Harman’s audio products, which comprise brands like JBL, AKG, and Harman/Kardon are known as much for their high-tech aesthetic as for their audio quality and have never included a gaming headset—until now. We were excited to get the GHS 1 into the Lab to find out whether the design-conscious company’s first foray into the gaming peripheral landscape was a success.
It’s recently become popular for major PC game releases to be accompanied by their own line of branded peripherals, custom designed by big-name peripheral makers like Razer and SteelSeries. Frequently, these products are no more than a reskinning of a popular model, as is the case with the Call of Duty: Black Ops Stealth Mouse, which is essentially a rebranded Cyborg R.A.T. Other times, the tie-in is more substantial, as with the SteelSeries WoW mice, which feature unique, game-inspired designs as well as features and software intended to help you play the game better.
So, when we got the complete set of StarCraft II custom peripherals in for testing from Razer, we were curious to see whether they would be more like the former or the latter scenario. What we found out was surprising.
Sennheiser isn’t a name you usually associate with gaming headsets—the company hasn’t, after all, traditionally been a player in that market, and its entry into it hasn’t come with much fanfare. All the same, we were pretty psyched when our review unit of the company’s new G4ME 333D headset came in.
Remember that ugly plastic we keep mentioning? With the Banshee, it seems Razer ended up with some sort of surplus of the stuff, and just decided to see how much it could possibly slap onto a single headset. The individual ear cups are simply enormous—bigger than any gaming headset we’ve used. That’s OK though, as bigger cans theoretically means room for bigger drivers, and that’s a good thing. We also know that with this set, Razer has opted to store the external soundcard hardware in the set itself, rather than in a dongle on the cord, as is more popular, which would account for some of the additional bulk.
Now, the first thing you’re going to notice about the HS1 USB gaming headset is that it isn’t the best looking set out there. It’s bulky, the color choice is uninspired, and the odd decision to pad the bottom and top of the headband gives the whole thing a sort of bloated aesthetic. There—now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about the reasons that Corsair’s first headset kicks ass.
For one, it sounds great. That supersize chassis means more room for big, beefy 50mm drivers. These give the HS1 clear highs and bass that’s great for a pair of headphones. The dynamic range is also stellar, letting everything from gunshots to quiet, ambient background noises come through with excellent clarity.
Engineers designing earbuds face a choice these days: Should they build earbuds that support a variety of devices and perform a host of functions, or should they focus exclusively on digital media players and audio quality? The engineers who designed Razer’s Moray Plus Mobile Gaming Communicator decided to go for the gusto—and they almost made it.
The Morays can do a lot more than pump the latest Eels album down your ear canals. They come with an iPhone-compatible, in-line, omni-directional microphone; adapters for Sony’s PSP 2000/3000 and Nintendo’s DS/DS Lite handheld gaming systems; and a split stub cable you can plug into your PC’s headphone and mic jacks. Razer also thows in a padded carrying case that you’ll actually want to hang onto: It zips shut, includes mesh pockets for each accessory, and doesn’t look like your sister’s jewelry bag.
The Psyko 5.1 takes the idea of 5.1 surround sound in a gaming headset to its logical extreme. Not content with using two drivers to simulate 5.1 surround sound, the Psyko 5.1 actually packs seven drivers into the headset; five for directional sound, and two for bass. The Psyko isn’t the first headset with that many drivers, but the way it uses them to achieve its surround-sound effect is truly unique.
It’s a bit complicated to explain, but we’ll try: When gaming on a traditional surround-sound system, when a sound is played on the front-right speaker, the sound from that speaker hits your right ear a millisecond before your left ear, from the front. With the Psyko 5.1 headset, the same bullet sound would also be played primarily on the front-right speaker, except that now it’s located on the right half of the headband. The sound then travels through an acoustic channel, and is piped into the front of both ear chambers. Because the sound originates on the right side of the band, it hits your right ear first, producing the same effect as a physical speaker. Sound from the rear speakers works the same way, but is piped into the back of the ear chambers.
If you’re at all serious about the sound you feed your head, you’ve already replaced whatever craptastic headphones (aka earbuds, earphones, or in-ear monitors) came in the box with your digital media player of choice. Now you’re ready for another upgrade, and with the economy in turn-around mode, you can afford to splurge just a bit.
Type “earbud” into Amazon’s search box and you’ll get more than 4,000 results, so to guide you through the thicket, we picked out six pairs of sub-$100 in-ear monitors from the biggest names in the business: Audio-Technica, Klipsch, Sennheiser, SkullCandy, Ultimate Ears, and VModa. We then created a playlist on a third-generation iPhone populated with songs from a broad spectrum of styles, including classical, rock, jazz, world beat, funk, and techno from artists ranging from old-school (The Beatles) to new-school (White Rabbits) to cool-school (John Coltrane). We also made a point of selecting a mixture of electric and acoustic performances mastered with both analog and digital studio equipment. All tracks were ripped from CD (recordings produced with both analog and digital studio gear) and encoded in Apple Lossless format.
If you shop based on feature charts and price points and pick up V-Moda’s Remix Remote as a result, you’ll stick ‘em in your ears and think “hey, not too shabby!” They delivered bright performances with acoustic tracks and classical music played at mid volume, and middling performances with more demanding recordings at low to medium volume.
As we quickly discovered, however, they just can’t handle any genre featuring bass and drums at high volume. Take Deadmau5 & Kaskade’s dance anthem “I Remember.” This clean and not-so-demanding synth-pop song was the only non-acoustic track the Remix Remote could handle well at any sort of higher volume—and that was only on the front side of the cut. Once the song opened up into its first big breakdown/rebuild, the track disintegrated into a wall of pounding distortion.
Have you ever dated someone who possessed all your usual desirables and who seemed to genuinely like you, but the relationship ultimately failed to generate sparks? Ultimate Ears’ MetroFi 220vi are the earbud equivalent of that dating experience.
The MetroFi’s felt big, bright, and warm as we ran through all the genres and artists on our testing playlist: Classic rock guitar strokes delivered appropriate punch without piercing our ears, while acoustic and classical numbers sounded clean, with each instrument’s establishing its presence with natural grace. But as with any dating experience gone awry, that one critical flaw surfaced and all hope of a long-term relationship was lost. In this potential lover’s case, ‘twas bass response that snuffed the romance.