The driver installs without a hitch and after a reboot, an icon appear on the taskbar for the Sonar 5.1 interface. After fiddling around with the settings on my own, I had to finally break down and read the manual. As it turns out, there are certain settings that should be changed from the defaults in order to get the full effect from the headset. The first is the SPDIF output. This is enabled by default but actually not supported by the Sonar 5.1 headset and should be turned off. The next thing is bass enhancement. This is found in the advanced section and is accessed by clicking on the hammer icon under the analog output. This is not enabled by default and must be turned on. There are three levels of bass enhancement. According to the manual, these are low, medium and high. In the software they are listed as soft music, general music and DVD title. They seem to have the same effect as low, medium and high however, so it just seems to be a minor naming discrepancy.
The mixer and effect tabs are pretty self-explanatory. If you're familiar with these types of audio adjustments, you should be able to breeze through these settings. I didn't mess around with these much but you can adjust the different frequency levels manually or rely on the presets. The same goes for the effects. There are certain filters you can apply that alter the sound, such as padded room, stone corridor, forest, etc. All of the effects do change the output noticeably but I prefer to leave the natural sound output and let the game or application apply any specific effects. These settings may come in handy if you are simply listening to music, watching a movie or other multimedia files.
To test out the Sonar 5.1 Headset I fired up some Team Fortress 2 and went into the game audio options. There is a setting to select 5.1 surround sound, which was a huge difference from my normal 2.1 speaker setup. I wouldn't believe that there could be such detailed sounds come from a set of headphones but I guess that's what having eight speakers does for you. Unfortunately I could not get the microphone to work.
Every time I tried to enable the mic it would simply error. If I would alt-tab to the desktop I was greeted with this USB bandwidth error. It appears that the 5.1 surround sound uses 60% of the USB bandwidth, and trying to enable the mic requires an additional 18% which coupled with the system reserved bandwidth exceeds what is available. I found this difficult to believe, given that USB 2.0 should be capable of more than 400Mb/s, but I verified that my USB ports were indeed operating in USB 2.0 mode and not somehow reverting to 1.1 or something else. I then tried moving the USB connector for the headset around, trying different ports. Unfortunately every time you plug the headset into a different port you have to reinstall the driver. This is a bit of a pain; you'd think the software would be smart enough to pick up the driver from the previous installation. Regardless, none of the ports allowed the microphone to work, even when putting the headset on its own "controller" by hooking it up to one of the motherboard USB headers by itself.
I tried another multiplayer game, Crysis. I could not get the microphone to work here either. It seems that the swivel mount for the boom might have a loose connection in it because I could hear a crackling in the headset when rotating the mic up and down. With no troubleshooting options available on the Cyber Snipa website and not finding much in the way of things to try by just Googling the error I was seeing, I gave up on getting the mic working and resigned to just using the Sonar as a set of headphones.
On that note let's wrap up this review with some final thoughts and conclusion.