Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Three computer headsets - A review


I am reviewing three computer headsets here. One would buy a headset rather than a standard pair of headphones for the attached microphone. This enables you to use Skype, VoipStunt or answer support calls over the Internet. However it would be good if you could also use the headset for listening to music and watching DVDs. So, with these criteria in mind I started listening. I used my HP Z800 workstation and Windows Media Player (WMP) set on “Jazz” mode throughout. All other audio settings were switched off.

I picked up these cans on the ground floor of the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim.

HP HPP-HPCS900SKA REV:2.0 Stereo Headset with Microphone.
Price: NIS 90

The headset has an overall look of quality about it. The design has the look of some serious sound gear costing far more than its actual price tag. On closer inspection the actual quality is only OK to good, made from strong plastic.  Both head pieces and the centre fold up for storage and travel and it is here where I have my concerns. The central hinge which folds the headset in half seems liable to snap in two if too much pressure is applied. The headphone and microphone jacks are gold plated but are very thin and do not seem particularly sturdy. The ear pads are soft and thick and have a nice quality feel to them. The cable length is adequate. The model has a volume control but it’s pretty useless as it only covers half the range turning the volume down but not totally silent. There is also a button on the volume control that doesn’t seem to do anything.

The headset is not for anyone with a wide head. After a few minutes my head was aching. This must be a serious consideration before purchasing. I kept the headset stretched around the computer the whole night to try and loosen them up but did not notice any improvement the next morning. Also I wouldn’t try and stretch it too much as that central hinge I mentioned earlier is liable to snap. You have been warned! The cables that come out of both sides of the headset come down and join together at the volume control. There is insufficient cable and the volume control was getting tangled up in my beard. Moreover the left and right cables were getting twisted around each other which proved very annoying. Again, this shows that these headsets were not designed for the big headed in mind.

The microphone is not very flexible and gets in the way of the left ear piece. When in its up right angle position which is where you want it when it’s not in use, it prevents the left ear piece from swivelling on its axis as the microphone blocks its movement. This is not a great a design.

They are a closed system headset and do a very good job of blocking out external noise, especially people talking. This could be a problem if you need to keep an ear open for any conversation that might interest you or want to hear the telephone or someone calling you. Sound output is simply massive. I placed the computer volume on 50% and WMP on 50% and that was loud!

Listening experience was very positive giving a not too open and not too closed headphone experience. The bass guitar on “Dear Prudence” was clear and deep. The electric guitar was believable and the vocals clear and balanced. Duke’s Travels by Genesis (from their album Duke) was good but not exceptionable. The drum duet showed depth, detail and power although seemed slightly reserved and too polite. I would imagine that this will improve and those drums will open up more after the headset has been worn in for a few weeks. I could easily follow individual instruments and was noticing subtleties that I hadn’t noticed with the other headsets.

Musically, that is, the amount of music it dug out from the recording,  was superior to the Silver Line models and it kept my attention throughout the listening session although that had to be cut short as the headsets were becoming painful to wear. Stereo separation was good although the depth of field was not well defined.

Recommended for those with thin heads

Silver Line HS68MV
Price: NIS 30

Silver Line products are available in Kravits, Tower Records and other Office and computer supply outlets in Israel.

These headsets have a cheap plasticy look to them but actually are much stronger than they look when handled. The cable is a good length and sockets are sturdy. The cable for both ear pieces comes out of the left hand side of the headset which is a good tidy design.

When not in use, you can swivel the microphone angle straight up to keep it out of the way. It does not get in the way of the ear pieces and feels strong and very flexible. A great design.

The headset has good quality thick padded ear pads that look very durable. The headset frame is very flexible and adjusts to practically any size head. The ear pieces fit comfortably and snugly to your ears but allow a certain amount of outside sound/noise through. One would have to decide oneself if this is an advantage or disadvantage.

For small a headset and low price the headset has an impressive sound. No ground shaking bass notes here but drums and bass guitars are perfectly acceptable with a firm punch, echo and firm impact to them. Sound output is good with the volume on the computer set to around 75% to get a suitable volume level for listening to music.  Listening to ELO’s “Eldorado” all the way through shows these little cans capable of presenting a good 3D depth to the music. Jeff Lynn’s voice is lacking a certain detail but nothing to detract from your enjoyment. Trumpets sound realistic, brassy and mellow. Switching to an Al Stewart track “Clifton in the Rain”, the Acoustic guitar sounds convincing and full bodied.  The Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road”’ Piano solo however was disappointing showing a very slight unnatural shrill. This was also evident from the electric guitar. I must say slight though, in no way can these “cans” be described as “tinny”, forgive the pun!

Highly recommended and amazing value for money.

Silver Line XTHS 77MV
Price: NIS 40

They are a good looking design. Overall quality is good with a solid feel to them.

The ear pieces are flat and thin and rest gently on the ears rather than smother them. This makes for an open listening experience which means that you can still hear things around you. They are extremely comfortable even for big heads like me and are suitable for long listening sessions. The felt ear piece cover raps around the entire ear piece and it’s just a guess but I would think that continually putting the headset down and picking it up would eventually wear out the sides and tear the felt. The cable running down comes out of the left side only which means that there is no other cable to get tangled up with as well as adding to the comfort of the headsets. The volume control does its job well although how useful this device is remains to be seen.

Just like its little brother, the HS68MVs, when not in use, you can swivel the microphone angle straight up to keep it out of the way. It does not get in the way of the ear pieces and feels strong and very flexible.

The sound output is very weak, even weaker than the smaller HS68MVs which is supposed to be its little brother.  I had to put the computer volume and WMP volume on near maximum to get a reasonable sound level from them. This could be a problem if you have a laptop with low volume output to start with.

Being an open system, depth of field is good and makes for a lively 3D experience. Listening to Dire Straits’ “Private Investigations” I was impressed with the natural sound of the acoustic guitar and the way it brought out Mark’s gruff voice. The Xylophone was suitably menacing. The piano was lifelike, rich and had real depth. However the sound of the smashed milk bottle on the left hand side after the cat’s howl was hardly noticeable. The bass drums were disappointing, lacking impact and force, no doubt due to the poor sensitivity of the headset’s drivers. I’m sure that plugging them into a descent amplifier would improve things but one should not forget that this device is meant for computers and not primarily for HIFI music listening. There are still sufficient qualifies to deliver a satisfying experience though. The piano solo on “Telegraph Road” for instance, was simply delightful.

There is only NIS 10 difference between the Silver Line HS68MV and the XTHS 77MV so the question is, which is the better buy?

Comparing the two models, the XTHS 77MVs look like the “bizz”, having a more professional expensive look to them. The HS68MV in comparison looks cheap. The XTHS 77MVs are capable of extracting more musical detail from the recording and instruments sound more true to life but honestly there’s not much in it. Both headsets are very comfortable, perhaps the XTHS77MVs slightly more so. They appear to share the same microphone.

Bottom line, if its looks you are after plus a slightly better sound quality,  go for the XTHS 77MVs but if your computer/laptop has a weak volume output then forget them and go for the HS68MVs. Also I'm concerned about those felt ear coverings on the XTHS77MS. The HS68MVs are obviously more compact and fit into your travel case better. If I had to choose (which I did), I'd go for the HS68MVs.

1 comment:

Reb Mordechai said...

I compare three computer headsets.