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Can a home audio and headphone veteran win the hearts of gamers? That seems to be Polk Audio's goal with new Striker ZX for Xbox One ($89.95 on Amazon). This headset offers rich audio quality for less than $100, and can double as an everyday pair of headphones thanks to its lightweight construction and 3.5mm input support. However, the ZX's tight fit and shallow earcups mean that some gamers will be more comfortably immersed than others.
With a vanilla-looking design that's reflective of its entry-level price tag, the Polk Striker ZX goes for simplicity over style. Sporting an all-gray design (also available in white/blue or white/orange), the ZX features a slim plastic headband that holds up two oval-shaped earcups brandishing the Polk logo.
The headset's earcups can be adjusted about an inch up or down for different head sizes, and can swivel slightly left to right. Unfortunately, adjusting the headset exposes some nasty sharp edges, which occasionally pricked my fingers when I held the device.
The ZX's microphone is fully retractable, featuring a highly adjustable coil that extends to 7 centimeters. With the mic retracted, the ZX looks like an unassuming pair of Polk headphones, meaning you probably won't get any strange looks if you use it to listen to some music on the go.
Though it sports a lightweight, 8.3-ounce frame, the Striker ZX felt uncomfortably tight the moment I put it on. I constantly felt like its over-ear earcups were pushing against my head, and the shallowness of the earcups themselves made it feel like my ears were pressed directly against the speakers.
My head did adjust to the ZX over time, and my ears never grew too hot when pressed against the cans' soft, pleather cushions. Still, I always felt the same unpleasant tightness every time I slapped them on, and that snugness grew even more uncomfortable when I used the headset to listen to music while walking around.
While I had some gripes with the ZX's fit, my co-worker found the headset completely comfortable. He attributed this to possibly having smaller ears, so big-eared folk such as myself might want to try before they buy.
The official Xbox One Stereo Headset ($59) is a smidge heavier than the ZX, at 9 ounces. Microsoft's headset is also on the snug side, but I found its more generously sized earcups to be more comfortable than those of the ZX.
Once I got past that initial discomfort, the Striker ZX treated me to some impressively immersive gaming audio. In the middle of a competitive match of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, I could clearly hear whether enemy gunfire and footsteps were coming from the left or right. The explosions sounded satisfying, though not quite thunderous.
That same solid directionality transferred to action games like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, as I was able to easily sneak up on enemy orcs after hearing where their chatter was coming from. Once it came time to trade blows, the game's ever-whimsical rhythm of stabbings and beheadings sounded appropriately gross.
Directionality isn't as important for one-on-one fighting games such as Killer Instinct, but good sound can go a long way in keeping you locked into the battle. Fortunately, the ZX delivered on that front, allowing me to hear everything from the swivel of Fulgore's metallic arms to the crunching of Jago's bones as he hit the floor.
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In terms of both sound quality and volume, the Xbox One Stereo Headset sounded almost identical to the ZX in my testing. However, just as I found the Stereo Headset's earcups cozier, I also found that they did a better job trapping in sound.
Microphone and Chat
The ZX's retractable boom microphone worked well in my testing. My co-worker was able to hear me clearly as we chatted over Skype, and noticed only a few brief moments of minimal distortion.
While some third-party Xbox One headsets require a separate adapter for chat controls, Polk bundles the ZX with one of its own. Once connected to your gamepad, the included adapter allows you to mute your mic, adjust master volume, or balance out game and chat audio with your thumbs.
Since the Striker ZX features a 3.5mm audio jack, the gaming headset doubles as a standard pair of headphones for your PC or mobile device. The ZX continued to provide enjoyable audio when I switched from games to music and movies, even if the quality doesn't match what you might get from dedicated headphones.
When rocking My Chemical Romance's "Famous Last Words," I clearly heard the mix of sharp, distorted guitars, howling vocals and background organs. Hip-hop tracks such as Kanye West's "All Day" fared just as well, with that track offering plenty of crisp detail in its bouncy beat and rapid vocal delivery.
The ZX was a welcome companion for watching the latest Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer; the sound of Hulk and Iron Man punching each other into a glass skyscraper was satisfyingly crushing, and the clip's menacingly droning background music came through loud and clear. My only gripes with the music and movies I experienced were the somewhat weak bass and the lack of an on-ear or software-based equalizer for leveling things out.
For less than $100, the Polk Striker ZX offers rich audio quality for your Xbox One games. The headset provides enough directionality to give you an edge in competitive games, while highlighting enough subtle sonic details to help you better enjoy solo adventures. The included adapter gives you everything you need to play on Xbox One out of the box, and you can disconnect the ZX to use as regular headphones for any PC or mobile device.
Despite its impressive sound quality, the ZX's earcups feel a bit too tight and shallow for my head. I felt more comfortable in Microsoft's Xbox One Stereo Headset ($59), which offers comparable audio quality for $30 less. Still, if it makes a good fit on your ears, the ZX performs well for the price.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.