Interview with Psyko Labs Inventor
By André Gordirro on May 25, 2009
Every once in a while somebody comes along and think outside the box about something rather conventional, like the headphone for instance. One of those people is James Hildebrandt, a mechanical engineer with graduate training in acoustics and methods to simulate engineering physics. He’s the founder and CEO of Psyko Audios Labs, which is releasing the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset System. The device uses airflow to simulate a home theater in your head (calling it the Waveguide system), bypassing Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and avoiding latency altogether. It aims to deliver naturally immersive sound and precision directionality.
The revolutionary part about the device’s design is that the speakers are not placed in the ear cups, for starters. They are placed above the user’s head in the bridge of the headphone. The WaveGuide system directs all the front sounds to flow past the front of the ears, and all the rear sounds to flow past the rear of the ears just like how sounds interact with a person’s ears in a room system.
We’ve interviewed Mr. Hildebrandt so he could explain to us the breakthroughs of his invention and how it compares to other 5.1 gaming headphones already available on the market. And don’t worry about the name of his company or the product – the ideia behind it may sound lunatic, but there’s nothing psycho about it. It actually comes from Psychoacoustics, the body of science that studies how we hear and interpret sound.
How much time went into the design and testing of the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset System?
I got the original inspiration about 9 years ago and have been designing, building and testing prototypes ever since. Not all that time was spent on building and testing because a lot of time goes into all the other aspects of building a business from scratch, but there has been a lot of testing and over all the stages likely over a thousand people have tested them.
Can you say that the Waveguide system would be akin to the sound waves traveling through the air in a normal room? Was that the idea behind it?
That was exactly the idea. The goal is that the waveguide system is to guide every sound to the right location around both ears – just like the air in a normal room.
Of course the attention went to the 5.1 experience provided by the unique speaker system. But what about the Psyko microphone? Any groundbreaking solutions or it’s just a regular mike?
The groundbreaking was in the headphones. We tested lots of mics and choose the best one.
How did you bypass the Digital Signal Processing?
By making something that works exactly like a room speaker system. That means we take the signal that would normally go to each room speaker and connect it to the corresponding speaker up in the bridge of the headphones. The waveguides do all the timing, volume and direction control. Just like sound in a room it is really simple physics, and totally effective.
The setup seems kinda big. Do you think gamers would prefer a lighter and more comfortable system, especially after hours of playing?
They are heavier than traditional headphones but the Psyko headphones are all speaker chambers and waveguides, which is air, so they are a lot lighter than what most people think they would be by their looks.
Besides the science behind it, you can see that a lot of effort went into the futuristic design of the device. Was that a conscious decision, I mean, not to let it be a big, bulky ugly headphone and instead appeal to a gamer’s fashion sense?
Yes, we put a lot of effort into the design and had a couple of extremely talented people working on it.
There are some competing 5.1 gaming headphone setups, like the Turtle Beach EarForce HPA2. How would they compare to the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset System?
There are simply massive differences between the Psyko’s and all the rest. Big difference in the methods and that results in a big difference in the audio experience.
Let me get into psychoacoustics for a minute, the technology of how we interpret sound. When you hear a sound in the room there are 3 parts of the sound that your brain uses to determine location – if those 3 are not done correctly you can’t properly tell sound direction. 1) The timing difference between the left and right ear and 2) the volume difference between left and right tells your brain at what angle the sound is. But that angle could be from in front of you or from behind you. The next key is 3) how the sound flows past the front or rear of your ears. The reflections off the outside of your ear tell you if it is coming from in front or behind you. So, now let’s compare to how other headphones try to make you think you are hearing surround sound.
One classic method is to put multiple speakers around each ear. The problem with this is two-fold – first, they only play the left sounds in the left ear and right sounds in the right ear. So, this is unnatural. Second, they don’t really make a flow of sound from directly in front or behind each ear. The speakers really just point into your ear.
The second classic headphone method is to use Digital Signal Processing (DSP) to alter the sounds. The sounds from the front are altered to boost some frequencies. The sounds from the rear have other frequencies boosted. The problem here is that everyone’s ear shape is as unique as a fingerprint, so the frequencies your brain is used to using to detect direction is unique to you. If your ear shape matches the ear shape they were designed for they sound ok. But to the majority of people they don’t sound quite right.
Now, how does Psyko do it differently? Every sound is produced at one of the 5 speakers in the bridge and then travels down waveguides. The location of the speaker makes the correct timing and volume difference between left and right ears, just like having the room speaker placed in the right spot in the room around you. Then the waveguides bring the sound to the correct location around BOTH ears so the front sounds flow from the front of your ear, and the rear sounds flow from behind your ear. The sound reflects off both of your ears the way it does in room and has the correct timing and volume differences between each ear, and sounds completely natural.
So, the other headphones methods are missing key parts of what your brain needs to detect sound direction. Psyko delivers it just the way it flows in the room.
Will you release a model that targets the music lover instead of the gaming market?
We are really focused on 5.1 gaming. But, stay tuned.
Still can you use your Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset System with your home theater set up?
The current version has the connectors for analog input for your 5.1 sound card. We don’t recommend connecting this version to your home theatre because if you turn up the home theatre too much you will overload the Psyko headphones and the Psyko amp.
Your résumé says you are an avid PC gamer. So what are your personal favorites? In which have you been testing the Psyko 5.1 PC Gaming Headset System?
Unreal Tournament, Battlefield 1942 and Call of Duty are favorites. There have been lots of times I would make a change to a prototype and think I would test them in a game for a few minutes and suddenly 4 hours has gone by and now it is 2am.