LucidSound LS40 7.1 Impressions: Exquisite All Around [Opinion]
LucidSound’s LS40 Surround Sound headset aims to deliver on some of the most stellar audio a gaming headset has brought to bear the past few years. From its sleek design, comfortable 50mm cans and the exquisite stitching reminiscent of the livery in a sports car, the LS40s scream high end. However, the major question is whether or not they sound high end. As usual, the designers and engineers at LucidSound deliver with another quality product.
Ever listen to a song that you’ve loved for years with either a new headset or sound system and pick up on new parts in the background you may not have noticed before? This happened while listening to “Misery Business” by Paramore the other day – a voice heard clear as day scared me as I nearly jumped out of my skin, furiously turning around to see who had just walked into my house (update: no one walked into my house). The LS40s provide some of the most intimate and insanely profound listening experiences I’ve known to date.
The LucidSound LS40s are designed for surround sound gaming and listening, thanks to the DTS Headphone X 7.1 technology the headset comes packaged with. It’s what differentiates the headset from its slightly cheaper cousin, the LS30 wireless headset. When using a device that is only capable of Stereo signals, you have three different EQ modes to choose from: Standard Stereo, Stereo Wide, and Stereo Front. These are designed to give you a different experience depending on what you’re doing. I found myself defaulting to Stereo Wide as I like the wider nature of the sound – the spatial effects of the headphones giving the illusion of a surround sound signal when there isn’t one.
— MKAU Gaming (@MKAUGaming) January 25, 2017
However, the bright shining star of the LS40s is in fact the DTS Headphone X built into the cans. Crafted and tuned with DTS’s engineers, Surround signals give you the option of Stereo, Gaming Surround, and Boosted Surround. The difference between Gaming and Boosted surround is simple: Gaming is designed to give you the best overall gaming experience. Boosted surround boost the treble and bass for those who prefer the extra oomph in their sound. The “field of view” more or less, of the Gaming Surround is a bit closer than some surround headsets, but for good reason. When speaking with the team at CES in January, it was mentioned that this was so you would have ultimate situational awareness – if someone is creeping up behind you, you’re going to know about it.
Take for instance Ubisoft’s newly released For Honor: the game itself is built with a DTS profile – and through the LS40s everything sounds simply exquisite. Not only do I have the visual cues of what’s on around me, I can hear everything. The footsteps of an approaching Nobushi are clear as day with the LucidSound headphones, the grunt of the Conqueror as he recovers from swinging his massive flail comes through over the din of the battlefield around me, as if I’m actually there experiencing it myself. Part of this is simply stellar sound design on the part of Ubisoft’s development team. That sound design is brought to life with the LucidSound LS40s in a way other headphones in this class can’t match.
Music is incredibly refined with the headphones as well. Listening to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and hearing each individual piece of the orchestra come alive filled my ears with pleasure simply not replicated on another headset I’ve used at the price point. Ray Charles’ Ray Sings, Basie Swings takes on new life as the legendary singer’s voice is crystal clear, each tone taking up space in the air around me.
However, it’s not all rosy for the LucidSound LS40 headset. PC support is essentially hit or miss. The surround only works with Dolby Digital Live equipped sound cards – even on board sound with DDL does not work with the headset. As such, I’ve only really been able to test the surround when playing on console, which is fine for console players. However, it really is a shame that there was no mention of a sound card being required to fully take advantage of the $199 investment prior to the headset’s launch.
This is further compounded when you look at the competitors in the market – Razer being a large one here. Razer, while the sound quality isn’t nearly on par with even the Stereo setting on the LS40, has price and convenience on their side. Their 7.1 headset is priced under a hundred dollars, and while the surround isn’t as refined as DTS Headphone X, the Razer Synapse program ensures that virtual surround is available to all of its users. For discerning listeners not willing to spend the money on a sound card to ensure the surround sound feature, the LS30 is the obvious choice then. It’s fifty dollars less than the LS40 and just as comfortable. And those cans really sing.
However, in the right conditions – and every console owner has them thanks to the optical out on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 – the LucidSound LS40s are hands down the best sounding headset I’ve used at the price point. Nothing comes close. In the two weeks I’ve used them I’ve found myself choosing simply to not listen to anything while the headphones charged (and this was pretty infrequent – the battery life of the headset is impressive) purely because I found myself the entire wishing I wasn’t having to substitute for the lesser quality headphones in the interim. I’ve not once had to take them off because they were uncomfortable, and this is after eight or nine hours of constant use a day. And if you do happen to have the right sound card on your PC, the LS40s can be a completely transformative experience in both gaming and pure audio enjoyment.
When I first tried the LS40s at E3 2016, LucidSound rep Alex Verrey told me they aimed to “build a better headset.” After months of waiting, it’s clear as day that the LucidSound LS40s are proof of that concept fully realized.
[Featured Image by LucidSound]