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2009 Gaming Headset Review Roundup

2009 Gaming Headset Review Roundup
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For PC gamers, crisp, high-quality sound can mean the difference between a final victory-sealing frag and a missed-opportunity defeat. Speakers work for some gamers, but they pigeon-hole the setup into 2.1 with no positional audio (nor surround sound for movies) or a 5.1 speaker system with cables running all over the room.

The gaming headset has evolved greatly over the last several years. What used to be a basic communication device with little to no frills and mediocre sound quality has transformed into a high-quality surround sound machine that breathes life into games, movies, and music. Many headsets operate on PCs as well as on game consoles.

Some of the lower-end headsets on the market aren’t going to blow gamers away with perfectly created audio, but $60-$100 will buy a solid peripheral that does justice to games and other media. With a slightly bigger budget, $150-$200 will net a headset audio system that brings Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic into the picture, which is good news for console gamers and movie buffs.

We’ve tested six headsets released in the second half of 2009, from companies including Astro Gaming, Tritton, Razer, Creative, SteelSeries, and Zowie. The latter four of these headsets are strictly geared towards PC gamers and enthusiasts while the other two can be used with consoles, as well. At the end of this review, one PC-only headset and one multi-platform headset will be crowned co-champions.

So, how do we figure out which headsets are the best and which ones should be left on the rack? Each headset is evaluated for five different criteria.

Design and Build Quality: For those willing to drop a Benjamin or two on a PC and console headset, it had better last longer than a handful of marathon gaming sessions. We analyze the types of materials used, the overall design, and how well the headset stands up to stress. The headset needs to look good, too, especially if you’re bringing it to the next LAN party or MLG event.

Comfort: The last thing you need during a five-hour session of Modern Warfare 2 is a headache or sore ears. This reviewer has a particularly large head (literally, not figuratively), so that cranium will be the ultimate benchmark for comfort. If it’s comfortable on my head for several hours, you should be in the clear.

Convenience: Convenience includes basic qualifications like easy installation and any extra features that may come with the headset. It also takes into account the in-line volume controls found on nearly every headset.

Sound Quality: A headset might make you look smooth and feel nice on your noggin, but if it can’t execute its job properly, what’s the point? Each headset will be tested for sound quality in three areas: games, music, and movies. Also, just because a headset excels in gaming conditions doesn’t mean it will be perfect for watching "Transformers 2" or "Star Trek." In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. Factors include positional audio, bass levels, stereo-sound quality, and surround sound quality.

Console Usability: As previously mentioned, four of these headsets are intended for PC use out of the box. However, the Tritton and Astro gaming headsets we tested are specifically meant to be used with consoles and PCs.  We’ll explain how well each headset does these various jobs.

Overall Score: After we’re finished testing each headset, we score it in each category, with a maximum of five points possible for each section. The overall score won’t be an exact average of the category scores. If there are other small details about each headset that we liked or disliked, the score can go up or down slightly.

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  • 1 Hide
    fozzie76 , December 11, 2009 8:00 PM
    How big are your ears? Would the SteelSeries Siberia v2 fit on a guy that's 6'6" and can sometimes get lift from my big ears if the wind is strong enough? A comfortable headset is worth its weight in gold to me.
  • -1 Hide
    dconnors , December 11, 2009 8:07 PM
    Hey fozzie!
    Both my ears are roughly 2.75"(top to bottom) by 1.5"(left to right). The Siberia fits with room to spare, so unless your ears are the size of doormats, you should be in the clear.

    -Devin
  • 0 Hide
    computer_veteran , December 12, 2009 12:09 AM
    I'm pretty sure Astro Gaming bribed Tomsguide...if you can't figure this out by reading the above text, then it is simply sad. Read the Astro Gaming page. I wonder why Tomsguide included their website, and not others.
  • -1 Hide
    IzzyCraft , December 12, 2009 2:32 AM
    About headsets and no G35
  • -1 Hide
    overshocks2 , December 12, 2009 3:48 AM
    ^Agreed, also what was the point with the stupid Zowie Hammer? Waste of time reviewing it, and not include Razer Megalodon? What about other price-performance headsets? This is a poorly done guide, plus the 5 categories are just bad. Convenience should not even be there that's for noobs, who can't connect wires?

    Very disappointed.
  • 1 Hide
    IzzyCraft , December 12, 2009 4:39 AM
    Up considering the last headset is 250 bucks the Megalodon and G35 missing from the list seems a bit odd as they are only 150 and 130 bucks respectively
  • 0 Hide
    dconnors , December 12, 2009 5:18 AM
    computer_veteranI'm pretty sure Astro Gaming bribed Tomsguide...if you can't figure this out by reading the above text, then it is simply sad. Read the Astro Gaming page. I wonder why Tomsguide included their website, and not others.


    I included the Astro page because that's the only place you can buy their products. I did the same for the Tritton headset because its only available at Best Buy. The other four headset can be found at multiple retailers.

    -Devin
  • -1 Hide
    dconnors , December 12, 2009 5:22 AM
    IzzyCraftAbout headsets and no G35


    We reviewed the G35 and Megalodon a few months ago, that's why they weren't included this time...

    http://www.tomsguide.com/us/Surround-Sound-Headsets,review-1357-4.html

    http://www.tomsguide.com/us/Surround-Sound-Headsets,review-1357-5.html

    ...pretty easy to find. All you need to do is search "G35" or "Megalodon" on the front page and they are the first results, respectively.
  • -1 Hide
    quantumrand , December 12, 2009 6:46 AM
    I vote Turtle Beach EarForce HPA2. It has great sound quality, as well as full 5.1 ch surround sound. Comfort is pretty good too (the HPA1's weren't so comfy, but the HPA2's made a big improvement).

    I think it's kind of silly that the only headsets that got strong points in sound quality were the ones that were compatible with consoles...USB sound is generally horrible. I don't put much faith into those reviews...
  • 0 Hide
    dconnors , December 12, 2009 6:51 AM
    quantumrandI vote Turtle Beach EarForce HPA2. It has great sound quality, as well as full 5.1 ch surround sound. Comfort is pretty good too (the HPA1's weren't so comfy, but the HPA2's made a big improvement).I think it's kind of silly that the only headsets that got strong points in sound quality were the ones that were compatible with consoles...USB sound is generally horrible. I don't put much faith into those reviews...


    Neither of the console headsets use USB for sound, but rather for voice. The sound is via optical. Also, the Fatal1ty MKII got a 4/5 for sound, and it uses 3.5mm connectors.

    -Devin
  • 0 Hide
    BlackDeath , December 12, 2009 8:19 AM
    I would love to see you add to this review the Medussa 5.1 gaming headset.. it is a surround sound headset and should be matched up against this review..
  • -1 Hide
    dconnors , December 12, 2009 8:39 AM
    BlackDeathI would love to see you add to this review the Medussa 5.1 gaming headset.. it is a surround sound headset and should be matched up against this review..

    Speed-link is a great company when it comes to peripherals, but they aren't in the American market. The minute they set up shop here, we will review their products.

    -Devin
  • 1 Hide
    tonitelaoag , December 12, 2009 10:24 AM
    for this article, wow is my word for the astro , thanks for the review, i like it very much, now i know what to buy, i seldom comment, but this one is a thumbs-up for tom's contributor Devin, more hands-on reviews like this please
  • -1 Hide
    BlackDeath , December 12, 2009 2:15 PM
    I understand that they are not in the American market but since they can still be ordered and have been reviewed by other websites why would you not want to still do a review so that people that can attain them very easily can see a good comparison? I ordered mine a few years ago and paid about $110 and they were shipped from the UK. You can find them from sellers on ebay in the United States. I'm sorry Devin but I just do not feel that is a fair reason not to review them. I'm sure that when people do a search for gaming headset reviews they will come by this site and look at the list.. The larger your list the larger your review will appeal to the audience.. I happen to be one of many of these people in your audience.. The customer is always right :)  So honestly besides you stating that they are not in the American market, which technically they are since you can find them.. What would it take for you to review them to make a larger review list?

    To comment to Tonitelaoag.. I agree with what you said and I would love to see others besides the Medussa 5.1's from Speedlink be reviewed. Search the comments and I this is one of my selected posts.

    Thank you for your consideration in advance Devin

    Aaron
  • 0 Hide
    foody , December 12, 2009 2:52 PM
    I would have liked to see a review of the Turtle Beach HPX and the Sennheiser PC350 which are the main competition for the A40 headset at MLG events. Though, they all still use the Mixamp.
  • 1 Hide
    counterpart , December 12, 2009 3:03 PM
    dconnorsWe reviewed the G35 and Megalodon a few months ago, that's why they weren't included this time...


    Fair enough. But it would have been interesting to see where the G35 falls in between the ones tested this time.
  • 0 Hide
    radiowars , December 12, 2009 4:18 PM
    No Plantronics? Wow, I love their headsets, mainly because they're cheap and have relatively good sound quality. And no Logitech either?
    Oh well, it's still a well written review, just would have liked to see my favorites on there :D 
  • -1 Hide
    dconnors , December 12, 2009 8:42 PM
    @BlackDeath
    Getting a headset imported does not make it a part of the American marketplace. Are Japanese-only DS games a part of the American marketplace because you can get them imported? No.

    In order for us to review something, it needs to be sold by one or several North American-based retailers, or the company in question needs to have representation in the US. If you do a Google product search for "Speedlink Medusa", only one entry shows up, and it is an eBay listing.

    Nothing against Speedlink, it's just a strict rule we have here @ Tom's. As soon as Speedlink breaks into the N.A. market, we will review their products.

    -Devin
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 12, 2009 10:57 PM
    I have the complete Astro system (headset + mixamp) and it is simply amazing. Excellent sound, comfort and build quality. The clarity of the mic is something else. People always mention it. Also the mixamp is incredibly handy for Xbox Live because you can raise or lower the voice chat volume independently of the game volume instantly.

    Grace
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 12, 2009 11:11 PM
    What's the best headset for pinpointing footsteps? any opinions?
    I used to have a cheap $20 headset for 2 years until it broke. It was some no-name brand, but it was so awesome cuz it was so cheap. Sound would only come from 8 different directions, so by turning my player in a game, I could poinpoint where enemy footsteps were coming from.
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