Gaming headsets are one of the most voted-for product types on Massdrop. From Beyer’s MMX 300 to Astro’s A50 and Kingston’s HyperX series, we get thousands of votes each month for gaming headsets at every level. Sadly, most of these headsets have flaws that are initially imperceptible, but manifest after several months of use, making it difficult for us to list them, despite the votes.
Why are gaming headsets this way? I can’t say for sure, but I’d guess it has to do with gaming headsets being viewed as an accessory, a peripheral, for most companies producing them.
Understanding the desire from our community, and the undesirable state of gaming headsets as a product segment, we partnered with Sennheiser Gaming to produce the PC37X: a gaming and communications headset, not a gaming accessory.
As a competitive gamer (DOTA2, CS:GO, Battlerite) I understand the difference good audio cues can make, via the headset, and to teammates over the microphone. Working with Sennheiser and our community members, we quickly arrived at a short list of the most important features for this headset:
1. Sound stage, stereo imaging, accurate location cues. There are a lot of different terms we can use, but putting it into practice, if you’re making a run for B through the upper tunnels on dust_2, and someone starts walking up the stairs from the lower tunnels, the drivers need to be good enough to pass along the audio cue in time for you to 180 one-deag that fool. The PC37X drivers utilize the same overall design as those from Sennheiser’s audiophile HD family, positioned at a slight angle in the housing. The combination of driver quality and positioning achieves the stereo imaging necessary for the highest levels of competition.
2. Shielded mic, optimization for high volume, low distance, and intuitive mechanical design so you always know whether it’s on or off. Often when manufacturers produce gaming headsets, they use generic microphone capsules designed for another task (like teleconferencing). Manufacturers generally do this because developing microphones is very hard, and they don’t have the infrastructure to undertake such a project. Sennheiser, on the other hand, owns Neumann: the most well respected microphone developer and manufacturer in the world. To be clear, the microphone capsule used in this headset is not branded Neumann; it’s the same capsule used in the 373D, but it’s a capsule developed by Sennheiser specifically for high volume, low distance recording. Finally, nearly all gaming headsets feature a mic mute feature, which is often a small switch attached to the cable. These switches work, but one of the most consistent things we heard from community members was how often people would turn it off to eat, for example, then forget it was off. With the 37X, if the mic is in front of your mouth, it’s on. If the boom is pushed up and away from your mouth, it’s muted. Simple as that.
3. No signal processing or simulated surround sound that interact poorly with built-in audio optimization. At this point, most manufacturers of gaming headsets build in some kind of simulated surround sound because they think it’s the best way to produce better locational awareness. If this was 2008, that’d work pretty well. Back then, major game developers were smaller, and just starting to build in audio optimization of their own. At that point, simulated surround sound would interact positively with their un-optimized audio and often produce good results. As time went on, developers grew larger and audio optimization became a higher priority. Now, nearly all competitive games have built-in headphone modes. Stacking simulated surround sound on top of these pre-existing optimizations can produce a lot of undesirable interactions—and generally worse results. To avoid this, the 37X features no such processing.
Ultimately, our goal with this project was to make a gaming headset with performance suited to competitive play, with comfort and aesthetics that make for an enjoyably casual experience, and a price point that makes it as accessible as possible.
How do you think we did?