on 9 December 2012
It's a crying shame that console manufacturers seem completely unaware that people might want to wear headphones while playing games. While it's true that you can plug a pair of headphones into your TV (if it has a socket for them) there's rarely an easy way to get online chat audio running this way, and surround sound (which should be easily within the capabilities of the sound chips on these systems) is completely off the table. As a consequence, headset manufacturers are left with some inelegant workarounds which explain some of the unavoidable deficiencies of this - and it should be emphasised, any - wired gaming headset. However within these limitations Sennheiser has made a good set that will work with the two main games consoles of the moment and PCs without any real compromises on any format.
Sound is the main issue with any set of earphones of course, and given that these are fairly pricey Sennheisers expectations are quite high. Fortunately they don't disappoint. While they lack the delicious, over the top richness of sound of the ever-popular PX100 headset, they produce a well-balanced and accurate sound that above all else is very clear. When I ran the headset through my Turtle Beach surround sound processor I found myself better able to pick out ambient noise than with my PX100 earphones, and overall had a better sense of place. The understated bass can be punched up a little, with no perceivable distortion, using the bass boost switch. The earphones don't get exceptionally loud, which might be an issue at a LAN party (which I always picture, probably inaccurately, as a sort of Quake III rave), but it's more than adequate for home use and am never going to be wearing this headset down the high street so it's not an issue. The microphone is of the noise-cancelling type and while I can't speak for its ability to handle a real racket, everything seemed to come through loud and clear. Switching the mic off by swivelling it up out of the way is a nice touch.
If you're going to be gaming for extended period of time comfort is a big concern and I'm pleased to report that the U320 remains comfy over several hours of play. The headband and earphones are very well padded but the earcups themselves are breathable. The only adjustment is extending the headband, but because these are sit-down headphones and don't have to grasp your skull to stay in place, they have been given several degrees of pivot and a gentle ability to flex. Rather than grip onto the ears, they sit on top of the head (on a very nice cushion) leaving the ears to be enclosed by gentle fabric-covered foam rings and get on with the job of listening. When I first tried these on, I found that part of my ear pressed against the (rigid) plastic cover over the driver on the very inside part of the earcup, but I realised that I had the headband sitting too far back on my head. It actually goes much further forward than I assumed, and wearing the headset properly sorted that problem out quickly.
Actually hooking the headset up is a real pain, though. There's one very long, high-quality cable from the headset. Attached to this cable are a little box with volume controls about three feet from the headset (which can be clipped to one's belt), and a USB plug on the very far end. On PC, set up is simply a case of plugging the headset into a USB port where it shows up as a USB audio device and a USB microphone. The seperate "chat" volume dial does nothing in this configuration and the huge length of cable isn't needed (there's a velcro cable tidy, fortunately) but it's the simplest arrangement.
The Xbox and PS3, however, have no ability to output game audio over USB. For those systems, you must hook up the included phono jack cable to the back of your TV, either to the TV's audio out jacks (preferable) or between the console's audio cable and the TV. The other end of this cable is a tiny 2.5mm audio jack that goes into one end of the USB plug for the headset, feeding audio from the TV into the system. The USB plug is then conntected to the console to provide power for amplifying the audio signal. The good news about this rigmarole is that the audio cable can stay plugged into the TV when the headset is unplugged and put away, and only the long main wire for the headset actually has to come out from behind your TV stand. (Assuming your console is reasonably near your TV.)
Hooking up chat audio on the Xbox is another step of complication. On the PS3, as far as I can tell, the headset shows up as a USB audio device which will then be used for the chat audio, and no further configuration is needed. However I don't have a PS3 to enjoy this simplicity. On the Xbox, a 2.5mm to 2.5mm jack cable has to go between the volume control box for the earphones, and the Xbox controller. In this configuration, there are now three different sets of wires connected to the headset, although fortunately only one of them crosses your living room. When you bring the headset out, you must plug the USB plug into the Xbox, plug the audio cable into the USB plug, then plug the chat cable into the Xbox pad. This configuration will be enjoyed by anyone who owns a wired gaming headset, so Sennheiser can hardly be blamed, but the fact remains that it's a mess. The only systems that escape this are wireless headsets that replace some or all of these cables with transmitters and receivers.
Here's a tip: if you have a surround sound processor box, or a preamp, or anything else which already gives you a headphone output from your console and TV but you still want to use a gaming headset, buy a 3.5mm to 2.5mm jack cable from eBay. Use this to replace the audio cable that comes with the headset. The 2.5mm end goes into the headset's USB plug as normal, and the 3.5mm end goes into your amp, surround sound gizmo, etc. It's much tidier and much easier to replace than the phono audio cable. I also have a hunch that if you were to plug the headset into your PC, and connect this cable between the headset's USB plug and your headphone socket, the headset would think it was talking to a PS3. You could then configure your PC so that game audio comes out of the headphone socket on your PC (so it would be controlled by the "Game" volume dial on the headset) and chat audio comes over USB (and is controlled by the "Chat" volume dial, just as it does on the PS3. I'm not huge on PC gaming so I've yet to test that configuraiton though.
So, to recap: this is a very nice sounding headset, it's well built, it's comfortable, and to be honest it's even tastefully designed as far as gaming hardware goes. Given the limitations inherent to all console gaming headsets, actually quite straightfoward to use. Just don't expect it to be a one-cable job. In particular, if your TV doesn't have phono audio output sockets, then you're consigned to rewiring the audio cable if you want to switch between two consoles.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
'A sofa for your ears'. That's the marketing spiel. It's not a boast I'm about to dispute. This is the cosiest headset I've had the pleasure of wearing to date.
'Unrepeatable'. That's how I can best sum up the worst of the insults and slurs against my character heard crystal clear through the headphones. Apparently the mic works well enough for my snarling 13-year-old torturers to hear the fear in my voice as I plea and bargain to restore some dignity. I'm talking about Modern Warfare 3 of course. Everyone is, in turn, angry, frustrated and distressed when playing that game.
So we begin the ritual of the MW3 free for all. I hear them coming, their crunching footsteps encroaching. They home in on me with a vociferous blood lust. There are victims other than myself out there: "****ing lag," they scream.
As I deftly sneak around the map like a ninja cat, I spot a claymore peeking out of the ground. It's facing away from me so I shoot it to clear the path. As I do this I hear an aggressor, the claymore planter, charging around the corner and straight into the blast radius. "**** off, you ****!" he howls as I watch his warm corpse batter the wall behind like a ragdoll. Timing could not be more delicious, though I neglect to point out it was a bit of good fortune as I archaically tea bag my kill.
If this aspect of online gaming is unappealing to you, you can turn the chat volume right down. It's also easy to put the mic on mute by turning it upwards to lay along the head band. The mic isn't flexible, mind. I kinda like them bendy.
When it comes to the rather important issue of audio quality, the U320 is a good but unexceptional headset when you consider the lofty reputation of Sennheiser. It's not 7.1 (or 5.1 either) so doesn't reward you with the ultimate advantages of surround sound. It's self-restricted elsewhere, too. The cord isn't as burdensome as the one on my Turtle Beach set but it's more intrusive (and messy) than is preferable in the age of wireless. At least it's long enough.
To reach a verdict, the comfort factor can't be understated and for that reason alone I have a new go-to headset for the foreseeable future. Others will understandably demand that bit extra for this kind of money.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2012
The Sennheiser U320 headset is a great sounding piece of kit but it's lack of features fail to justify the price.
They have a very clear and full sound that matches Sennheise'rs audio reputation. Even having opening developer sequences as a game loaded sounded exciting.
The problem is, they are only stereo and so fail to include any kind of surround sound.. which is going to be a lot more desirable at this price range. Clarity is nice, but without surround sound then they're just an average pair of gaming headphones. Added to this is lack of a wireless feature. Purely the cabling for these headphones becomes incredibly messy, especially when added with a wired controller.
So I really don't see why anyone would pick these over the established Turtlebeach range. In fact, there are even other brands that release more functional headsets for much less money that are worth checking out.
On top of these issues, I found the headset had an annoying buzzing noise and the connector for the controller was very loose so kept disconnecting.
It's a shame, because they do sound really nice.