Audio continues to be an important part of VR as different companies are starting to make headphones especially designed for it. Audeze has announced a pair of in-ear headphones that work with the Rift’s proprietary connection as well as the Vive’s standard 3.5mm input. Priced at $400, the headphone are available for pre-order today and said to be shipping at the end of the month.
Audeze is known for crafting high end headphones that utilize a special planar magnetic driver technology which contributes heavily to their products’ highly rated sound quality. The company’s new VR headphones are a part of Audeze’s iSine product line, which first debuted as a non-VR option that claimed to be the first in-ear headphones with planar magnetic drivers. Other than the connector that makes the headphones directly connectable to the Rift and Vive, it is unknown at the moment if there have been any other changes to the headphones to better suit VR.
My review of the Oculus Earphones revealed that tuning and frequency response is extremely important for VR applications, because you want it to represent sound as accurately to its real life characteristics as possible. This means that even some of the best headphones out there made for music might actually not be as good for VR than cheaper options that were specifically designed for the task. In my review for example, an ultra high-end pair of headphones was compared to the Oculus Earphones and they were not better for VR, but they were for listening to certain genres of music.
Audeze however claims that the iSine VR is “the world’s best headphone for virtual reality.” Whether this is true or not has yet to be determined by other sources, but it may end up veracious to a degree. It makes sense since Audeze has such a high pedigree in audio and is now attempting a VR specific pair, but also since the market for VR headphones hasn’t seen that many product entries in the first place, let alone such a high-end option.
The iSine VR might be tuned for VR, which could make it very fitting, but one thing I’m hesitant about is how they’re not entirely noise isolating. Audeze says that they were designed to allow some ambient noise in so that users in VR would less likely be disoriented or “lose their balance,” according to their webpage. How true that is, or even how significant the disorientation problem is, seems questionable to me as a long-time VR user. Especially since Oculus themselves sell a totally noise isolating pair of earphones, it seems unlikely it would be such a big problem. It would make more sense if the reason was so that the user could better hear people outside VR talking to them, like in a demo scenario. This design choice brings up the question of why they went with an in-ear design, as other configurations might be more comfortable or sound better. It may be that the company wasn’t ready to design an entirely new product just for VR, as the iSine VR takes its form from their regular iSine products, and their other larger headphones don’t seem like they’d fit well with a VR headset strapped on.
If nothing else, it’s great to have a high-end option for VR audio, and good to see third-party audio options for the Rift’s unique connection.