacks to the 5 channel (or more) sound card in your PC equipped with a DVD-ROM
for games or DVD movies.
- Real Surround Sound field close to a complete multi-channel speaker system
- Excellent fidelity, enhanced localization of on-screen sound, clear dialogue
hearing and better feeling on a discrete sound.
Electro Dynamic Round Type Micro Speaker
50Hz ~ 20KHz (Extension Effective)
Sound Pressure Level
89 dB +/- 3 dB at 50mW
16 Ohm at 1KHz
11.24oz (316.8g) without packaging
Straight, Triple entry 9.8ft (300cm)
3 headphone jacks (3.5mm)
Photo courtesy of Zalman
Continuing with their recent trend, Zalman packages the Theater 6's in a retail-friendly
clamshell. The headphones come encased in a hemispherical dome that's clearly
meant to show off the product in the best possible way on a store's shelf.
Out of the package they're surprisingly beefy; 11 1/4 oz's in total weight with
ear pieces that measure 14cm across.
Photo courtesy of Zalman
The size and unusual shape of the ear pieces has a functional reason, each
of them contains 3 independent speakers, so that the Front, Center, and Rear
channels each has a dedicated source.
Photo courtesy of Zalman
Overall the design is quite nice. The headband, while being all plastic, is
sturdy and wide, and has a padded leather/fabric center portion that proved
to be comfortable even after prolonged wear. One thing to note: these headphones
are not for those with petite-sized heads. I consider myself to be of average
skull size, (unusually thick, I've been told, but average in outside dimensions)
and I had to keep the Theater 6's at their minimum size. You would have to have
a head a la Charlie Brown to need to fully extend the adductors.
The ear cups are a little skimpy with the padding, but fairly typical of other
headphones in this price range. The contact pressure is lighter than others,
but even without it they did a decent job of sealing out extraneous background
Owing to their 5.1 capabilities the Theater 6's require a 3-plug attachment
of the source.
For PCs, this generally means that you'll have to plug the headphones into
the back of your machine. Thanks to the extra long three meter cord, there is
plenty of length left after routing it back. In fact I was able to move around
pretty easily in the workshop without worrying about running out of cord.
One element that's noticeably missing is in-line volume control. The Theater
6's provide no method of volume control other than at the source, an inconvenient
method while gaming or moving around away from the PC. Ideally there would be
independent in-line controls for each of the Front, Center, and Rear channels,
as much fiddling was required to achieve the proper balance in use. For games
in particular it often meant pausing or exiting the game to return the Audio
Properties panel to make adjustments, then restarting the game to see the results.
All testing was done a SoundBlaster Live 5.1 soundcard, using Audio CDs, DVDs,
and PC games are source material. Unlike most other products we've tested, these
results are purely subjective, different listeners would likely draw different
The testing was broken down into two general categories: Multi-channel, using
DVD movies and PC games to test the 5.1 capabilities, and Stereo Audio, using
Surprisingly good. The theater 6 does a commendable job of recreating the
surround sound environment. Much better than I had expected headphones to
do. On DVDs the dialogue transitioned nicely from left to center to right,
and on games such as Call of Duty, when I got shot in the back, it sounded
like I got shot in the back. Of major annoyance was the level control between
the 3 channels. Ambient sounds that came from both Front and Rear simultaneously,
such as explosions, often drowned out Center channel sounds. The fact that
these simultaneous F/R sounds would be using 4 speakers, while the Center
only sounds are only using 2 was probably the cause of the volume difference.
Lots of inconvenient fiddling with the controls was required to achieve the
proper balance. Overall the soundstage wasn't as broad or clearly defined
as what's capable with a conventional set of speakers. My aging set of 4.1
Logitech Z-540's produce better 3D positioning, but its certainly better than
what you could hope to hear from 5.1 sound simulated through a pair of conventional
Surprisingly bad. Sorry, but that's the plain truth, as I hear it. The soundstage
is jumbled, hollow, and full of conflicting artificial resonances. The theater
6's subpar frequency range of 50Hz~20KHz and 89 dB sensitivity really shows
when listening in stereo. They seem to try to compensate for a lack of low-end
range by adding globs of warmth and coloration. (For comparison the similarly
priced set of Sony MDR-V300 that I own have a range of 18Hz~22Khz, and the
highly regarded Grado SR60, also at a similar price point' have a range of
20Hz~20Khz. Both also have significantly better sensitivity as well, 100 and
98dB, respectively) For the music listening portions I A/B'd between the Zalman,
the Sony, and a borrowed Grado: The differences were substantial, and not
in the Zalman's favor. Adjusting the Audio Properties to use the Zalman only
as stereo headphones, and not 5.1, is inconvenient, and did little to improve
If you're a gamer who doesn't want to let your late night frag-a-thons disturb
the neighbors, the Zalman theater 6 is a good choice. Ditto if you're looking
for a convenient way to get the surround sound experience from a DVD without
the bulk of a speaker system. The small collapsed size and sturdy construction
of the theater 6 would make it perfect to throw into a laptop bag for an airplane-bound
movie buff. But if you use your PC to to listen mostly to music, there are better
Good design and build quality.
Nice extra long cord.
Small collapsed size make them extra-portable.
Surprising effective 5.1 performance.
Charlie Brown sized headband.
No in-line volume controls.
Poor stereo audio performance.
Much thanks to Zalman
for the Zalman
ZM-RS6F review sample.
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