Review : Polk Audio 4 Shot headset

Great design, strong bass signature, but inconsistent sound outside of games

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Product Manufacturer: Polk Audio

Price: $130

The Good

  • Comfort
  • Design/arms
  • Rich bass

The Bad

  • Built-in microphone
  • Inconsistent sound stage
  • Loses emphasis at lower volume levels
Sound quality and design are two of the biggest areas of focus for manufacturers when coming up with a new gaming headset. Depending on the brand, some headsets lean toward universal use and good looks, while others try to focus more on the quality of sound. Polk Audio, a company with a long pedigree in consumer audio, has stepped into the gaming market to try its hand at balancing looks and sound with the 4 Shot. But is the headset a one-trick pony, or does it manage to offer everything consumers want?

Design of the Polk Audio 4 Shot headset isn't something that stands out as a striking at first. The rectangular ear cups could be found on a vast number of headphones on the market. However, once the headset is in hand, some of the finer details start to reveal themselves. On the exterior of the ear cups a diagonal band runs across, drawing attention to the recessed cuts that allow air to pass through. Attention was paid to the headband, as the stitches are clean without any evidence of knots or loose threads.

The arms on the 4 Shot that hold the ear cups are particularly impressive, as they offer a robustness that isn't generally found in gaming headsets. Where the arms differ from others isn't only in how they connect to the ear cups, but also in their construction. Instead of plastic, the arms are made of a solid piece of aluminum that's 0.32 inches thick. The arms connect to the cups at a single point, hooking around the back of the cups while still allowing movement. The remaining end of the arm is connected to a thick piece of plastic by what appears to be a metal pin. Two screws secure the plastic pieces to the spring steel headband.

While the main portion of the headband is spring steel, the portion that controls the sizing is glued into the headband. This keeps it from sliding around when pushing or pulling the ear cups, something that would otherwise be problematic. Being plastic and spring steel, one would think that the headband isn't that comfortable. It's actually quite the opposite as the 4 Shot headset is comfortable for hours on end. The padding on the underside of the band isn't thick, but the leatherette wrapping is soft and doesn't collect sweat.

Padding on the ear cups is much thicker at 0.75 inches, but it's soft and has some give. It feels like the padding is memory foam, but unfortunately it isn't a very dense version. The leatherette wrapping seems thinner, but has greater flexibility than the material used on the headband. Wearing the headphones for eight hours on an off did resulted in little to no discomfort, with the majority coming from the pressure on the top of the head. Sweat does build up easier on the inside of the ear cups than on the headband, but by allowing air to pass through sweat is partially alleviated.

Polk tried something different with the 4 Shot, using a microphone that recesses into the bottom of the left ear cup. Pressing it inward will cause the microphone to pop out as if spring loaded, while pushing it in again gets it to catch hide away. Where other headsets focus on a boom mic that is positioned close to the mouth, the pop-out microphone skirts the jawline. Having a microphone like this helps keep the headset from being an eyesore in daily use, but it doesn't come without issues. The voice quality that it produces isn't that great. Voices sound distant, but also somewhat noisy as the bleed over from the headset can be picked up.

Thankfully Polk includes a boom microphone with a tangle-free braided cord. The boom microphone has much better clarity, making it the preferred one to use. It's a shame that the flat, braided cable is only attached to the boom microphone, as it is a great cable to use. A straight cable, as well as a single button cable for smartphones and tablets are included as well. Also included is a custom adapter for an Xbox One controller, giving gamers a chance to access chat and game volume controls or mute the microphone.

With Polk's long history in making audio devices, the 4 Shot headset should have a lot going for it. When it comes to games, the headset really stands out. It has a rich bass that helps players get into the environment, especially in first person shooter titles. There is a reason for this, as Polk worked with Microsoft to tune the headset for the games on the company's consoles. Specifically, the 4 Shot was tuned for franchises like Halo and Forza Motorsport.

When it comes to music and movies, the 4 Shot has some inconsistent sound moments to it. It seems like there is a problem with the way the headset is balanced. In some instances when listening to music, the sound seemed hollow like there was a lack of power behind it. It was like the sound chamber was empty, and the speakers were set far away.

In bass heavy songs this wasn't as prevalent, but in rock and pop music the problem really stands out. Anything that mixes heavy in the highs suffers greatly from this. As for movies, the sound lacks an impact that users would expect. In heavy dialogue parts, the same hollow feeling comes through. But when a heavy action scene comes on, the bass kicks in to covers everything else up.

That isn't to say that the sound from the 4 Shot is weak by any means. When putting the headset through song tests, it hit 102.2dB as 100 percent source volume on "Hunter." From 100 to 25 percent, the decibel levels dropped 25 to 27 percent on the three tested songs. Each step down is generally around nine to 11 decibels, with the exception of the roughly 5 decibel from 50 to 25 percent on "Notorious." The sweet spot is around 60 to 70 percent volume from the source for the best balance in the sound. When the volume is dropped to 25 percent, everything starts to fall apart. All of the sound loses emphasis and becomes flat.

Polk Audio's 4 Shot is a headset that is comfortable to wear for hours at a time, a feature that's important to gamers. With pricing as low as $105 for some colors on Amazon, the Polk Audio 4 Shot isn't a bad value for what consumers get. The design, with the sturdy spring steel headband and aluminum swivel arms, offers owners an appealing and functional design that they shouldn't be afraid to wear in public. However, the 4 Shot does have some irregularities to it that become clear when listening to music or watching films. Those issues don't hold the headset back from being an enjoyable experience in most cases, but it's something that is easily noticed.