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Interview With James Hildebrandt, CEO of Psyko

Bjorn3D has an opportunity to do an interview with James James Hildebrandt, head of Psyko. Psyko made a huge noise this year at CES with their hardware based 5.1 headset and James is kind enough to give us a bit more information about the headset and his background, his company information. We have also invited out members to contribute to the questions so let’s find out the answers to these questions.

Bjorn3D has an opportunity to do an interview with James Hildebrandt, head of Psyko. Psyko made a huge noise this year at CES with their hardware based 5.1 headset. James is kind enough to give us a bit more information about the headset and his background, his company, and his thought in the 5.1 heatset. We have invited our readers to contribute to the questions which we have compiled along with our own list and submitted to Psyko.

Just to provide our reader with a bit of information. The headset from Psyko is a radical departure from the old 5.1 headset. This headset is a hardware based rather than software based as the headset itself comes with speaker and it does not rely any software emulation to get real-time 3D audio position.

So, without further ado, let’s find out the answers to to these questions.

1. Can you give us a little background of yourself? Your company? And your experience with the computer audio? Why the name Psyko?

Psyko. The name Psyko comes from psychoacoustics, the body of science dedicated to understanding how we hear and interpret sound.

I have a graduate degree in mechanical engineering that focused on acoustics. I’ve been working on headphone surround sound audio for about 9 years. It all got started when a friend said there must be a better way to make headphones. He wanted to have the surround sound advantage in his gaming but with a system that could not be heard by his wife and children late at night.

2. What is your inspiration for the design?

For the technology I was totally inspired by the mechanics of how sound works, and how we perceive the direction of sounds. The industrial design was driven by the technology and the need to tell the story of how the technology works.

To perceive direction of a sound we need three components of the sound to work together – 1) the timing difference and 2) volume difference between the ears to give us the angle, but that angle could be from in front of us or behind us, and 3) the reflection off our outer ear, the pinna, gives us the perception whether the sound is from behind us or in front of us. Our design delivers those same three components by using waveguides that deliver the sound to both ears from each of the 5 speakers on the bridge of the headset. There is no signal processing (DSP) and therefore, no latency.

A lot of audio people come with an electrical engineering background while my background is mechanical engineering. So I was thinking more in terms of the physics of the sound than how to design a system to electronically process the sound. That just led to our design which is the pure physics of sound flow through the headphone.

3.Can you provide us with more detail on the products, such as the frequency response? Speaker’s wattage, etc.

Not yet. Wait until after they are out.

4. How is this headset compare to a full fledge 5.1 speaker setup?

They are the same because you can tell the direction of sound. A room system has 5 speakers that deliver the mid and high frequencies, just like the Psyko headset. A 5.1 room system also has a sub-woofer to deliver the low frequency effects. Likewise, the Psyko headset has a dedicated sub-woofer, but one at each ear.

There are some interesting differences too. A full 5.1 speaker room is more expensive and can clearly disturb others in the building. It is hard to set up a room system and create that sweet spot of all the speakers with the correct distance and balance. The Psyko headphones automatically put you in the sweetspot.

5. What sets your product apart from other existing 5.1 headsets?


They are fundamentally different in almost every way.

Some of the other 5.1 headsets have digital signal processing (DSP) which causes latency and delivers a directional sound that many people describe as inadequate. Some of the 5.1 headsets have no processing but only deliver the left signals to the left ear and right signals to the right ear – never in nature does only one of your ears hear a sound. So those systems just don’t sound realistic.

Psyko headsets use no DSP, so no latency, plus every sound is delivered to both ears with the correct direction cues. A big challenge for headphone surround sound is that everyone’s ears are unique in shape, just like fingerprints. However, the DSP headphone method delivers the same signal to everyone. If your ear shape happen to match that of the DSP algorithm they sound good, but for most of us it sounds a bit off, or really off. The Psyko method is to create the sound field around both ears so it reflects off your ears just like in a room – so the sound direction is completely natural.

We are very focused on PC gaming and delivering the direction of the sounds. If you really want the best ability to perceive the direction of a gun shot, foot step or voice, you will want to turn down the bass, and here’s the background to that. If you look into setting up a room 5.1 system you’ll notice that all the experts say it is critical to place the 5 speakers in the right locations to create that sweetspot, and of course you have to sit in that sweetspot to get the benefit. Those 5 speakers deliver the mid and high frequencies. However, most people will say that it does not matter much where you put the sub-woofer, the .1 channel. This is because people tend not to be able to tell the direction of low frequencies. The sub-woofer is great to give you the full visceral feeling of the sound, but it really is a distraction to knowing where the sound comes from.

So, the Psyko headset comes with an amplifier that lets you control the master volume and a separately control the bass level. For the best gaming visceral effect turn up the bass, but for maximum gaming tactical performance of knowing where every sound is, then turn down the bass and even open up the big vents on the Psyko ear cups. The vents keep your ears cool and comfortable for those marathon gaming session and let you best hear the direction of the sounds.

6. What do you think is the flaws/issues on current 5.1 headsets and how is your product addresses these issues?

(see above answer)

7. What do you think your products may still need to improve on?

The first product is just for PC’s so we will be coming out with versions that address other gaming platforms.

8. Would we see a wireless version of the headset?

We are experimenting with wireless systems, but so far the best audio is through wires.

9. As most of us use headsets to listen to music and play game, are you going to lose sound quality compared to other headsets in this price range (Sennheiser HD595) to gain the 5.1?

We are really focused on making the best gaming experience. For music there is a range of personal preference for the character of the sound and different headphones deliver different effects. None though deliver the direction of sound like Psyko does and that is our focus.

10. This headset doesn’t appear to have detachable cables. Is there any reason that you didn’t include this feature?

We wanted to keep things as simple and reliable as possible. Inside the headphone cable there are 12 lines running so a 12 line connector was not in the works yet.

11. Wwhat other applications besides gaming do you think see the headsets is suited for? Entertainment use? Move watching? VOIP? Would it be capable of producing a full surround sound in these environments?

Psyko headphones are really just like a room 5.1 system. So if it sounds good on a 5.1 room system it sounds good in Psyko headphones.

12. If we understand correct, the headset basically has speakers attached, would the tiny speakers capable of producing the full range of sounds? Would it give enough oomph that is needed?

Psyko has a similar system to a 5.1 system where the oomph comes from the sub-woofer and we have 1 dedicated sub-woofer speaker in each ear cup to deliver that oomph.

13. Are the drivers/speakers replaceable; what would you say the lifespan is?

They are replaceable but aren’t really designed for the customer to replace them. The lifespan depends a lot on the how they are used and cared for.

14. We found the following information at your site, “Ear cup vents pivot open and closed, allowing for open air flow to keep your ears cool and comfortable for those marathon game sessions. Open them to talk to others in the room, close them to block outside sounds.” Can you tell us a little bit about the ear cups?

I found traditional headphones to be uncomfortable after just a few minutes of use. Some rested on your ears and hurt, some cupped over your ears but became hot. We designed these to be more comfortable. The Psyko ear cup is large and does not touch your ear. The panels on the Psyko ear cups pivot open so you can use them open and keep your ears cool. Opening the vents also decreases the amount of bass that can be delivered to the ear. That is simple physics. So, the amplifier supplied with the Psyko headphones has a separate bass control to adjust for that.

You can compensate for the open vent with the dial to add more bass. BUT, to best hear the direction of sound you should minimize the bass level so you can focus on the mid and high frequency sounds that are the key ones for direction. We can’t perceive the direction of low frequency but the low frequency sound can interfere with hearing the mids and highs.

So, for best game performance turn down the bass and open the vents. For max bass close the vents and turn up the bass on the supplied amp.

15. How does the headset connect to the computer? Based on what we have seen, it uses the 3.5mm audio jacks. Does it use the same ports (front/rear/sub) found on the sound card? If so, would users have to unplug their existing speaker setup to use the unit or Psyko would provide a splitter for it?

Yes, the Psyko headphones plug into the sound card 3.5mm plugs. You raise a good point about needing splitters. Our goal is to make the process as complete as possible and will work on this.

16. Is the contact pressure of the headset adjustable? How comfortable is the headset for users who have tested it?

People say they are really comfortable. They are heavier than most headphones but people also say they are lighter than they expected. Most of the structure is hollow for the sound chambers so they are lighter than they appear.

17. When will we expect to see the product hitting the retail shelves?

We need a couple of months before we can answer that. We will be getting them on shelves down the road, but right now we are focusing on making them available at web retailers.

18. Based on what we have seen, the headset is going to cost quite a lot, will we ever going to see a “budget” version of the headset?

Not in the near term. After this first product is out we can get feedback on what features need to be added or removed for other priced products, and what costs are associated with those changes.

19. What other exciting products should we expect to see from Psyko besides the headset?

We are really focused on gaming surround headphones, so we are not prepared yet to talk about other products.

Finally, we would like to thank you again for your time. We cannot wait to see the actual products.

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