Page 7 - Listening and DVD and Video
A variety of tunes, from 128kbps MP3 to 24 bit/96 KHz WAV files were used to test out the subjective quality of the Sonars. I used Foobar2K 0.9.5 with the kernel streaming and crossfeed (where appropriate) plug-ins for playback. The Sonar don't support kernel streaming, so the regular DirectSount output was used for listening.
Using the Stereophile Test Disc #2 on the octave decade tracks, the Sonar have a very pronounced dip in the upper midrange, starting around 2KHz and last up into 5KHz or so, which gives them a slightly muffled sound. For the upper treble range, cymbals just dont sing and sound a lot like hissing or static. What I find is that this makes the Sonar a little safer for high listening levels, which will safeguard your ears, but the trade-off is in missing details. With headphones like the Grados you get super detail, but at high listening levels they will leave your ears ringing. Listen long enough, youll have permanent ringing.
With Green Days Holiday, from American Idiot, the Sonars have a great rocking drive to them, lots of bass and a surprising amount of snap. However, they lack the bass extension of the HPA2s and the smooth, crisp detail of the Grados. If you are a bass-head, or a loud-rock kinda guy, the Sonar's could be good.
On Pink Floyds Money, from Dark Side of the Moon, it really confirms the muffled sound of the Sonar. The very first seconds of the song are just a cash register ringing. With the Sonar you kinda get the sense that the till is ringing, but you cant really hear the timbre of the bell itself. While not the best Ive heard, you do get most of the sound at any rate. Also in deficit are the cymbals, which play an important role in the song telling you where beats 7 and 1 are. Yeah, this song is in 7. Most songs are in 4-beat measures. This one goes to 7.
Another example is the Black Sabbath song, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, off the album of the same name, digitized off the LP at 24 bit/96 KHz, where the cymbals have a nice and sweet ringing sound to them. The Sonar doesn't bring out the sweet sounds here, and all you hear is a splash of noise where the cymbal strike should be.
So, I think the Sonar are better for Rock 'n Roll, Trance, Club, or Hip-hop, than for, say, classical, where the bass and the snap can be very enjoyable, but you ain't going to hear the violins. I do miss the detail that the reference headphones provide, especially if you're into solo piano or something. Right. I don't know too many gamers that also listen to classical music, so most of you can safely ignore this. Considering CyberSnipa, I'm sure this is also a design choice.
DVD and Video
Shortly before my main writing machine died a horrible death (software RAID is *not* RAID, kids.), I was able to do some subjective tests with some DVD's and some web content, to see how the Sonar compared to the Logitech Z-680 speaker set, and Turtle Beach's EarForce HPA2 surround sound headphones. Let's start off with the DVD.
I used Star Wars Episode III to gauge the surround sound abilities of the Sonar and compared them to the Turtle Beach HPA2 driven by the Auzentech X-Prelude. The good news is that the Sonar did pretty good, but not stellar. The opening sequence of Episode III is a space battle over the capital planet, Coruscant. The bass was strong with the Sonar, but not too strong like the HPA2's were (and I know the HPA2's are more expensive and have individual volume controls). The Sonar also have a strong center channel and the surround worked pretty darn good, just about the same as the reference Logitech Z-680's in fact. However, small details like the android chirps were all but buried and were a little harder to hear than with the other two. You would need quite a bit of time to fiddle with the Sonar's equalizer (in the driver) to get them to sound their best. I don't know how many people will do that, but to get the best performance it will be a necessity.
I also watched a few episodes of Carrier, a PBS 'reality' TV show, which the Sonar also did pretty well. As far as war propaganda goes, this show is pretty mild. The show does have some good music to go along with the series, however. The Sonar works pretty well for web video content. It was detailed enough that I could hear the compression artifacts in the audio, if I listened hard enough. I think web content doesn't really push the limits of any kind of hardware (except perhaps bandwidth), and is well within the limits of the Sonars.
Before we head off to the Conclusion, for movies and web videos, the Sonars are good for web, but less so for DVD's. To get the best out of the Sonar for DVD, you'll need to fiddle with the equalizer in the driver to match other headsets.