I remember testing these cans out at CES 2009 and I was pleasantly impressed with them at the time. They had the crisp high-hats and head pounding lows, while feeling very comfortable. I remember being very impressed with the Silencer technology which, when paired with a Creative Fatal1ty sound card, intelligently cuts out the background noise to provide a very clear voice for online VOIP or in-game voice chat. When I was handed this headset by out intrepid editor, I was frothing at the mouth to get home and try them out in the real world.
I will preface this by saying I’m an extreme audiophile, I’m just not in the tax bracket to afford the type of hardware I would wish for. That doesn’t mean my ears are any less snobbish when listening to the run of the mill speakers that are poorly powered and balanced. When I put the cans on for the first time at home after installing the software, I immediately turned on a game and cranked it up into the ear bleeding range. Even in the extremes, the speakers hold themselves together maintaining clarity. The wonderful world the over-ear cans create is very deep and layered. I was able to hear ambient sounds over the BAM, POW, CRASH of Batman: Arkham Asylum, this brought a smile to my face. I went from game to music and tested a playlist I have specifically designed to test new audio equipment. It ranges from classical to acoustic singer-songwriters and rock to rap. Each song came across admirably and I was continually impressed that these retail for $99.
Comfort is a major issue with me and headphones. I’m above average in height and apparently I have a huge head (both metaphorically and physically I’m told). Only headphones that were in the astronomical price range would ever feel good being worn for more than even a few songs. For me, on-ear cans are simply not an option, I’ve never once been able to find one comfortable enough to wear for more than a few minutes. In fact, I would prefer to have comfort over the highest end speakers you could fit in a headset. Putting these on for the first few minutes is a real joy. They are very light, and fit well over my gigantic ears. Normally around the fifteen minute range I start to get annoyed with any normal headset. I went for a long-term session and clocked in about four hours playing Dragon Age: Origins. The only minor discomfort I felt was from the pad that rests on the top of your head. Creative – are you listening? For the next iteration of this headset, make the pad at the top both wider and more plush. I will marry someone over there for that.
The construction is as good as you can get for the price tag. It’s plastic in most places, the part you slide out for more room is of course metal. I also like that it doesn’t have notches, you can infinitely adjust to any increment. I have purchased headphones before that one notch was too small, the next too big – simply not a worry here. They rotate at the actual cans to make sure the plush padding around your ears is always flush. I would have liked to have seen some metal here. If you look at pictures of the headset, you will see right at the point that the speakers attached to the top a plastic wishbone. I can see in some frustrating situations that the headset could get ripped off a ‘pwned newb’, or tossed at the wall in a rage. I can see that point being the weak spot.
Any good gaming headset needs a good mic. This one is nice, actually. I was able to clearly be heard by anyone either over VOIP programs like Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, but also on in-game voice chats. There was one exception to this, however and it’s one of the headset’s key selling points. When I had the Silencer technology turned on, people constantly asked me to turn up my settings, or ‘swallow the mic’. Unfortunately, all my mic settings in Windows and in the Creative control panel were fully maxed out. The mic itself will pretty much rest just a couple of inches away from your mouth, right where it’s supposed to be so that wasn’t the issue. There may be a firmware or driver update that will fix this, so if there is please let us know so we can correct this right away. I tried recording myself with the Silencer on and off, I can see that being of some use, but how often does a gamer record himself? I suppose it will happen from time to time, but this still needs work in my opinion. Otherwise the mic works fine, it’s connected by a rubber casing that will never break and will of course move up and away if you’re not using it.
I have a fundamental problem with USB headsets. They can be fussy, this one is better than most, but still has its anomalies (mostly because of Windows). Also, I have a perfectly good sound card in my system and I would like it to continue to take clock cycles away from my CPU to handle sound. Even if the Creative card helps the headset in processing power, it’s still communicating via USB which means it will go through the ‘South Bridge’ of your motherboard (most of the time) and on through your CPU. If you have the Silencer technology going, or if the card is helping in some other fashion, it’s going down to the PCIe bus and back again. Gamers typically want to squeeze every last frame-per-second out of their rigs, and this is aimed at gamers to a point. I understand the convenience of being able to plug the headphones into the front panel of your case, but if you have that option 9/10 times you also have the speaker jacks. When I’m playing a game, I can remove the headphones and the default audio device will switch back to the sound card automatically. Unfortunately, the game/music/movie doesn’t know about that as a sound source cannot be swapped like that unless you restart the process. That’s no big deal, but when dealing with a game and having to save then shut it down then restart just to switch from speakers to headphones or back, it’s annoying.
All in all, this is a great pair of cans. I enjoy their fidelity, ease of use, and comfort. What else do you need? I think if Creative gives a version of these with speaker jacks (even if they have to lessen the software that comes with it), improves the Silencer technology to let the voice still get through with volume, and gives a better pad at the top, they will be a force to be reckoned with for ages to come.