Sony Inzone H9 headset review: Sony's ambitious entry into high-end gaming audio

Sony Inzone H9 headset review: Sony’s ambitious entry into high-end gaming audio

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If the distant relationship of the Inzone H9 with the WH-1000XM5 could for a moment make us hope for equivalent audio performance between the two models, the first seconds of listening immediately invite us to put this expectation aside. The sonic philosophy of headphones video game from Sony is not hi-fi, far from it: its restitution is on the contrary very colorful, with a strong “W” signature, in particular when the noise reduction is activated.

The sound message thus transmitted is as if divided into 3 frequency zones distinct from each other, separated by the two hollows visible on the frequency response measurement at 700 Hz and 4 kHz. If not particularly “faithful” or transparent, this rendering is not uninteresting either: it inflates the sensation of spectral breadth in a way that is certainly artificial, but undeniably effective; like some products dedicated to home cinema, which assume to give a little more value to the spectacular character of the sound than to its authenticity. Obviously, this will not necessarily be to everyone’s taste; and unfortunately, the equalizer available in the Inzone Hub application will not be able to do anything about it: it uses far too narrow bandpass filters, which make it impossible to apply significant corrections without transforming the frequency response into a real roller coaster.

Effects of EQ presets on frequency response: default (black), “bass boost” (dotted green), “music/video” (dotted red). The red curve in particular shows the inaccuracy of the filters, which makes this equalizer not very usable.

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Less intransigent listeners, on the other hand, can very quickly get used to this profile. To tell the truth, we might even have been able to find a certain appeal in it, if only the restitution had not also suffered from a slight lack of precision in the treble. The small lack of discipline of the membranes on the transients results in details that can sometimes seem a little confused, and a small lack of overall dynamics — which unfortunately contradicts the spectacular character mentioned above. On the other hand, there is nothing to report on the side of the bass, of a very satisfactory stability.

Above all, this relative inaccuracy of the treble unfortunately plays against the virtual spatialization treatment of the headphones. Indeed, it is precisely above all through high frequencies that the human brain perceives the directionality of sounds; the processing therefore works, in a very logical way, to highlight these frequencies, and in doing so unfortunately highlights their shortcomings. It should be noted, however, that this problem will not necessarily be perceived with the same intensity by everyone, since everyone will not be confronted with exactly the same virtualization filters. This is even the whole principle of HRTF customization offered by the helmet.

What is it about ? It is a practical application of the fact that the perception of the exact origin of sounds by the human auditory system is based on the interactions of sound waves with our head and our auricles. However, since we each have our specific morphology, these interactions are unique to us. Thus, in order to better simulate the spatialization of sound, Sony’s headphones propose to take this uniqueness into account. This is the whole purpose of the ear photos that we mentioned above: the shape of our auricles can thus be analyzed to deduce filters that are as close as possible to reality. The concept is not new; it is even already used by Sony for its 360 Reality Audio spatialized sound music ecosystem. It is also similar to what Creative offers under the name Super X-Fi.

Precisely because of the morphological uniqueness of everyone, it is impossible for us to judge with absolute certainty and in a universal way the effectiveness of this personalization. However, for all the people we had it tried, the effect turned out to be quite convincing, with in particular a significant improvement in the distinction between the front and rear parts of the soundstage. Similarly, people whose personal HRTF is very far from the average, and for whom “ordinary” virtual spatialization treatments are generally unconvincing, have been able to feel a very clear difference in the sensation of sound envelopment provided.

Finally, let’s finish by specifying that this personalized spatial audio system only works on PC. On PS5, the H9 is obviously compatible with the console’s native Tempest 3D audio system, like any other headset. But then, it is indeed the console alone that generates the spatialization, and not the headset itself; the custom filters are therefore no longer active.

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