This week I reached all-new levels of proving my allegiance to the Horde: I got my new Warcraft Soundblaster headphones. I’ve been very impressed with them on the whole. Previously I was using the Fatal1ty headset, also made by Creative, and they did the job reasonably well, but I honestly never used them much for listening, they became a glorified microphone I hung around my neck. With the Warcraft headset though, I’ve actually found a headset I really like, even if it is a seriously niche product that is ridiculously overpriced. Anyways I figured, good little WoW blogger that I am, I would provide a short but informative run-down of my opinions on the headset.
First up: what comes with the box? The (rather large) box comes with a bunch of stuff including the headphones (duh), a detachable microphone, a wireless USB thingamy,a USB power cable for charging the headphones, Alliance and Horde glyphs, a screwdriver for changing the glyphs, and a nice leather case for keeping this all in.
Onto the actual review. I’m going to rate the headphone based on the criteria of design, sound quality, microphone quality, the software, and its price. I should note that I purchased the wireless version of the headset, there is also a cheaper, wired version that I’m told is the same in all other respects.
The first thing that struck me about the headphones is their size. They’re freaking massive! However this mostly turns out to be a good thing. The massive cups fit over my ears really snugly, making them very comfortable. Unlike previous headphones I’ve owned, my ears don’t get too hot or itchy from being encased for a long time. The size was a bit of a problem when I was wandering around my flat listening to music though, as I kept bumping into things. I soon leaned to correct this by imagining my head was twice its normal size!
The second thing you immediately notice is the Warcraft glyphs. These are really cool and a major selling point of the headphones. I mean, they’re definitively Warcraft, and more importantly, mark me out as a die-hard Horde-player. Is this important in a headset? Well no not really, but it does score massive geek points for me as a result! The glyphs were a little tricky to change (they come with the Alliance glyph installed by default) as one refused to come out without a small degree of violence, but I managed it relatively easily.
The structure of the headphones is pretty sound. They’re easily adjustable and fit very comfortably on your head. At first I found them a little heavy compared to my previous headphones, but I got used to the difference pretty quickly. The mic is not so adjustable, sticking directly out in front of you and only being slightly flexible, but as I will discuss later this is actually not a problem. What is a problem however is that these wireless headphones have no battery indicator, meaning they could give out at any time without warning! Whilst not a massive problem, this feels like kind of an important oversight. They have gone to the trouble of adding handy things like volume buttons on the headphones though, which is nifty given the point of wireless headphones is you shouldn’t have to keep coming back to your desk.
Design Summary: On the whole the headphones have a solid, comfortable design. 8/10
2. Sound Quality
I have to say that I’m very impressed with the sound quality as a whole. Playing Warcraft I found I had very sharp clear sound, the game music sounded good, sound effects were really cool, and the voices of NPCs stood out really clearly. To be honest I couldn’t really tell a difference in quality between having my speakers on or using the headset. Very funky. The surround sound was perhaps a little weak compared to the speakers, but it was still perfectly adequate. I also found the sound quality when using Ventrilo to be excellent, with people’s voices coming through loud and clear, in part helped by the ‘dialog’ feature that games with the headset’s sound feature – more on that later.
Outside of Warcraft however I did notice slightly more of a gap in quality between the headset and the speakers. This may be because Warcraft sound options have been patched specifically to accommodate the headphones, a fact I’m not sure of but you can select a Warcraft headset option from the in-game sound menu. Playing other games such as Team Fortress 2, I still found the headphones to provide a high level of sound quality, but they lacked some of the ‘oomph’ factor that my speakers give. I think this is mostly a bass issue, as explosions and gunshots just didn’t have the same power behind them. I also think there’s a reduced range of sound with the headset, which is more noticeable in an action game than in WoW. This is comparing the headphones to speakers though, which may be unfair. Comparing this headset to my previous Fatal1ty headphones, the quality is significantly better.
Sound Quality Summary: Excellent quality for playing Warcraft and for chatting to your friends. Not as impressive with other games but still good. 8/10.
3. Microphone Quality
I have to say I’m very impressed with the microphone. As I mentioned earlier, its position isn’t actually very flexible. However chatting to my guildies on Ventrilo it immediately became apparent this isn’t a problem. The mic picks up my voice very easily and clearly at a normal speaking voice. This was actually a very nice change for me, as with my previous headphones I was always having to speak directly into the mic, my lips almost always pressed against it, otherwise people complained that my voice was too quiet. I set up Vent to play back my own voice at me and I have to say it was very crisp and clear.
Microphone Summary: Very good quality, even if it is inflexible. 9/10.
I experienced a minor annoyance in the fact that I had to go to a website and download the appropriate drivers and software for the headset. I would have expected in the mammoth-sized box they sent they would have found room to include a CD with this stuff on. But no matter, I guess its better for the environment. Once I had installed the software I found it had a nice set of options. It offers you four menus. The first allows you to customise the appearance of the headphones, such as the colour of the glyphs, glow effects and so on. More geek points awarded here for flexibility, although I did go for the obvious option of having my Horde headphones glow a pulsating red colour.
The other menus deal with key-bindings (fairly self-explanatory) and with sound effects. This is the usual fare from Creative, giving many options to your sound effects such as added bass, surround sound, and a ‘dialog’ option which highlights the voices of player and characters so you don’t miss those all important details. Whilst nowhere near as robust as the options menu that comes for speakers (also a Creative product) its nice to have these extras added in for the headset specifically. Plus its not incompatible with my other sound software so the options I use there carry over. For added Warcraft-ness you can test out the sound settings you have chosen by watching the Wrath intro cinematic on a little screen built into the menu pad. Oh and there’s also some optional voice filters which can be fun to play around with, allowing you to make yourself sound like a variety of Warcraft NPCs. It doesn’t always work very well, but I make a convincing Mal’ganis…. which is worrying.
Software summary: User-friendly and a nice touch. More sound options would be nice, but the fact they exist at all is very cool. 8/10.
This is the real kicker. Whilst the headset is very cool and has all these nifty features, it all weighs in at a monstrous £150 ($160, €160)! The wired version is admittedly a bit cheaper but thats still a ridiculous price to pay for a headset and as much as I love the headset I’m not convinced yet if it was worth it. I mostly only use the thing for chatting to guildies whilst raiding, is it worth £150 to do that at improved quality with glowing Horde-red ears? Probably not. I would have paid about half the current price and not bat an eyelid because as you can see, I rate the headset very highly. But really it is ridiculous. My recommendation would be to wait for a few months and let the price come down – which was in fact my original plan had not my old headphones broken.
Price summary: Way too much, even for headphones as awesome as these. 1/10.
Put simply, its an excellent headset. It has a good, comfortable, sturdy design; a cool and definitively Warcraft appearance, excellent sound quality (in WoW anyway, which is why you bought it right?); a brilliant mic and it comes with handy, fun software options. The only significant downside is the insane price tag. Once that price comes down a bit, I would happily recommend these headphones to any World of Warcraft player. Until then, it completely depends on your personal willingness to part with a large wad of cash.
Final score: 7/10 – but would have been 9/10 if it wasn’t for the price tag!