// Gam­ing Head­sets

WITH 7.1 VIR­TUAL SUR­ROUND SOUND AU­DIO CA­PA­BIL­I­TIES, TH­ESE GAM­ING HEAD­SETS AIM TO GIVE YOU THE EDGE WHEN GAM­ING, WHICH ONE IS A CUT ABOVE THE REST?

HWM (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - TEXT // HUR­RAIRAH BIN SO­HAIL PHOTOGRAPHY // FRENCHESCAR LIM ART DI­REC­TION // KEN KOH

SENNHEISER PC 363D

Sennheiser may have made their name on the back of their ex­cel­lent head­phone and mi­cro­phone prod­ucts, but they also have a se­lec­tion of gam­ing head­sets worth con­sid­er­ing.

The PC 363D looks like any other Sennheiser prod­uct; a drab black fin­ish means that gamers will not be pick­ing this head­set based on its looks. On the sides of the ear-cups, laser-cut slats act­ing as vents in­di­cate that the PC 363D is an open back head­phone. This is some­what of an odd choice, as sound bleed from the PC 363D is sig­nif­i­cant, with the head­set only re­ally us­able in soli­tary set­tings. In a LAN café or group set­ting, ev­ery­one around you will pretty much hear what you’re hear­ing.

On the pos­i­tive side, an open back de­sign does al­low for some cir­cu­la­tion of air which helps com­bat over­heat­ing is­sues when the PC 363D is used for long du­ra­tions. Sennheiser fits their gam­ing head­set with what they call “XXL” ear pads. Large and prop­erly scal­loped, the ear-cups of the PC 363D are roomy. Com­pli­mented with a fit that leans to­wards be­ing tight, this gam­ing head­set comes close to find­ing the sweet spot be­tween com­fort and func­tion. The vel­vet cov­er­ing on the ear pads feels nat­u­ral but is prone to get­ting dirty quite quickly. Our only com­plaint with the head­set was the slightly stiff cush­ions used.

Gamers will find a small, ro­tat­ing disc on the right hand side ear-cup that con­trols vol­ume. It is a handy way to ad­just deci­bel lev­els with­out hav­ing to delve into menus and op­tions. A boom mi­cro­phone on the left hand side is also in­cluded. When the mi­cro­phone is dragged down, an au­di­ble click de­notes that it has been un­muted. The mi­cro­phone arm can then be ad­justed into a po­si­tion most com­fort­able for the wearer.

The PC 363D can be plugged in via 3.5mm jack, but we highly rec­om­mend us­ing the USB con­nec­tor avail­able with Sennheiser’s 3D G4ME 1 card which comes as part of the pack­age. Us­ing Dolby Head­phone con­trol and Dolby Pro Logic IIx, the USB sound card by­passes any moth­er­board elec­tron­ics and de­liv­ers vir­tual 7.1 sur­round sound.

Even with­out any of the spe­cial fea­tures ac­ti­vated, the PC 363D is an ex­cep­tion­ally good

“EVEN WITH­OUT ANY OF THE SPE­CIAL FEA­TURES AC­TI­VATED, THE

PC 363D IS AN EX­CEP­TION­ALLY GOOD HEAD­SET.”

head­set. The au­dio is bal­anced and neu­tral. In fact we would go as far as say­ing that this Sennheiser head­set is able to go toe-to-toe with sim­i­larly priced head­phones, and es­pe­cially in mu­sic play­back.

Flick­ing the 3D G4ME 1 for­ward en­gages Dolby mode, thus strip­ping the mid fre­quen­cies from the sound of the PC 363D. The sound­stage morphs from a good stereo to ex­cel­lent 7.1 vir­tual sur­round sound au­dio. While play­ing Bat­tle­field 3 we could ac­cu­rately pin­point the di­rec­tion of sound down to the most minute of de­tails. The tone of the PC 363D is such that sound-ef­fects like foot­falls and ex­plo­sions are in­stantly reg­is­tered by the gamer. Right off the bat, the Sennheiser head­set sets the bar for per­for­mance ex­tremely high.

RAZER KRAKEN 7.1

Pitch-black in color, the Kraken un­doubt­edly both looks and feels like a mem­ber of the Razer fam­ily. Once plugged in, the Razer logo lights up on both ear-cups in their char­ac­ter­is­tic neon green. If the lights bother you, they can be switched off via the Razer Sy­napse 2.0 menu op­tions. Closer in­spec­tion of the head­set re­veals a donut­shaped serv­ing of wire mesh on the out­side of each ear-cup. The fea­ture has been in­cluded en­tirely for aes­thetic pur­poses as the Kraken, un­like the Sennheiser PC 363D, is a closed back head­phone.

The ear-cups for the Kraken are per­fectly round and hence not er­gonomic. We also found the size of the ear-cups to be a bit small, with the cush­ion­ing in­suf­fi­ciently deep for our ears. This re­sulted in the over­all fit be­ing a cross be­tween a supra-au­ral and cir­cum­au­ral head­phone. While the cush­ion­ing is plush and soft, the syn­thetic leather cov­er­ing has low breatha­bil­ity and re­sults in the lis­tener’s ears over-heat­ing quite quickly. The only fea­ture that pre­vents the com­fort quo­tient of the Kraken from be­ing abysmal is the swivel­ing ear-cups. Th­ese al­low for a snug fit with al­most op­ti­mal con­tact pres­sure.

There are no but­tons, di­als or gizmos on the Kraken it­self. The body of the head­set only fea­tures a re­tractable mi­cro­phone. In our opin­ion this is a much more el­e­gant de­sign when com­pared to the raised boom mi­cro­phone stow-away op­tion found on other con­tenders, such as the Sennheiser PC 363D. The Kraken can only be plugged in to a com­puter via USB.

A large part of the Kraken’s func­tion­al­ity is de­rived from Razer’s Sy­napse 2.0 soft­ware ser­vice. This uni­fied con­fig­u­ra­tion soft­ware al­lows the user ac­cess to a great de­gree of cus­tomiza­tion. For ex­am­ple, the Kraken’s vir­tual 7.1 sur­round sound chan­nels can be tweaked in­di­vid­u­ally with re­spect to po­si­tion. Gamers can also ac­cess EQ set­tings, ac­ti­vate

“ALARGE PART OFTHE

KRAKEN’S FUNC­TION­AL­ITY

IS DE­RIVED FROM RAZER’S SY­NAPSE 2.0 SOFT­WARE SER­VICE.”

bass boost and bal­ance in­com­ing voice au­dio.

Over­all, the Kraken most def­i­nitely meets the mark set by the Sennheiser PC 363D with re­gards to gam­ing per­for­mance. The fact that users can cal­i­brate and ad­just the 7.1 vir­tual sur­round sound ef­fect ac­cord­ing to their own pref­er­ences means that their gam­ing per­for­mance def­i­nitely ex­pe­ri­ences a boost. In our opin­ion the Kraken is an ex­cel­lent head­set for FPS fa­nat­ics. How­ever, it must be noted that the Kraken does fal­ter when it comes to mu­sic per­for­mance. Slug­gish mids and boomy bass means that cer­tain songs and tracks are not ren­dered as well as they should have been.

PLANTRON­ICS GAME COM COM­MAN­DER

Plantron­ics, a bit like Sennheiser, are known for their pro­fi­ciency with au­dio prod­ucts not re­lated to gam­ing. But they do have a 7.1 gam­ing head­set avail­able to gamers in the form of the Game Com Com­man­der.

Look­ing at the Game Com Com­man­der gam­ing head­set, the de­sign is clearly in­spired by the avi­a­tion and in­dus­trial aes­thetic. The vis­i­ble thin wire body struc­ture and hard plas­tic shelled ear-cups look like a di­rect ho­mage to cans pi­lots would wear. The top of the head­band fea­tures a re­mov­able vel­cro tag. On the whole, there is no mid­dle ground with the looks of this Plantron­ics gam­ing head­set. You are ei­ther go­ing to love or hate the look.

The first thing you re­al­ize, when you put the Game Com Com­man­der on, is the weight. The head­set is quite heavy and the heft is very per­cep­ti­ble. The oval shaped cush­ion­ing is ad­e­quately large but not roomy due to shal­low depth of the pads. A large de­gree of swivel and the fact that the struc­ture wires are quite flex­i­ble keeps the head­set’s con­tact pres­sure low. But the pri­mary prob­lem with the Plantron­ics head­set is over-heat­ing. Cou­pled with the afore­men­tioned heavy weight, the Game Com Com­man­der can­not be com­fort­ably used for long du­ra­tions.

On the left ear-cup you’ll find a boom mi­cro­phone which can be swiveled through ap­prox­i­mately 270 de­grees. The mi­cro­phone can be bent into po­si­tion, but the stiff­ness of the arm makes minute re-ad­just­ments hard to make. Trav­el­ling down the wire from the ear-cups re­veals a clasp that Plantron­ics has chris­tened Quick Dis­con­nect. Gamers can just un­latch the two halves and swap wires which are de­signed for use with the PC or smart de­vices. Just a bit fur­ther down on the wire is a con­trol pod for ad­just­ing vol­ume, and mut­ing the mi­cro­phone.

Like the Sennheiser PC 363D, the Game Com Com­man­der can be plugged in to your PC via 3.5mm con­nec­tor, or USB. Con­tin­u­ing with the sim­i­lar­i­ties, this Plantron­ics head­set is also equipped with Dolby Head­phone and Dolby Pro Logic IIx func­tion­al­ity, along with a USB sound card. A slider on the

“THE HEAD­SET IS QUITE HEAVY

ANDTHE HEFT IS VERY PER­CEP­TI­BLE.”

right hand side of the USB card is used to turn it on, with an ac­com­pa­ny­ing blue in­di­ca­tor light.

With re­gards to mu­sic, the tone of the Game Com Com­man­der is slightly tinny and thin. On tracks like Adele’s Melt My Heart To Stone the mids lacked the char­ac­ter­is­tic warmth and soul the lis­tener ex­pects. Gam­ing per­for­mance for the Plantron­ics is also slightly dis­ap­point­ing. While the 7.1 vir­tual sur­round sound­stage is good, it does not match the ac­cu­racy of au­dio di­rec­tion de­liv­ered by the Razer and Sen­nehiser prod­ucts. We also found in-game alerts for RTS ti­tles, like Star­Craft II: Heart of the Swarm, to be slightly muf­fled as well.

STEELSERIES SIBERIA ELITE

The “Siberia” moniker has al­ways been used by SteelSeries for some of their top line, gam­ing au­dio of­fer­ings. Over the years the de­sign has been re­fined, and the im­prove­ments are now em­bod­ied in the Siberia Elite gam­ing head­set.

Amidst the slew of black-themed gam­ing head­sets in this shootout, the Siberia Elite stands out in white. The head­band arc con­sists of a bare­bones skeleton fin­ished in dull alu­minum. From the side view, the ear-cups of the head­set re­sem­ble the wheels of a car. Vis­i­ble on the ear-cups is the SteelSeries sig­nage and a ring-shaped light dis­play. Like the Razer Kraken 7.1, this dis­play lights up when the head­set is plugged in. Un­like Razer though, SteelSeries lets users choose any shade from the 16 mil­lion col­ors avail­able from the RGB spec­trum.

Match­ing the Razer Kraken 7.1 even fur­ther, the SteelSeries Siberia Elite also has cir­cu­lar earpads. How­ever the di­am­e­ter of the ear-pads for the SteelSeries head­set is much larger. From a side-on view it also seems that the cush­ions are much thicker, but this is an il­lu­sion caused by the fact that the syn­thetic cov­er­ing also wraps around the head­phone body. Nev­er­the­less, the cush­ion­ing is suf­fi­ciently thick and soft. For ad­just­ing fit, the Siberia Elite has stretch­able wires which work like a charm. Over-heat­ing of ears af­ter pro­longed us­age how­ever is a prob­lem.

Up till this point we’ve only seen braided ca­bles on the gam­ing head­sets com­pared here. The Siberia Elite bucks the trend and comes with flat ca­bles in­stead. A pro­pri­etary con­nec­tor, smaller than a mi­cro-USB con­nec­tor, is used by SteelSeries. Users can plug it into a USB sound card and then con­nect to their PC or note­book via USB. Cable ex­ten­sions for con­nec­tion to an aux-in and mi­cro­phone port as well as a 3.5mm port are also sup­plied. A re­tractable mi­cro­phone is pro­vided for com­mu­ni­ca­tion pur­poses.

Com­pet­ing with the Razer Sy­napse 2.0 soft­ware is SteelSeries’ En­gine 3. En­gine 3 is a sim­ple con­fig­u­ra­tion menu for con­trol­ling the mi­cro­phone and au­dio with the help of a full EQ. It is also the only way to en­gage the Siberia Elite’s Dolby tech­nolo­gies, Dolby Head­phone con­trol and Dolby Pro Logic IIx fea­tures, as the gam­ing head­set

“THE SIBERIA ELITE BUCKS THE TREND AND COMES WITH FLAT CA­BLES.”

has no ac­tual phys­i­cal but­ton(s) to ac­com­plish this task.

The Siberia Elite’s warm tone col­ors its mu­sic per­for­mance. This char­ac­ter­is­tic helps it ex­cel with mu­sic gen­res such as jazz and RnB. But when clar­ity is re­quired, es­pe­cially when lis­ten­ing to or­ches­tral com­po­si­tions, the SteelSeries head­set fails to cap­ture the cor­rect mood and tim­bre. Once the Dolby fea­tures are switched on, the 7.1 vir­tual sur­round sound kicks in. If any­thing, gam­ing per­for­mance is this head­phone’s forte. The di­rec­tion­al­ity of the au­dio is ex­cel­lent and de­serves to be clas­si­fied in the same league as the Sennheiser PC 363D and Razer Kraken 7.1. If we were to nit­pick, the warm tone of the Siberia Elite means that de­tails are not heard as clearly.

LOG­ITECH G430 GAM­ING HEAD­SET

Just be­cause the Log­itech G430 comes with a smaller price tag is no rea­son to con­sider it a poor re­la­tion of the other head­sets in this round-up. The G430 boasts 7.1 vir­tual sur­round sound ca­pa­bil­i­ties just like the rest of the con­tenders, though whether it matches up in terms of per­for­mance re­mains to be seen.

The plas­tic body of the G430 does make it feel cheaper when com­pared to the SteelSeries Siberia Elite, for ex­am­ple. The con­struc­tion also feels a bit shoddy with the head­set emit­ting a few squeaks when han­dled. The color scheme is black and blue, which is in line with the look of re­cent Log­itech prod­ucts. Over­all, the de­sign is also a bit more an­gu­lar which helps set the aes­thet­ics of the Log­itech head­set apart from the rest of the pack.

One of the ben­e­fits of Log­itech’s de­ci­sion to go with a plas­tic body is that they kept the to­tal weight of the G430 low. The ear-cups have also been de­signed with er­gonomics in mind, as is ev­i­dent by the slanted shape. There’s also ad­e­quate depth mak­ing them roomy and com­fort­able. Log­itech has cov­ered the cush­ions with what they call “sport per­for­mance cloth”. This is meant to help with ven­ti­la­tion and sweat ab­sorp­tion when the head­set is used over long pe­ri­ods. In prac­tice, the G430 per­forms bet­ter over ex­tended du­ra­tions when com­pared with some of the other head­sets tested.

The G430 can be plugged in via 3.5mm jack or USB. The head­set does come with Dolby Head­phone tech­nol­ogy to help de­liver vir­tual 7.1 sur­round sound. By way of phys­i­cal fea­tures, the head­set only boasts a sim­ple in-line con­trol pod which can ad­just vol­ume or mute / un­mute the boom mi­cro­phone. There is also a

“THE G430 PER­FORMS BET­TER OVER EX­TENDED DU­RA­TIONS

WHEN COM­PARED WITH SOME OF THE OTHER HEAD­SETS TESTED.”

Log­itech Gam­ing Soft­ware plat­form that com­pares fa­vor­ably with Razer Sy­napse 2.0, as it also fea­tures cal­i­bra­tion and cus­tomiza­tion op­tions.

Over­all au­dio per­for­mance for the G430 is medi­ocre. There are no tonal char­ac­ter­is­tics which jump to mind when first lis­ten­ing to the head­set. While there are no glar­ing flaws with the au­dio ren­di­tion of tracks, such as Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia by the Ea­gles, the ex­pe­ri­ence is un­for­tu­nately for­get­table. The G430 comes with Dolby Head­phone tech­nol­ogy but no Dolby Pro Logic IIx. The 7.1 vir­tual sur­round sound ef­fect while gam­ing is not an ex­pan­sive as the other head­sets tested. It is dif­fi­cult to ac­cu­rately pin­point the source of the sound and the di­rec­tion it is com­ing from with the G430. Sim­ply put, the G430 can­not se­ri­ously com­pete with the rest in this shootout in terms of raw gam­ing au­dio per­for­mance.

ROCCAT KULO

Founded in 2007, Roccat is a rel­a­tive new-comer to the gam­ing pe­riph­er­als mar­ket. At present their prod­uct ranges in­clude key­boards, mice and gam­ing head­sets, of which the last cat­e­gory is rep­re­sented by the Kulo gam­ing head­set.

Bar­ring this Roccat gam­ing head­set, all other con­tenders in this shootout come with a cir­cum­au­ral de­sign. The Kulo 7.1 how­ever sports a supra-au­ral wear­ing style. The choice of on-ear de­sign means that the Roccat gam­ing head­set is dwarfed in size when com­pared with the oth­ers. That said, the Kulo’s build qual­ity is ex­cel­lent. The Kulo comes in black, with small blue Roccat sig­nage on the ear-cups and a sliver of sil­ver on the head­band.

The supra-au­ral wear­ing style and a low con­tact pres­sure help the Kulo be very com­fort­able. Since the ear-pads do not cover the lis­tener’s en­tire ears, over-heat­ing af­ter pro­longed us­age re­ally isn’t a prob­lem. The cov­er­ing for the cush­ions is syn­thetic and closely re­sem­bles leather. Ad­di­tion­ally Roccat also pro­vides cush­ions with vel­vet cov­er­ing which can be swapped in (this op­tion is ap­par­ently only avail­able in Europe, mind you). Our main con­cern with re­gard to the fit and com­fort of the head­set was re­lated to the stiff ad­just­ment mech­a­nism that makes it hard to prop­erly set the head­set in place.

Like all the other con­tenders you have the op­tion to plug in the Kulo to your com­puter via USB or 3.5mm jack. There is an in-line con­trol pod pro­vided for con­trol­ling vol­ume, but the stiff slider makes it dif­fi­cult to make minute changes to deci­bel lev­els. There is also a mi­cro­phone for han­dling com­mu­ni­ca­tions while gam­ing. The Kulo also comes with a com­pan­ion soft­ware plat­form that can be used to help the head­set reach its full po­ten­tial. It has a num­ber of cus­tomiza­tion op­tions for 7.1 vir­tual sur­round, though the ex­pe­ri­ence is marred by an un­in­tu­itive user in­ter­face.

“IT HAS A NUM­BEROF OP­TIONS FOR 7.1VIRTUAL SUR­ROUND, BUT COMES WITH AN UN­IN­TU­ITIVE USERINTERFACE.”

The supra-au­ral de­sign of the Kulo helps in terms of com­fort, though has the un­for­tu­nate side ef­fect of be­ing a detri­ment in 7.1 vir­tual sur­round sound for gam­ing. The au­dio from the head­set comes across as con­stricted, and with in­suf­fi­cient space to de­velop. Add to that the lack of as­sis­tance from Dolby tech­nolo­gies (or any­thing of that sort). With the odds stacked against it, the Kulo sim­ply can­not keep up with the pack.

DRIV­ERS N/A HEAD­PHONE TYPE Open back HEAD­PHONE DE­SIGN

Cir­cum­au­ral FRE­QUENCY RE­SPONSE

15Hz to 28,000Hz

PRICE

RM1,289

Slid­ing the top face of the USB sound card for­ward en­gages Dolby mode.

The vol­ume dial is a disc on the right hand side.

DRIV­ERS 40mm HEAD­PHONE TYPE Closed back HEAD­PHONE DE­SIGN

Cir­cum­au­ral FRE­QUENCY RE­SPONSE

20Hz to 20,000Hz

PRICE

RM329

The re­tractable mi­cro­phone can eas­ily be stowed away.

You can only con­nect the Kraken 7.1 to your com­puter via USB.

DRIV­ERS 40mm HEAD­PHONE TYPE Closed back HEAD­PHONE DE­SIGN

Cir­cum­au­ral FRE­QUENCY RE­SPONSE

20Hz to 18,000Hz

PRICE

TBA Keep­ing in line with the avi­a­tor aes­thet­ics, the GameCom Com­man­der has a curled, stretch­able wire.

The Quick­Dis­con­nect clasp al­lows for easy swap­ing of ca­bles.

DRIV­ERS N/A HEAD­PHONE TYPE Closed back HEAD­PHONE DE­SIGN

Cir­cum­au­ral FRE­QUENCY RE­SPONSE

16Hz to 28,000Hz

PRICE

RM769

This is the only head­set that opts for tan­gle-free flat ca­bles.

The Siberia Elite uses both pro­pri­etary con­nec­tor and wire ex­ten­sions.

A slider on the in-line con­trol pod can help ad­just vol­ume on the fly.

DRIV­ERS 40mm HEAD­PHONE TYPE Closed back HEAD­PHONE DE­SIGN

Cir­cum­au­ral FRE­QUENCY RE­SPONSE

20Hz to 20,000Hz

PRICE

RM299

The cush­ions on the ear-cups are er­gonom­i­cally de­signed and pro­vide a good cir­cum­au­ral fit.

DRIV­ERS 40mm HEAD­PHONE TYPE Closed back HEAD­PHONE DE­SIGN

Supra-au­ral FRE­QUENCY RE­SPONSE

20Hz to 20,000Hz

PRICE

RM195

Supra-au­ral de­sign means that the earpads of the Kulo are small.

The slider on the in-line con­trol pod ad­justs vol­ume.

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