Sound Advice: Five Gaming Headphones Tested

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Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D Omega Wireless

The other wireless gaming headset in our roundup is Creative's Sound Blaster Recon3D Omega Wireless, which is actually two products in one. In addition to the headset itself, it also comes with Creative's Recon 3D USB Sound Processor, essentially an external USB soundcard. This set sells for $250 MSRP, or about $215 street, which qualifies it as the most expensive of the bunch.
Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D Omega Wireless
Specifications & Features
Headphones
Frequency Response
20Hz - 20kHz
Impedance 32 Ohms
Sensitivity
102db/mW
Drivers
50mm Neodymium magnet
USB power consumption
Not listed
Connection
USB Type A
Wireless range 40 ft (12 m)
Battery life
Up to 10 hours
Microphone
Type Noise cancelling condenser
Impedance
<2.2k Ohms
Frequency Response 100Hz - 6.5kHz
Sensitivity
-40dBV/Pa
MISC
Price
$250 MSRP (~$215 street)
Warranty
1 year

Design and Comfort




Creative's been in the business of PC audio for roughly three decades, and that experience shows in the audio quality portion of our testing, but what about comfort and build quality? The Recon3D Omega is all business. The headset doesn't feature aggressive angles like Corsair's two entries nor does it have the hip flair that Rosewill's cans bring to the table. Instead, Creative opted for a semi-professional look that's short on frills (it glows blue) and high on comfort.

It's a lightweight headset with thick plastic reinforced by steel arms. Both ear cups swivel to lay flat, making it easier to stow them away for traveling, and there's a bit of play to the inner padding for a more customized fit.



A comparatively small strip of padding lines the headband. You can feel a large cushion of air underneath if you press down with your finger. Though the strip doesn't run the entire length of the headband, or even most of it, we didn't have a problem with any of the exposed regions grinding against our head or anything of that nature.

When you adjust the length of the headband, you'll see another thick strip of plastic with a metal lining. The lining is thin enough that you can still easily pry apart the headphones when putting them on, though you don't need to treat the headset like something fragile.




After spending several hours with circular ear cups, switching to the Omega headset with its more rectangular/oval shape made for a noticeable transition. The same is true if you're used to the Omega's design and then switch to, say, either of Corsair's ear cups. Is one better than the other? That really depends on the person wearing the headset and, to an extent, the shape of their ears.

Circular ear cups do a better job of surrounding the entire ear, while the oval design more closely follows the shape of a 'normal' ear, creating what feels like a cozier fit. We're not completely sold one shape over the other, so aside from pointing out the difference, it's not an area we intend to over-emphasize. However, we will point out that the hollowed portion of Omega's ear cups are a little on the small side.

Inside the ear cups are 50mm Neodymium magnet drivers, the go-to size for high-end gaming headsets. When fully charged, the drivers pump out high volume audio, which you can adjust via two physical buttons on the left ear cup. Right below the volume buttons is a power button.

There's a tab on the bottom of the left ear cup that, when removed, gives you access to a mini-USB port to recharge the built-in battery, as well as an Xbox 360 mic input (more on that feature in a moment). Finally, there's also a detachable microphone, a feature that's not unique to the Omega headset but is definitely appreciated.


Shown above is Creative's Sound Blaster Recon3D USB audio device. It's basically an external USB soundcard and you can actually purchase the Recon3D by itself and use your existing headphones. The only wireless headset that's compatible is the Omega Wireless, but as far as wired cans, they're pretty much all fair game.

The Recon3D gives the Omega an advantage over the other headsets in this roundup because of the additional hardware and sound processing that's baked into the device. It's armed with a "Sound Core3D" quad-core sound and voice processor, which is impressively powered by a single USB port. Several DSPs come together to form the heart and soul of this audio chip, which can decode Dolby Digital streams and perform various audio-enhancing tricks.

While we're focused on PC audio, we'd be remiss to leave out the fact that this headset and USB soundcard bundle also works with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles. Even the necessary cables are included. This is a boon for dorm room students or multi-platform gamers in general who are able to switch between all three game boxes (PC, Xbox 360, PS3) with a toggle on the side of the Recon3D. Well played, Creative.

A wireless link card plugs into the top of the module, which then allows you to roam around with your Omega headset. If you're sitting by your PC, you can toggle THX effects and Scout Mode (we discuss this below) by pressing the corresponding button on the module. There are also volume up/down buttons, a mute button, head and microphone inputs, optical/auxiliary input, and a mic sensitivity switch (low, mid, and high).
 

Sound Quality

Creative unloaded a big bag of tricks in the Omega/Recon3D bundle, all of which is neatly assembled into an easy-to-navigate front-end. But first, we had to ignore misleading requests to install additional software.

Creative loses 200 geek cred points for trying to scare less savvy users into installing optional software that, despite the way they're labeled, are not in any way "critical" to the operation of the headset or system security. They're just a couple of optional software utilities, one of which is trial software.


Lest we're tempted to hold a grudge over Creative's attempt to push its utilities, all was forgiven once we spent some time playing around with the Recon3D's software. While it's not a true soundcard, it's operates like one and offers lots of knobs and dials to play with to enhance the Omega's audio.

The first time you pop in a CD, watch a movie, or fire up a game it becomes immediately clear why the the Omega/Recon3D combination demands a premium. Explosions and gunshots have a deeper grumble and bang, and bass heavy tracks sound better than they did on your Alpines in the 1980s; Eazy-E would have loved these headphones.

As seems to frequently be the case, bass performance comes at the expense of highs, and it even tends to monopolize the musical performances. If you're more interested in soprano-like vocals or soft melodies, you can turn off the bass boost in the THX TruStudio Pro and play around with the EQ settings, but you're never going to feel like you're sitting in the middle of a symphony. That's really only bothersome until you load up a Guns 'N Roses playlist, at which point the sheer volume will have you wanting to jump off furniture and smash guitars -- reason enough to turn the volume down when playing Guitar Hero with little Billy on his playset.


A unique feature to the Recon3D is Scout Mode. It's a proprietary technology that supposedly helps you hear enemies from further away, a trick it pulls off by amplifying noises around you. The claim is that you'll discern footsteps sooner than you otherwise would have, giving you a decided advantage over the competition. Does it work?

Yes and no. In our tests, enabling Scout Mode boosted nearby sound effects, though not just that of footsteps. Ambient noise is boosted too, so while it might be a marginally helpful feature in one instance, in the next it's just a louder setting for sound effects in general. If you find it useful, that's great, but we don't recommend making a buying decision based on Scout Mode alone, if at all.

Either way, the Omega is a fantastic headset for gaming and movies, and a very good one for listening to music. If you don't think you'll benefit from the Recon3D peripheral, Creative's Tactic3D Omega Wireless is the same headset minus the add-on for $50 less ($200 MSRP).

Finally, let's talk wireless range. The Omega proved itself a distance runner, allowing us to roam about outside in the backyard, during a snowstorm no less. Each time the signal would start to drop out, we'd stop for a moment and it would come back strong, a process we repeated for well over 40 feet.

 


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