- Review Price: £107.00
Say it quietly, but gamers like to make excuses. Be it network lag, input lag or any other flavour of lag – not to mention accusations of hacking/cheating – there’s always something that’s setting the odds against them. And, though we’re generally pretty sceptical about many things, if there’s one area where a really good gamer can obtain a genuine advantage, or simply increase their enjoyment and immersion, it’s through good quality audio. It’s a line that’s been peddled to much success by the likes of Creative and though its soundcards are a core component of any truly excellent gaming rig, it’s for nought if you don’t have something decent plug into them.
This is where the likes of Sennheiser come in and it’s a company that shouldn’t require much introduction. We’ve reviewed, for example, a number of its earphones of late, including the CX95 Style and CX400 canalphones and MX560 regular earphones, all of which did very well. In the gaming headset arena we were also impressed by the PC 166 USB, which combined decent audio performance, a plug and play USB soundcard and a reasonable price to great effect. Can Sennheiser’s latest effort, the PC 350s, impress as much?
Initially, undoubtedly yes. Upon removing the set from its rather smart looking – if a bit fiddly – packaging it’s hard not to be impressed with the quality on offer. Compared to the none too flimsy PC 166s this set feel infinitely more solid. A closed circumaural (ear enclosing) set the cups are large and well padded and moulded out of reassuringly expensive feeling plastic. Likewise, the microphone is large and securely fastened providing a decent level of adjustability, though it can’t be removed.
Another sign of the overall quality is the cabling, with the three metre long and allegedly “Kevlar reinforced” cable proving every bit as strong and secure as it sounds. All this looks good, too. If its size didn’t make the set look suitably “professional” – it does – the classy gloss black finish is enough to show that this is something a little extraordinary.
Unsurprisingly, however, all this high quality finishing and construction comes at a pretty hefty price – one that varies in heftiness depending on where you look. There are a number of online retailers listing it for pre-order at around the £80-90 mark but given that the SRP is £150 these prices seem unrealistic. Komplett, however, is listing the set at £107 and Overclockers also has it available for £10 more, so you needn’t pay out for the suggested price.
Clearly, then, the PC 350 isn’t your regular gaming headset – the price says that much. And, though we’re generally disposed to tell “professional” gamers to sod off and do something useful with their lives, any serious amateur gamer will probably see the value in them, especially if they’ve already spent a lot of money on their gaming rig – something a “pro” would never have to worry about!
It’s easier to justify that price, too, when you discover how incredibly comfortable the PC 350s really are. A combination of an easily adjustable headband and plentiful padding ensures you can play for hours without any significant discomfort. Indeed, the only problem you’re likely to encounter is heat, since the closed nature of the cups means there isn’t much in the way of ventilation around the ears. It’s nothing a very brief break wouldn’t remedy, though, and the closed cups mean they block out everything but the loudest ambient noise.
Handily, the PC 350s also have a folding mechanism to aid easy transportation. If one were being very picky you might bemoan the lack of a carry case, but the build quality is good enough that you’d have to be exceedingly careless to damage them.
As with most headsets there’s an inline volume control unit that also houses an on/off switch for the microphone. There isn’t, however, any kind of cable management system – something of a surprise given it was a feature of the PC 166s. It’s not quite a deal breaker, but with a plentiful three metre cable some kind of system would be more than welcome!
Indeed, this and the USB Sound Card adapter that come with the PC 166s are the main reasons why they remain such a compelling option, since that USB adapter means you can take your set anywhere and get a consistent experience. And, though the PC 350s are really intended for use with high end audio equipment, a USB adapter for those moments when you aren’t gaming on your own machine might prove invaluable. Again, it’s only a minor point, but it would add an extra level of value and if you’re more casual and rely on on-board sound, the PC 166 USBs are still the better bet.
If there were any lingering doubts about the “value” of the PC 350s, these are quickly extinguished when you start playing games. For starters, the microphone is simply superb. No echo, no feedback, just clean and clear audio with noise cancelling ensuring that no background noise (i.e. TVs, phones, screaming children) interferes. It makes communicating with allies and enemies alike completely painless.
And since we’re on the topic of enemies, the PC350s provide just about the best audio placement and spatial awareness we’ve experienced. This is demonstrated very well by how much easier it is to detect Spies in Team Fortress 2 using the PC 350s, as opposed to the P166s. If one de-cloaks nearby you’ll be instantly alerted, as you will if he swings his knife in your vicinity – particularly useful when playing the Sniper or Engineer classes. This applies equally to all situations and with the PC 350s you’ll always quickly identify where danger is coming from, though the response is still up to you!
This prowess does come at some cost, though. To achieve this great clarity the PC 350s have a fairly strong leaning toward the mid and high end of the frequency range. Consequently bass, though present, lacks the power and punch that even the PC 166s deliver. This isn’t a great problem in online multiplayer games but in single-player games, where the emphasis lies more in immersion, the bass response does mean explosions lack a level of gravitas.
It also makes the PC 350s a difficult proposition for music listening. If you listen to a lot of music that’s heavy on percussion and vocals and light on bass then these will suit you very well. Clarity is excellent and the large cups create a surprisingly good spatial effect. But, dance, hip-hop/rap and other bass heavy genres don’t come out as well, while guitar heavy music can sound somewhat harsh and unpleasant.
Much the same can be said where film and video watching is concerned. Dialogue clarity is superb and when used with headphone virtualisation (e.g. Dolby Headphone) the surround effect is excellent, but action scenes are still let down by the comparative lack of bass and high frequency leanings. Tweaking equaliser settings will aid bass production to an extent, but the PC 350s never quite achieve the warmth and strength that’s desirable.
Finally, and this is an observation rather than a criticism, if you do use the PC 350s with on-board audio be prepared for some clearly audible distortion and interference. It’s particularly noticeable when using the microphone and though your experience will depend on your PC, it should go without saying you need a decent soundcard to get the most out of the PC 350s.
Sennheiser’s PC 350 PRO-Gaming Headset isn’t the most versatile set you’re likely to find, neither is it the best value. If, however, you want the very best headset for gaming but nothing else, and have spent a lot of money on a high-end gaming machine with a soundcard to match, you owe it to yourself to pick up a pair. They’re strong, obscenely comfortable and produce a level of clarity that ensures you shouldn’t miss a thing. The excuses end here.
Score in detail