Low-price leader Monoprice delivers 7.1 gaming headset (November 26th, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: Monoprice
-Powerful 7.1 sound stage
-Lifetime cable warranty
-iOS device compatibility
-Overly sensitive microphone
-Short Xbox Live microphone cable
Monoprice is the place some of the Electronista crew goes when we need a funky cable. Four-pin FireWire to FireWire 800? No problem. Funky USB gender cables? Also carried. While various audio accessories have graced the shelves of the e-retailer, a brand new addition is a pair of gaming-oriented headsets, at a very low price point for the feature set. As with most audio features, build quality and attention to detail can make all the difference between an experience with excellent fidelity, and a static-laden hiss-fest. Can the Monoprice 7.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headphones make headway against the giants in the field?
Technically, the headset is designed to connect to PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 gaming systems, and comes with all the necessary cables and connectors. It supports both analog two-channel and digital 7.1 channel Toslink optical input and is certified by Dolby for use with Dolby Digital 5.1, Pro Logic IIx, and Dolby Headphone modes. The headset uses a USB connection for microphone communications on the PC and PlayStation 3, or a 3.5mm TRRS plug for the Xbox 360 and most smartphones. As shipped, the headphones come with two boom microphones, a long one designed for gaming and the other for mobile hands-free use with a smartphone. The TRRS jack uses the Apple standard, with the ground on the second ring. An adapter is included, which converts to the older standard with the ground on the sleeve, if necessary. A single 40mm, 40 Ohm Neodymium driver is in each can, with a frequency response of 20Hz through 20KHz.
We compared the Monoprice headset with the Turtle Beach EarForce DX 12 Dolby Surround Speaker ($130), and the Tritton 720+ 7.1 Surround Headset ($150). The competitor's speakers have 50mm drivers versus the 40mm in the Monoprice set, with similar frequency response as well as overall performance. All have common features and excellent attention to detail -- features like independent game and voice volume control, removable microphone, and selectable voice monitoring are present on all three headsets. We found the Tritton headset and the Monoprice headset to be most suitable for long-term gaming from a comfort standpoint.
We used a variety of musical styles and compositions to test with including classical, modern rock, classic rock, adult contemporary, rap, heavy metal, and dubstep. All tracks were ripped from an original CD, at four different bitrates: 128kbit MP3 using iTunes 10.6.3, average 256kbit AAC VBR with Max 0.9.1, 256kbit AAC with iTunes 10.6.3, and Apple lossless with iTunes 10.6.3. Games used to test the headsets were Halo 4 on the Xbox 360, Borderlands 2 on the PlayStation 3, Civilization 5 on Windows 7, and Team Fortress 2 also on Windows 7.
All have excellent, lag-free audio in the gaming environment, as well as the musical test tracks we've used in previous reviews as well as a movie or two played from the iTunes Store. The Monoprice headset is a bit less bass-heavy at normal EQ settings than either the Tritton or Turtle Beach headset. Microphone sensitivity was led by the Monoprice offering, which is both a blessing and a curse. In a room with ambient noise beyond a quiet discussion, prepare to have the exchange broadcast to your gaming companions, or enemies, as the case may be. This is customizable on the PC, but less so on the Xbox and PlayStation 3.
The primary difference between the Monoprice cans versus the Tritton and Turtle Beach headsets are cable length. All three have somewhat short cables, which are adequate for desk-bound console or all-in-one PC gaming. The Tritton and Turtle Beach headsets have a good cable length for a floor-standing CPU tower, and all three have connections far too short to reach a television from any reasonably-located couch. Additionally, the microphone to Xbox 360 cable required for Xbox Live in-game chat is about a foot too short for comfort with the Monoprice 7.1 headset. We have addressed this shortcoming with a representative from Monoprice, and were told that our concern has been passed on to manufacturing for possible future rectification.
As an interesting aside to the review, we originally thought that there was a ground feedback hiss on the Xbox live speaker cable. First, we replaced the cable, and discovered the same issue. Swapping out controllers solved the problem. Moving the Xbox 360 controller with transformable D-pad to a different headset resulted in the same ground hiss, so the problem didn't lie in the headset, or any headset, but the controller itself. We tried a total of three different Microsoft transformable D-pad controllers with the headset, and found the same hiss in all three. Every other controller we tried, including a wired controller from the first generation of Xbox 360 models did not exhibit the hiss.
At the $100+ price range, audio fidelity shouldn't be an issue, and with any of these headsets, including the sub-$100 Monoprice kit, it really isn't one. The Monoprice 7.1 Gaming Headset is an amazing product for the price, rivaling equipment that costs 50 percent more from other vendors. We remain puzzled why headphones requiring external power such as this one boasts iOS device compatibility, but this minor quibble with the headset doesn't prevent us from considering it a valuable addition to both PC and console gamers' arsenals.