Before the TVs, before the movies, and before the video games, Sony was first a sound company. What do I mean by that? Well, if you do a little history homework, you would find that Sony started out, back in the 1950′s, as a radio company in Japan. In fact, the word “Sony” comes from a mixture of the Latin word “Sonus“, which is the root of sonic and sound, and “Sonny.” Sound has always been at the base of the company. It laid the foundation for what would become one of the leading manufacturers of electronics in the world.
Through the decades, that focus on sound never changed. Sony’s radios became very popular, their Walkmans (for us 80s children), and speakers as well. Now, today we may not think of them first as a company leading in that area anymore, but they have not lost touch. Now that Sony is a multinational conglomerate corporation, we also have video games, software, hardware, and accessories coming from them. One of their latest releases in that area, the PlayStation Wireless Stereo Headset, continues to remind us where Sony came from.
The PlayStation Wireless Stereo Headset released on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 in North America. Sony promised crystal clear sound and voice chat from your PS3 with this new headset to the point of touting that it can even emulate 7.1 surround sound virtually. I spent quite a few hours with the device testing it out in just about every area. What were my findings? The headset offers great sound quality and comfort at a comparatively low price. There are a few flaws in the design that I felt can be improved upon if ever there are future versions of the headset but overall, it’s a great accessory for gamers who want a better gaming experience.
First thing to take note of, the headset is easy to set up, with a plug and play USB wireless transmitter, even those with limited technical knowledge can figure this one out. You can use your headset right out of the box. I found the setup to be very simple as I plugged the USB right into my PS3, pressed the power button on the headset, and I was ready to go. Immediately the headset was connected to my PS3 and sound was flowing through. On a side note: The headset can also be used in a limited way on your PC both for all audio and voice chat. The headset does NOT work on the Xbox 360.
The headset features a retractable microphone, a mixer slider (for adjusting volume of chat and game audio), power/mic muting button, virtual surround on/off button, a USB connector to charge the headset, a volume slider as well as on screen status updates (PS3 only). Through the PS3′s accessory settings menu, you are able to set up whether or not you want all of the PS3′s audio to come out through the headset or just chat audio with a simple on/off option on the screen.
My first experience with the headset was with another September 6th release from Sony, Resistance 3. Insomniac Games did an incredible job with the sound in this game. From the music to voice acting, ambient noises, environmental sounds, and everything else around, the game is rich with sound and the new headset did a great job in transmitting it. I could hear everything in the game that I was not able to hear with traditional speakers, even my surround sound setup (which makes me think it’s time for an upgrade). Through the headset I could hear everything from footsteps on the roof of buildings, the faint hum of my shield, and even what I would call hidden music in the game that I never knew was there at first (like in multiplayer matches). I would say the headset gave me an advantage in finding the enemy through their noises while walking/running even at times before they were in my line of sight. Online matches were also great while using the headset. I could hear others clearly and they could hear me clearly as well. Needless to say, I was well pleased with the surround sound experience I garnered from using the headset with Resistance 3. The headset really amplified the experience of a horror/survival FPS such as that. The experience was very similar with all of the other games I tested it out with on the PS3.
Now, the headset isn’t only good for gaming, but it is also great for movies as well. Here’s the tricky part about the headset though, if you are playing a DVD or Blu-ray movie with it on, the surround sound is disabled. This is one small drawback to the capabilities of the headset. However, just because there is no surround sound, that doesn’t mean that the sound quality is bad. Far from it. One of the first Blu-rays I tried the headset with was TRON: Legacy, which received an Oscar nomination for sound editing. For those who have seen the film, you know that the nomination was well earned. Everything from the Daft Punk soundtrack to disc wars, and the electrifying light cycle battles were in your face with incredible sound. Coupled with my LCD display, while I was wearing the headset, I almost felt like I was back in the theater experiencing the movie all over again. While there is no surround sound with disc-based films, it does provide “high fidelity” sound. The experience was also the same for other movies that I played on the PS3.
That’s not to say all movies can not be experienced in surround sound with the headset though. I tried to make it a point to stress that this disability is present with Blu-rays and DVDs. On the other hand, if you are one of the millions of people who use Netflix (like me) or other apps on the PS3 for TV and movie viewing, or if you download videos to your PS3, the surround sound works perfectly (when present in the media of course). I can tell you this, I spent quite a few hours on Netflix alone with the headset and loved every minute of it.
Playing music was also enjoyable through the new headset. Surround sound is available for music through just about every source. If you are a subscriber to Sony’s Music Unlimited by Qriocity, or just an iTunes junkie, or keeping it old-school with your CDs, almost all of your music can be streamed/played through your PS3 and listened to in crystal clear surround sound with the headset. Every beat and every note is transmitted with great quality. My only wish is that there were more audio/sound controls like a synthesizer on the PS3. I feel the sound is limited only by that and not the headset itself.
One of my major concerns when purchasing speakers and headsets is how well will, not only the clarity of sound translate, but the bass and treble levels as well. Although these can not be changed or tweaked on the headset or through the PS3, the bass sounds (and feels) great while not overwhelming – still maintaining a level where the treble can still come through clearly and unmuffled. While I found no problem with the bass, I am hopeful that in any future versions of the headset we will have more freedom in controlling these levels for those of us who like a little more vibration in the brain.
The range of the wireless signal is also pretty decent. I doubt you will be moving far away from your PS3 while playing a game, but if you want to move around while listening to some music or a movie/TV show, I was able to walk around my house up to about 22 feet and not have any loss of signal or sound. In my experience, once you get past that point then you will hear the sound breaking up and eventually lose your connection to the wireless adapter.
So you now know my thoughts on the headset when it comes to sound in games, films, and music. You might be wondering, with all of the hours I spent using the headset, how did it feel? and How long does the battery last? First off, the headset is incredibly comfortable. I guess you could say I have a big(ish) head, plus I wear glasses, so wearing a headset could turn out to be an uncomfortable experience, especially after hours of use. Not for this headset. I can honestly say, this is such a refreshing change from the bluetooth headset that PlayStation had first for the PS3. After just a few minutes with that bluetooth, my ear would be very sore. In addition, the hook wouldn’t work too well with my ear and glasses. However, the new stereo headset is extremely comfortable and very light weight. The adjustable headband is padded and rests gently on the top of your head while the over-sized earpads rest around your ears so nicely, even Dumbo wouldn’t have a problem. I spent hours upon hours with this headset on and it was comfortable like a natural extension of the body.
As for the battery, the headset does last a while but considerably shorter than that of the bluetooth headset. I had times where I would not charge my bluetooth for days and sometimes even weeks and the battery would still work fine for hours after use. On the other hand, this headset will last you one long gaming session – about 6-7 hours when fully charged. Fortunately, there are on screen status indicators to let you know the battery level while in use. At the same time, charging the battery fully doesn’t take too long if it is not completely drained. You can also charge it while in use through any USB connection, not just your PS3.
As you may see, I have a lot of positive things to say about the headset, however I should say, it is not all positive. There are a few design flaws that I felt could have been avoided or otherwise improved upon. First thing, an important drawback, the headset does not provide any microphone monitoring. In other words, you kind of have to shout to hear yourself because your voice will not come through the speakers. As many of the competing brands do have this feature, I think it’s something important for Sony to consider if they do make an upgrade. Next, as a right-handed person, it’s only natural for me to reach out with my right hand first to complete any task. Unfortunately for me, the mic, the volume controls, power button, mute button and everything else is on the left side of the headset and it is not reversible. Bad for me, good for Ned Flanders and the like.
In addition to control positions as an inconvenience, another negative is that the retractable mic is not flexible at all. While the rest of the headset does feel durable and sturdy, if dropped on a hard ground surface, it does look like the mic could possibly break off. Just be careful with that one and when not in use, I suggest always sliding the mic back into its “not in use” position. In addition, the volume control sliders take a little time to get used to when trying to gauge. Sometimes you slide it too far and it turns the sound all the way off or too loud. I would have preferred a +/- button to control the volume in an easier fashion. One last thing to mention on the negative size is the power and mute button. Although it’s “easy” to access, it feels a little awkward to press when trying to reach for a quick mute; Almost as if you are hitting yourself in the top of your head (albeit you don’t have to be that forceful). An easier to reach button lower to the mic, I feel, would have been a better option. Other than those few items, everything else on the new headset was just great.
In an area dominated by companies like Turtle Beach, Astro, and Tritton, the PlayStation Wireless Stereo Headset proves itself a worthy and affordable ($99.99 vs $125 – $300) choice for gamers who want high quality sound for their gaming and media experiences on the PS3. I would highly recommend it.