Interview: How EPOS are building the next generation of gaming headsets on Sennheiser and Demant’s foundations

Audio in gaming continues to be an ever-evolving aspect of the hobby. From the restrained bleeps and bloops of the earliest pieces of software, through to the full orchestration and star-studded voice casts of today, what you hear has the potential to change the way you interact, understand, and feel about a game. EPOS are the newest contenders in the gaming audio peripheral market, but they’ve got something of a head start over any run-of-the-mill start-up. We sat down with Andreas Jessen, EPOS’ Senior Director in Global Product Management and Marketing for Gaming, to see what the future holds.

TSA: EPOS is a new brand, built on the foundations of Sennheiser and Demant – how did that come about, and what was the thinking behind the creation of the EPOS name?

Andreas: For more than 15 years, Sennheiser Communications was a joint venture, a 50-50 split ownership between Sennheiser electronics GmbH & Ko. KG and William Demant. It was a very successful journey for both partners. We collaborated on the development of new technology and saw growth of market shares for the Enterprise Solutions, Gaming and Mobile Music headsets segments across the globe.

The market dynamics have changed through the years and in today’s climate full end-to-end dedication is needed to succeed. There needs to be a focused R&D approach and the time now is right to continue in our own focused directions.

To be able to fully capitalise on the new opportunities that are presenting themselves, William Demant and Sennheiser decided to end their joint venture and let the business segments evolve organically.

EPOS, a new independent brand and entity under the global audio and hearing technology group Demant, builds upon the rich legacy of Sennheiser Communications and demonstrates our strong commitment to support future growth in the two attractive business segments of Enterprise Solutions and Gaming.

We see great opportunities ahead for the gaming market and we believe that this is the best route for us to create a range of premium audio products that can truly enhance the gaming experience for our customers. Sennheiser will no longer focus on Gaming – this segment will be serviced primarily by EPOS.

As for the name – manifested in the classic language of Latin and Ancient Greek, the term epos denotes words, speech and song. Throughout centuries, the term epos has been elevated as the word illustrating heroic Homeric poetry, in which the traditions of cultures and people were conveyed. At EPOS we want to draw from this historic origin. Our name encapsulates our desire and dedication to create solutions that enable ways of communicating through the power of audio. Today EPOS is crafting premium audio solutions, Homer could have only dreamt about. We pronounce EPOS like “easy”, not like “epic”

TSA: Audio in gaming is a key concern for committed gamers, what can EPOS offer them?

Andreas: There are many different reasons why gamers like to play games. Perhaps you are part of a team with a fixed gaming day of the week, or maybe you link up with your guild to jump into raids that require a lot of focused teamwork, or perhaps you prefer to build up cities and empires in a simulation game. You might be the kind of gamer who enjoys solo gaming in rich, immersive worlds. In the end, we are all just looking for ways to be challenged and entertained.

At EPOS, we want to give you an audio experience that is very much out of the ordinary. Great audio can be hard to quantify, but to some extent it is down to understanding how the brain interprets audio, and how we can make the audio as clean and understandable as possible. EPOS gaming headsets are designed to deliver the most lifelike experience as possible you can get from a headset. We focus on the full audio spectrum that human can hear, from 20Hz to 20.000 Hz. We like to think that we offer out of this world audio experiences. When you put on your EPOS headset for the first time, you want to listen to your favourite game soundtrack over and over again, because you discover new sounds and a deeper experience. You may find you can stay focused for longer because there is no listener fatigue, or perhaps your teammates ask you if you’ve got a new microphone, because suddenly they can hear your voice much more clearly and is much more recognisable than before. This, among many other audio advantages, is what we expect to offer gamers.

TSA: What can we expect from EPOS in terms of range? Will there be something for every budget?

Andreas: We have a certain threshold where we think there are too big trade-offs with quality, and that means we don’t have a headset in every single price category. Quality is something that we are not willing to compromise on in order to create a budget headset. Currently we have gaming headsets from around 99€ up to +300€ and that will probably not change in the near future. This also means that when we demand a premium price, we have to deliver a quality experience, and that is something we take very seriously.

TSA: What does high quality audio mean to you?

Andreas: High quality audio draws you deeply into a game and allows you to escape from reality. It’s when your brain doesn’t have to work overtime to compensate for bad speakers or overly distorted signal. High quality audio is when you notice layers in the music or sound effects that you didn’t notice before, and when you click the mouse just one more time to hear the satisfying rumble of your AWP (a popular gun in ‘Counter-Strike’, even though it will give your location away to your enemies.

TSA: How do you go about making the perfect gaming headset? And how does that differ from a regular pair of headphones?

Andreas: To a large degree, there should be no difference between audiophile headphones and a gaming headset, but in general you can say there are three areas that are extremely important when designing a headset for gaming.

First, audio quality. This is something that is easy to say, but hard to explain what it means. Audio quality for us is not a number like 20-20.000 Hz freq. range. but instead it is an in-depth philosophy on how much colour our headsets should add to the work the audio engineers have done on the game development. Every headset in the world will “colour” the audio in some way and if this is not tightly controlled and designed in a specific way, you can end up with headsets that are overly muddy because of an extreme and unbalanced bass response, or a midrange that is not kept flat, resulting in voices sounding different than in real life. Audio quality is definitely one of the most important factors not only in the development, but also in the manufacturing – a lot of the quality in the audio actually comes from the fact that we check every single headset before it leaves our assembly line, and if the speakers are not within our tolerances it is scrapped and not sent to customers.
Second is microphone performance. A lot of gamers buy a gaming headset because gaming for them is a social experience. Having clear and easy communication will not only make your experience better, it will sometimes also mean the difference between a win or a loss in a 5v5 game.

Comfort is third. Gamers are one of the headset groups that wear their headsets the longest. Because the headset is something that touches your face, we believe that comfort is a very important factor. We do a lot of research into where we can accept pressure points, and where these pressure points would cause irritation or discomfort after extended wear. How big is an earcup? How heavy can it be? How easy is it to adjust so you don’t have sound leakage? Comfort is definitely our third pillar.

Then of course there are a ton of other aspects such as surround sound, balancing of L/R speakers, having spare parts available such as ear pads and cables, design, wireless capabilities, good digital to analogue converters and much more – it’s a full time job.

TSA: When you get a new gaming headset, what’s the first thing you listen out for?

Andreas: First of all, you should notice if the headset seals around your ear correctly. A lot of headsets have what we call ‘jaw leak’, or some other sound leak from the ear cup. If this happens, there is not enough energy in the speaker to give you any low frequencies and everything will just sound flat. No-one wants that!
Secondly, you should test with a favourite song you know by heart! A lot of people make the mistake of heading to YouTube and searching for headphone testing to test their headsets. The mistake in this approach is that you don’t know how it is actually supposed to sound! We recommend you pick a song, maybe from your childhood. It doesn’t have to be a song you love, but just a song you have heard so many times that you will instantly hear if it sounds wrong. For me personally I usually use The Beatles for this exercise.

Next, you can test the microphone by asking someone else to check if you sound normal and relaxed when you speak into it. Again, it will be hard to test for yourself because you don’t actually know how you sound yourself. Most of your voice travels through your bones instead of through your ear when you hear your own voice.

If all the audio is good, then you can start testing for comfort, ease of placing the microphone, design, and the other details.

TSA: Do you think that audio has become more important in gaming over the years?

Andreas: Audio has definitely become more important – not only in gaming, but in general. I feel like audio is having a true comeback to quality as the years progress. There was a period where badly compressed MP3 files were the benchmark of quality, instead of listening to CDs. This made perfect sense, because streaming and digital files offered so many other advantages, but we all sort of agreed to the tradeoff. In recent years, there has definitely been a return to quality over quantity. Consumers expect more from their audio equipment. If you go on a flight you also see less and less people using the inflight headsets, and more and more bringing their own device. This for me is a sign that we are prioritizing using our hard-earned money on ensuring a decent audio experience.

This goes also for gaming of course – on top of that we are also seeing game developers put more emphasis on audio. This is because we have come so far with visuals and because they have realised audio is actually the quickest way to generate emotion inside the mind of a gamer. A good game is a game that uses the audio to evoke emotions and immersion just as much as the use of visuals

Audio holds power like almost no other sense, to instantly transport you somewhere. Maybe it is the sound of your mother’s voice, or the engine sound of the car you grew up with – the sound will instantly take you back to that moment or that emotion, and that is the power of audio.

TSA: Where do you see the biggest improvements coming from in the next ten years of headset design?

Andreas: At the moment, there is a lot of new technology being put into gaming headsets such as new form factors (true wireless), more features as more powerful chips become available, more battery life and more intelligence, but this could be true of any consumer electronic.

What is going to be transformational for gaming audio and gaming headsets is the level of immersion that can be offered through HRTF (Head-related transfer function) algorithms, through better sound rendering in games – maybe even object-based audio objects instead of 7.1 mixing. Finally, we are going to see massive improvements in microphone performance as we will get more used to being together from afar – which seems more relevant in these last few months than ever before. When communicating remotely, it becomes very important to hear the subtle cues in the other persons voice, the warmth that you know from real life and in general a higher quality microphone. No one will accept sounding like they are talking into a cell phone from 1990, when we can do so much better!

Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.

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