Capsule Gaming Headset Roundup: Entries from Logitech, SteelSeries, and Razerby Dustin Sklavos on August 30, 2013 4:42 AM EST
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People underspend on peripherals. There, I said it. Paying up for quality, be it a keyboard, a mouse, or a gaming headset, usually results in a measurably better experience. I watched my best friend's boyfriend's face light up when he started talking about the Corsair K70 keyboard I recommended to him, and it's not an unusual reaction: people often don't know how good things can be.
Gaming headsets are a trickier proposition. First, audiophiles should just close this review now, because these products straight up aren't for you. That's not to say these headsets offer poor sound quality, but they're not calibrated for and not designed for studio accurate sound. Their primary reasons for being are to produce an immersive gaming experience with usable positional audio and to offer decent microphone communication for VoIP. For these products, the issues turn into whether or not the headset is comfortable, sound is at least of palatable quality, the positional audio is effective, and the features included are useful.
Basic Stereo Sound, $59
The G230 isn't quite Logitech's "entry level" headset, but it's definitely a barebones affair. Fit and feel with glasses on wasn't ideal but was pretty good. You're not going to need Logitech's G-series software for this kit, which only uses minijacks for the headphone and mic connections. The in-line control unit allows you to adjust volume and toggle the microphone on and off.
Its best feature is that it has very strong, eardrum rattling bass and produces a pretty crisp sound overall. This is a fine headset, but if you're gunning for a barebones gaming set, the G230 really isn't worth the $59, especially not when the vastly superior G430 is only $20 more.
Simulated 7.1 Surround Sound, $79
It's pretty reasonable to assume the G430 is just a G230 with a G-series USB dongle, but that dongle is easily worth the added $20. The G430 includes all the trimmings of the G230, but the dongle enables you to use Logitech's redesigned and very useful desktop gaming software suite to produce simulated 7.1 surround sound.
Bass is as boomy as ever, and while the positional audio subjectively felt better than the G230, it still seemed a little bit off compared to the Razer Kraken 7.1. I tested the G430 in the declining-due-to-piss-poor-management MechWarrior Online and in Doom 3: BFG Edition; in the latter, I was mostly able to get a bead on targets and the atmospheric sound was quite good. Of the four headsets I've tested here, this is probably the one I'm most likely to use due to its fairly smart combination of features.
Razer Kraken 7.1
Simulated 7.1 Surround Sound, $99
The Razer Kraken 7.1 is a gaming headset, full stop. There are no minijacks or dongles; the entire headset uses a single USB connection only. Of the four headsets tested, I felt the Kraken 7.1 had the best positional audio, allowing you to calibrate it fairly precisely to your individual hearing. I also found overall sound quality to be the best balanced and nuanced; the Logitechs sound great but their default bass is a little too boomy and eardrum-rattling.
So why isn't it my favorite? In my estimation, Razer makes two fatal miscalculations. First, and most practically, is the lack of in-line audio control of any kind. The Kraken 7.1 uses software volume control, and there's no in-line microphone mute, and these are both features I was pretty desperate for. The second miscalculation is a more subtle one: like any major vendor, Razer wants to get you into their ecosystem. While their Synapse 2.0 software isn't bad, having to actually create an account and log in just to use any of the advanced features of your Razer product is irritating. Their software ecosystem should be opt-in; install the drivers and just use the headset and whatever other Razer products you might have, and then you have the option to create and log in to your Razer account if you want to use their cloud-based settings and services.
SteelSeries Siberia V2
Simulated "3D" Sound, $66
Of the four headsets I tested, the Siberia V2 was pretty easily my least favorite. That's a shame, because it's also the most comfortable one despite not being adjustable. SteelSeries has tried to make their product very flexible in terms of usability, with a series of adapter cables included in the package. What we're still dealing with, though, is a standard headphone/mic combination that feeds into a USB dongle, and unfortunately that's where things take a turn.
The dongle uses bone stock Realtek drivers with a simulated 7.1 surround mode that can be calibrated but has no testing mode short of actually going into a game and just checking by feel. There's an in-line volume control for both the mic and the headphones if you do use the USB dongle, along with a mic switch. The LiveMix settings theoretically allow you to control how audible VoIP is as opposed to standard game sound, but ultimately it's both not relevant and not enough to make up for the Siberia V2's middling audio quality and awful positional sound. You're paying for the idea of positional sound and cross-compatibility with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but you're undoubtedly better off just going with Logitech's less expensive and better quality G230.
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Cow86 - Friday, August 30, 2013 - linkSorry, I meant Creative headset as what I owned prior...Fatal1ty gaming headset to be precise.
MooseMuffin - Friday, August 30, 2013 - linkThe mic input on my xonar has some sort of ground loop that transmits an annoying hum to whoever I'm talking to as soon as my graphics card ramps up, and no amount of googling has turned up a solution. I've found a usb mic to be a requirement.
Soulwager - Friday, August 30, 2013 - linkHave you tried putting the sound card in a different PCIe slot, and maybe rerouting the cables that provide power to the video card?
Cow86 - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - linkYea, Soulwager has good suggestions here...that's electrical interference, distance can help a lot. Even a few cm's more. I used to get the same with my soundcard being next to my wireless card...except I got hum on the audio output at times. Moving it down a slot fixed it.
HisDivineOrder - Friday, August 30, 2013 - linkRazer gave away their 7.1 software option for Synapse users. So you don't even need their headphones to get their great 7.1 software.
Don't know why anyone would buy a "gaming headset" when you don't have to. Put that money toward a real set of cans and, if you really must, use the free Razer software to simulate 7.1.
Spoony - Friday, August 30, 2013 - linkI hunted a long time to find a single headset that combined high quality headphones, a good mic, comfort, and device portability (Mac, PC, Cell Phone). This ended up being way more challenging than I expected.
However, victory was mine in the form of the AKG HSC 271.
These basically combine a good midrange audiophile headset, the AKG K 271 MK II. With a flexible boom electret condenser mic. You then purchase the additional cable (AKG MK HS MiniJack Headset Cable) and end up with the normal 2x 3.5mm 3-pole computer plugs.
The solution is a bit pricey, a bit more than $300. However, you can listen to music happily, VoIP, play games. Talk on your cell phone even with a 2x 3.5mm 3-pole to 1x 3.5mm 4-pole adapter. The adapter is also required for the headset to work with recent Macs which have decided to lose the dedicated 3.5mm input. Doesn't work with iPhones due to voltage issues, works fine with most Android phones.
Review of the K 271 MK2: http://www.headphone.com/headphones/akg-k-271-mk-i...
Website for HSC 271: http://www.akg.com/HSC271-828.html?pid=926
Unfortunately getting your paws on them generally involves going through a distributor and special ordering from AKG. However, it is uniquely positioned to appeal to a certain requirement.
hrrmph - Friday, August 30, 2013 - link@Spoony,
Thanks for the tip. Some of us do appreciate that type of info.
Silma - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - linkMy own experience is that while there are superior keyboards, most gaming headphones are overexpensive pieces of crap.
- I dealy loved my Sennheiser PC350 but it lasted only 2 years which is unacceptable for the price.
- I highly recommend against Steelseries Siberia xx if you don't have a small head, because of the way it is build your cranium will make the headset make mechanical noises which are extremely unnerving and as an added bonus are very well transmitted by the mic to all your teamspeak/mumble friends.
- I have owned many more, including one of the Creative Fatality with detachable mic - guess what I lost it.
- In the end I went back to basic, used my Audio Technical ATH-M50 monitoring headset, a superb headset for music lovers/producers, plugged into a Roland audio interface, plus a cheap plantronics mic on a plastic stand which is actually very good for voice, it's only default being too near my mechanical keyboard so push to talk is a must.
Silma - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - linkIf you like music and never ever tried a monitoring headset, I would urge you to in a good hifi store / professional audio store and give it a try. You may rediscover music.
As an added bonus they are very good for games too. Sound is sound and games with great music/sound effects are really nice to hear.
phillyry - Monday, September 2, 2013 - link@Silma with Sennheiser (at least in Canada but I'd think elsewhere too), you can RMA pretty much any set of headphones. If they're in warranty then all you'll pay is the one way shipping. If they're out of warranty then they'll let you pick an equivalent new set [read any new set you want] for 50% off.
I've checked this over with them and it actually makes for a great upgrade incentive. I don't think they can advertise it because that's basically selling new products straight to the consumer and would probably piss off their distributors if they did but it's a great unofficial loyalty program and has kept me happily coming back for more Sennies.