In one of this site’s earliest articles, I talked about the value of sound in online gaming. And no, not just for ear candy, but the tactical implications of the waves hitting your tympanic membrane from every direction.
Good frequency range and strong directionality aren’t just nice-to-haves; they’re what often separate the guy who’s standing on a pile of corpses from the guy who’s part of said pile. Little noises like an enemy reloading down the hall or the footsteps of an invisible predator become more than sound effects; they become life-or-virtual-death information.
It should surprise nobody that I’ve spent a lot of time and money over the years evaluating gaming headsets for these very reasons. I’ve had a few favorites: models from Seinheiser and ABS performed admirably at the sub-$100 range. But they’d often break or flake out after moderate use. I was looking for headphones with a higher build quality, more responsive microphone, and (of course) killer aural impact. If it cost less than a fortune, that’d be just swell.
Lo and behond, I happened across the Plantronics Gamecom 780 headset. Sure, it wasn’t easy on the eyes, but within minutes of opening it and cranking up the music, I was converted.
Sound, all around
I’m not an audiophile by any means. And while my Spy videos may have convinced fans I’ve got good taste in music, I don’t have a particularly large collection of songs. Basically just a random collection of MP3s I acquired in college. That said, I’ve always had an appreciation for richness and depth of sound, and I’ve always been disappointed with speakers and headphones at home. Nothing really ever captured the complexity of a live orchestra or the heart-thumping beat of, well, pretty much any modern song.
When I first put on my new pair of Gamecom 780s, I was blown away. Music suddenly felt whole in a way I have never experienced at home. Movies, most notably The Dark Knight Rises, convincingly carried the acoustics of their sets and the textures of their characters’ voices. I actually went through my entire music and video library, randomly blasting media for 30 seconds at a time just to enjoy the experience these headphones provided – a quality that I have never heard on any of the many $50-$100 headsets I’d previously owned.
Videogame sound effects were crisp, realistic, and full, not to mention easily tracked. This is primarily due to the Gamecom’s 7.1 surround sound, which is optionally toggled with the press of a button. Of course, I don’t know why anyone would ever disable the feature; it allowed me to accurately track enemies in a variety of games. But even better than using directional sound for murder? The full-sweeping acoustics made navigating large environments much more immersive. Running through Metrica Province in Guild Wars 2, the feeling of being in a living world was enthralling – voices, action, and ambient sounds fluttered around, brushing past my ears as my character bounded through the countryside.
Sturdy, though not sexy
I’ve joked a few times that the Plantronics Gamecom 780 isn’t exactly gorgeous. Sure, its looks are growing on me, but even so, the headset is bulky. It’s constructed of heavy-duty plastic, metal, fabric, and wiring, all of which are large and heavy. No, you won’t be rockin’ out to tunes while silhouetted in an Apple-esque commercial while wearing these.
That said, the components carry a certain heft that offers a reassurance of quality, durability, and ruggedness. The thick, black, cloth-lined earpieces don’t look like they’ll be cracking the way faux-leather plastic does. The exposed metal (steel?) supports that connect the earpieces to the main headband never budge or buckle. The extra-long wire that connects the Gamecom 780 to your computer is coated with an obnoxiously red, rubberized material that’s nearly impossible to trip over. And the single-piece microphone doesn’t bend – yet it offers such clarity of sound that it doesn’t need to.
Whether or not you appreciate the looks of the 780 (and hey, it’s subjective… I think they look like miniature Autobots), every component is manufactured with purpose and precision. No, I haven’t dropped them down a flight of stairs or soaked them in rain overnight, but in more than a month of use, they’ve endured both normal and excessive wear, taking many damaging blows in stride. You may not need that kind of built-in toughness, but if you’re going to be buying a gaming headset in this price range anyway, I can guarantee you won’t find a lot of sturdier options, if any.
My main concern before purchasing Plantronics’ Gamecom 780 was their comfort. My head is fairly wide (thanks to a huge brain and an even larger sense of modesty), so most headphones tend to squeeze my cranium after an hour or so. The boxy, unconventional form factor of the Gamecom 780 wasn’t reassuring, and neither was the weight straight out of the box.
But much like the rest of these headphones’ features, looks were deceiving. The wide, extra-padded headband provided plenty of space for my cranium, and the comically oversized earpieces completely covered by ears, delivering both comfort and an enhanced audio experience.
I will admit that the Gamecom 780′s thick, padded earpieces pushed against my glasses more than I was used to, though they (somehow) didn’t end up causing any particularly discomfort compared to most headsets I’ve used. This is a problem inherent to all over-the-ear products, though ones with smaller earpieces sometimes allow the user to slide their glasses’ ear-rests up and out of the way when necessary.
If you can get past the unique style of the Gamecom 780 gaming headset, I guarantee your money cannot go farther in one audio hardware purchase. Plantronics has succeeded in creating not only a gaming sound solution that is crystal clear, durable, and comfortable, they’ve done it at a price point typically frequented by gutter trash. Sure, these aren’t the best headphones on the market, but they could easily compete with ones that cost twice their pricetag. That’s an impressive feat, and one that is heretofore unchallenged by other manufacturers.
Gamers, music lovers, and late-night movie watchers: you simply cannot get a bigger, louder, or more heart-pounding bang for your buck.