The Clash of the Gaming Headsets

One of the most common headset related questions asked by many is: apart ftom the stereotype of being obnoxiously large and garish, what exactly separates a gaming headset from regular plain-vanilla headphones? While much of the stereotype is true, a good gaming headset offers a lot more than that. This includes a competent noise cancelling mic, comfort for long listening sessions and excellent soundstage as well as positional accuracy, among many specifics that make these headsets excel at gaming.


The Razer Blackshark looks downright gorgeous with its old-school military styling


The mostly nocturnal gaming habits of gamers and the proliferation of LAN party culture has lead to an increasing number of gaming headset adopters. This trend is also reflected in the growing number of specialist gaming headset manufacturers and their ever increasing product range. To make your choice in this perplexing market a tab easier, we've conducted a comparison between five of the best gaming headsets available in the market today.


There are two schools of thought regarding the looks of a headset. Audiophiles tend to downplay the aspect by justifying that you can't see a headset, but only hear it, so the sound quality is what ultimately matters. On the other hand, scores of gamers who take their headsets out for LAN parties do care about how badass it makes them look. So, it's no wonder why the single most conspicuous element separating gaming headsets from regular ones is their aggressive styling.

Some would say that Cooler Master's CM Storm Sonuz bears rather unconventional looks. To be brutally honest, that's just a nice way of saying that the designers seem to have given it a thorough beating with the ugly stick. It's too grey and bulky, while the weird teardrop shape of the cups doesn't help its tendency to make you look like a massive douchebag. And then there is the other ugly duckling, the Sennheiser PC 350 SE. Going simply by its looks, one would assume the Sennheiser PC 350 SE to be priced around the Rs 5,000 mark. This is largely due to its chronically plasticky look and feel, especially for the price. The material employed isn't exactly cheap, but it sure as hell doesn't seem remotely as luxurious or high-quality as one would expect of a headset priced at Rs 19,990.

The ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro, however ,is the very epitome of the ideal headphone design. It strikes a great balance between style and aggression with its all-black finish and an ear cup fashioned out of shiny, blood-red plastic. Everything from the tasteful chrome accents, brushed metal design on the ear cup inserts and the acres of leatherette across the device is thoroughly pleasing to the eye. The Corsair Vengeance 1300's understated looks are neither particularly eye catching, nor are they offensive. If you're the kind who likes to keep a low profile, these headphones should suit you just right. A heavily cushioned grey headband is the only respite from the overbearing dominance of black matte plastic all across the headset. However, the overall chunky design and the blue accent on the ear cups give it a bit of character.


The CM Storm Sonuz looks like it took a sound beating with the ugly stick


The Razer Blackshark is, by far, the most impressive and my personal favourite from the lot. What sets the headset apart is the fact that it embodies a design carrying a prominent military-inspired theme. It incorporates a style that's reminiscent of aircraft grade headsets, while also combining the archetypal Razer's bright green and funky styling. The inclusion of raw steel headband and simplified ear cup design signify an overall utilitarian military design and works wonders for its overall aesthetic value.

CM Storm Sonuz: 4/10
Razer Blackshark: 9/10
ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro: 8.5/10
Corsair Vengeance 1300: 7/10
Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition: 6/10

Design and Build Quality
The Razer Blackshark's utilitarian military design gives it ruggedness as well as practicality. The old school aircraft-grade headset style gimbal mounts do their job well and allow the headset to conform to the face with ease. The cord length is a bit short even when you factor in the extension, but the overall quality makes up for it. The plastics used on the ear cups are top notch, whereas the tastefully stitched headband feels great as well.  What impressed the most was the detachable mic with a great articulated arm that looks decidedly old-school.

The ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro features a sturdy construction replete with steel height adjustment bands that allow it to fit crowns of any size. The driver enclosures exhibit an impressive range of articulation, thereby allowing them to conform neatly to the contours of your head. This is achieved with a ball-and-socket construction that connects the headband to the ear cups. The materials employed are pretty good for the price, with high-quality plastics used all around. It features all the goodies a gamer can ask for with detachable mic and cables, a slick carrying case, as well as active noise cancellation to drown out the ambient noise at LAN parties. All this sturdiness achieved while being a collapsible design is quite impressive.


The ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro exhibits excellent build quality and design


The Cooler Master Sonuz disappoints with its decidedly plasticky chassis and a build quality that reeks of excessive free play between components. Apart from this, the ear cups attached with ball-and-socket joints may not be elegant, but they get the job done. The steel headband also may not feel well put together, but it's functional. This headset is among the cheapest of the lot and that cheapness comes through in its build quality. The Corsair Vengeance 1300, however, is an exception to that rule. It features excellent material quality and design for what's essentially the lowest price. The headband is nice and thick with a generous amount of cushion. The material used on ear cups and the rest of the chassis is pretty good for its price as well. For that sort of money, you're getting a very well constructed headset bearing excellent circumaural ear cups and a well-designed mic.
The headband adjustment assembly on the Sennheiser PC 350 SE is strangely comprised of plastic, when this is a component that's usually fashioned out of metal for durability in decent headphones. One would therefore assume that Sennheiser may have opted for a metal-free design, but that isn't true because the metal insert on the back of the ear cups is made of aluminium. This design element seems purely cosmetic, because the largely plastic driver enclosure isn't entirely made from metal to affect the acoustic signature. The headset adopts a standard design with a gimbal mount that pivots along the horizontal and vertical axes to allow the headset to conform and fit snugly around your head. The silk-smooth volume adjustment jog dial on the right ear cup is a rather intuitive and ergonomic alternative to inline volume control option. The build and material quality is otherwise quite good while the mic is quite excellent, but that is to be expected as the PC 350 SE is a pricey affair.

CM Storm Sonuz: 5/10
Razer Blackshark: 8/10
ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro: 9/10
Corsair Vengeance 1300: 7.5/10
Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition: 8/10


The Sennheiser PC 350 SE folds down even more than the ASUS for easier mobility


It's a toss up between the Razer Blackshark and ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro for the crown of the most comfortable headset. They both incorporate a generous amount of padding and supple cushioning on the ear for maximum comfort. The Blackshark, however, is more comfortable in the long run because its leatherette ear cushions tend to breathe better than the Vulcan. The Corsair Vengeance 1300 features a thick headband and soft cushioning on the ear cups. However, its relatively high headband tension can cause discomfort in the long run. The Sennheiser PC 350 SE too faces the same issue. The Cooler Master Storm Sonuz is undone by its heavy weight and lack of headband cushioning, thus making it the most uncomfortable of the lot.

CM Storm Sonuz: 5/10
Razer Blackshark: 8.5/10
ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro: 8/10
Corsair Vengeance 1300: 6.5/10
Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition: 6.5/10


Nothing beats the ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro in this aspect, because it's the only headset here that incorporates active noise cancellation (ANC) technology. However, even without that switched on, the Vulcan easily offers the best mechanical isolation of the lot, which is claimed to attenuate ambient noise by 30dB. The ANC pretty effective at significantly attenuating low-frequency hum emanating from system and ceiling fans. Just don't expect it to completely drown out dynamic noise such as someone speaking loudly on a mobile phone in the vicinity. The rest don't offer as much noise isolation, but the Corsair Vengeance 1300 is still significantly better than the Sennheiser PC 350 SE, which allows quite a bit of noise to filter in. The CM Storm Sonuz performs the worst because it's the only one employing cloth ear cushions.

CM Storm Sonuz: 5/10
Razer Blackshark: 8/10
ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro: 9.5/10
Corsair Vengeance 1300: 7/10
Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition: 6/10


The CM Storm Sonuz loses out on isolation due it its cloth ear cushions


For the testing parameter that matters the most, we ran all headsets through a music test suite comprising audiophile recordings mostly in the Jazz, pop and classical genres. We also included mainstream recordings in genres as varied as rock, EDM and hip hop to put the headsets through the paces and figure out the acoustic signature of each contender. The sublime AKG K702 and Audinst HUD-mx2 DAC/headphone amp were used as a reference setup. The idea is to use music we are familiar with, benchmarked against a high quality reference. This allows us to gauge the timbre and tonal accuracy, while laying bare any flaws inherent in each of these headsets.

The CM Storm Sonuz, bluntly put, was the worst of the lot. Not only did it lack requisite bass, but whatever little low end grunt it had was rather muddled and lacked tightness. This is generally a sign of a headset with a focus on highs and soundstage, but the Sonuz comes short in both departments. It's too bright for its own good, which means the timbre and tonal accuracy goes for a toss. It's little wonder then that it managed to give ear fatigue in a relatively short span of time. The soundstage is small, while the separation between instruments isn't all that great either.

This isn't good at all for something that claims to be a gaming headset. You could argue that this is probably because it's one of the cheapest headsets in this comparison. However, you'd be wrong because the Corsair Vengeance 1300, which is cheaper by a good margin than the Sonuz, packs in a much better aural punch. It's relatively more neutral in its performance, although it lacks low end punch and high end bite. Nevertheless, it has quite a pleasing tonality and is easy to listen to. What's more, it manages to deliver surprisingly good soundstage with great separation between instruments. While it may not eke out the same details in your recordings like its expensive rivals, the performance is great at its asking price.

However, the Corsair's performance pales in comparison to that of the Sennheiser PC 350 SE. This puppy packs in more aural detail than any of the headsets here. Unfortunately, this isn't a headset meant for the bassheads as the low end performance is disappointing. It could've been forgiven for lacking bass extension, but it should have had enough slam and impact to make up for it. The soundstage offered by the PC 350 SE also happens to be the best in the lot, but not by a large margin, as it has the ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro snapping at its heels in that department. You could say that those who prefer high end detail over bass will prefer this headset, but the premium it commands over the next best alternative in this comparison isn't remotely justified by its performance.


The Corsair Vengeance 1300 offers surprisingly decent performance for the price



The Razer BlackShark and the ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro were our absolute favourites from the lot. The Vulcan Pro is a brilliant performer in the non-gaming spectrum thanks to its impeccable tonal balance. While it may not blow you away with its infrasonic capability, the bass extension is good enough to render deeper notes. Bass is tight for most of the frequency range, with just a slight looseness evident in the deeper notes of the kick drum. In a nutshell, unless you solely listen to hip-hop, these headphones deliver just the right amount and quality of bass. The headset offers an emphasis on clear and detailed mids. This makes vocals and guitars a deligh, combine that with an excellent timbre and tonality, and you have a pair of headphones that handle diverse genres of music with consummate ease. Being a gaming headset affords it with a large soundstage and good imaging capability that serves impeccably in music and movies.

The Razer Blackshark offers much higher bass than the Vulcan Pro, but it's not as tight or fast as we'd have liked. Needless to say, this means it's one of the darker sounding (bass emphasis) headsets of the lot. There's some treble detail at hand here, but it's not as impressive as that of, say, the ASUS or the Sennheiser headsets. The soundstage and instrument separation surprisingly isn't hit, and this headset puts up a decent performance in that aspect. However, if you asked to choose between the Razer and the ASUS, we'd go with the latter because it provides better fidelity and a neutral sound signature for a much lower price.

We put the headsets through diverse video game genres ranging from racing to FPS and movies as well to test out the positional performance. Being the bassiest of the lot, the Razer Blackshark turned out to be the most exciting, because nothing spices up games and movies like some good ol' low-end grunt. Although it didn't have the best positional accuracy of the lot, locating enemies hidden behind the foliage in Crysis 3 and Far Cry 3 was easy. The Sennheiser PC 350 SE and the ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro tie in for the first place with nearly indistinguishable levels of soundstage expanse and positional accuracy. The Sennheiser is slightly better than the ASUS in videogames, but the latter makes up for it with its low end performance. We'd pick the ASUS simply because it costs a fraction of the price commanded by the Sennheiser. Between the modestly priced CM Storm Sonuz and the Corsair Vengeance 1300, the latter easily bests the Sonuz with its wider soundstage, better positional accuracy, and a pleasing tonal signature.


The microphones in all headsets tested are more or less equally good, with the exception of the ASUS and the Sennheiser—both of which exhibit above par performance.


The PC 350 SE has a great amount of detail, but it loses out on bass and suffers due to a prohibitive price tag


CM Storm Sonuz: 4/10
Razer Blackshark: 7/10
ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro: 8.5/10
Corsair Vengeance 1300: 6.5/10
Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition: 7.5/10

It's not easy to judge a value of a product, because the metric isn't just a linear measure of price tag. The headsets that are vying for the top spot here range from a price tag of Rs 3,999 to a whopping Rs 19,990. What we're essentially looking for here is a gaming headphone that can justify its sticker price with requisite performance and quality.

The Sennheiser PC 350 SE offers the lowest value for its Rs 19,990 price tag, since it isn't better overall than its closest competitors—the ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro and the Razer Blackshark. The ASUS is unparalleled in terms of value due to its relatively modest pricing of Rs 6,850. We say modest because it looks the most beautiful, built the toughest, and bears the most neutral and pleasing audio signature of the lot. The feature set and ANC capability offered at its price is astonishingly good as well. The Razer Blackshark is a bit expensive, but it at least looks funky, is comfortable, built tough, and most importantly, quite fun sounding as well. The Corsair Vengeance 1300 may not show middling to above average performance, but it feels and sounds much more expensive than it is. On the other hand—although the CM Storm Sonuz is cheap, it really shows the same in every single aspect.

CM Storm Sonuz: 6/10
Razer Blackshark: 7.5/10
ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro: 9/10
Corsair Vengeance 1300: 8.5/10
Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition: 4/10


The runner up: Razer Blackshark


The Final Verdict
This comparison doesn't segregate the contenders according to the price, because at least in the realm of audio, the cost of a product isn't necessarily the most reliable barometer of quality. Heck, the Alessandro Grado MS1i costs a mere $100, but can beat the living daylights out of any headphones costing twice as much. That's why these headsets have been rated according to all the important parameters of Performance, Value, Ergonomics, Design and Build quality, Isolation and Aesthetics—all in a decreasing order of importance. Each parameter has been assigned appropriate weightages according to their importance and the final score is calculated as such.

The CM Storm Sonuz may be one of the cheapest headsets in this comparison, but the build, features and audio quality offered is quite disappointing. The Corsair Vengeance 1300, on the other hand, makes a lot more sense. Being the cheapest of the lot, it is a decent headset for gamers on a budget. That still doesn't mean it's a damp squib in the performance department, because it offers a nice neutral sound signature and adequate positional accuracy for gaming.

The Razer Blackshark may seem a tad expensive at Rs 9,999, but it's the most fun sounding of the lot thanks to its abundance of bass. It's built well and is gorgeous to boot. This makes it our second preferred choice and perfect for those who don't mind sacrificing a bit of features and performance for a headset with a spanking good old-school military look. At Rs 19,990, the Sennheiser PC 350 SE is too expensive for its own good despite putting up a commendable performance. For that kind of a price tag, anyone would expect much more than what is on offer.


The winner: ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro


The ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro emerges as the clear winner. It's the rare all-rounder that's fit for gaming, music and movies. Despite a relatively modest price of Rs 6,850, it packs in a microphone and a USB audio processor, in addition to the active noise cancellation. Having said that, you'll be hard pressed to find a gaming headset offering the best combination of positional accuracy and musicality here. The Vulcan Pro justifies its asking price with commendable performance, and therefore comes highly recommended and is the winner in the Clash of the Gaming Headsets.

CM Storm Sonuz: 4.5/10
Razer Blackshark: 7.5/10
ASUS ROG Vulcan Pro: 8.5/10
Corsair Vengeance 1300: 7/10
Sennheiser PC 350 Special Edition: 6.5/10

Published Date: May 20, 2013 08:44 AM | Updated Date: May 20, 2013 08:44 AM