A good gaming headset is a hard thing to find. Also what constitutes ‘good’ can be a very subjective thing, many people often find that their trusty headset that has served them so well over the years is actually severely lacking when they get to experience a real piece of sonic engineering from some of the big hitters in the headphone and headset world.
In this review we’re looking at two headsets from two such big hitters in the audio world; Creative and Sennheiser. From Creative we have the Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3d Sigma Headset and from Sennheiser we have the Sennheiser PC-333D Headset. Both models have been around for a while now, and have been selling extremely well. So how do they stack up, and what do they offer over and above a sub £50 headset?
First up is the Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3d Sigma Headset, this is a THX-certified headset that comes packed with features. Dual Mode – Analogue or USB connections. Use the 3.5mm mini-jacks for direct connection to your dedicated soundcard, onboard audio or MP3 player or use the THX TruStudio Pro Dual Mode USB Adapter to connect to your PC or Mac via USB connection. THX TruStudio Pro Surround Audio is the technology built into this USB dongle. It’s an alternative to standard Dolby or DTS surround which, according to the marketing spiel, offers you true 3D surround sound. So not just all around you in a circle, but it also claims to offer sound from above and below your position. Accompanying this is a suite of software typical from Creative that gives you a huge number of options where you can literally tweak every part of the sound.
So how do they perform? Well the answer is not so straightforward. The headphones themselves are excellent. The larger drivers which fit over the ear in a circumaural fashion deliver a very impressive wide soundstage that offers an excellent low-end extension. Music sounds very expansive, and really feels like you are listening to a far more expensive pair of headphones. I own some Dre Beats Studio headphones, and I have to say that these give them a fair run for their money in the audio stakes. They can really deliver a punch when needed, but also excel in more refined material.
Gaming on the Creative Sound Blaster Tactic3d Sigma Headset was a mixed bag, but still overall very positive. The sound itself is extremely good in game. The closed back design delivers a ton of bombast when all around you is chaos, such as in first person shooters where you can really feel the explosions. It actually works extremely well in steering the surround effects in games, especially I found in games like Battlefield 3 where I could actually hear whereabouts above me someone was walking across a ceiling. This made it easy to run up a floor and know exactly where the enemy was lurking. In fast paced games such as this it’s a huge advantage to get the jump on someone before either of you can actually see each other. There’s great separation in the sounds in-game, and they’re delivered with great clarity. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the trademark score roared through the large drivers in a very convincing fashion, and the many unmistakeable sound effects such as lightsabers clashing sounded fantastic.
Moving over to the microphone I came across a bit of an issue when using either TeamSpeak or Skype to communicate with friends. I couldn’t get the microphone to be loud enough. I tried using the Creative software to boost the microphone level as much as possible, and then also trying to make sure it’s boosted as much as possible using Windows’ sound control, but unfortunately it just wasn’t loud enough and my team mates commented that they couldn’t make out what I was saying very clearly.
Moving onto the Sennheiser PC-333D Headset the immediate thing that leaps out is the build quality with this headset. It’s very solidly put together, while remaining light enough to not be fatiguing while wearing them. Of particular note is the microphone which is a high quality flexible boom arm. It can easily be muted by just raising the arm up to the headband - a very nice touch. This is in contrast to the microphone on the Creative headset which is simply a bendy wire microphone that clips into the headphones. So in this regard the Sennheiser set eclipses the offering from Creative.
The headphones sit on the ear with the Sennheisers, unlike the Creatives which sit around the ear. Now which you prefer is very much a subjective thing. The Creatives certainly give your ears a bit more breathing space, however the Sennheisers shut out a lot more sound from the outside and can make the sound seem a lot more direct.
Sennheiser offer up just the basics when it comes to software. Here is a simple application that sits in your notification area that allows you to select one of the surround sound options (4, 5.1, or 7.1) or just plain stereo should you wish. Sometimes simple is the best approach, and to be honest I like not having a ton of options to mess with. This keeps the sound nice and pure, as I tended to get a bit carried away playing with all the myriad of options on the Creative software.
Again there is a USB dongle that contains the soundcard that you plug into your PC, and the 3.5mm audio and headphone jacks plug into this. This means that you can also use the headset for anything else that has a 3.5mm jack should you wish, or even a dedicated soundcard.
As is typical with most Sennheiser headphones the PC-333Ds are excellent when it comes to music. They have great stereo separation, and are very punchy in their bass. I found them to be pretty effective with a wide range of music from heavy metal to fast-paced techno. I did prefer to keep the headset in stereo mode for music, and this was no problem as the notification area application makes switching from surround to stereo a simple two click task.
As the headset cups rest on your ears during use, I was expecting them to start to feel pretty fatiguing after prolonged use. This actually wasn’t the case. I found I could wear them for hours and my ears never felt like they were being squashed in. They did start to feel a little hot after a while, so I would advise every couple hours just taking them off for 10-15 seconds to give your ears a little breather.
When it comes to games the Sennheisers really come into their element. The grandeur of the warzone in Battlefield 3 is superbly conveyed by these cans, and every round fired off comes across in a clear crisp manner. It really sucks you into the action. Star Wars: The Old Republic was another chance for them to really shine, in particular the surround steering on the space missions was superb. You could really hear where the other fighter ships were screaming in from. I could pre-empt where they would be coming from and blast them down quickly. It’s not just the screaming bombast effects that they excel in either, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim uses subtle ambient effects to really immerse you into the realm of Skyrim and the headphones really helped convey all the sounds of nature around from birds to gentle breezes. The PC-333Ds really do a great job in helping you forget you’re wearing headphones, and that’s a great testament to their engineering.
So the microphone is well-built, but how does it function in-game? Well, the answer is simply fantastic! Every friend I jumped into a game with commented on how clear and noise-free the PC-333D was. Volume was fine without any need for adjustment, and it just worked great with absolutely no fiddling required. Direct hit from Sennheiser on this front!
So which one would I recommend? Well both of them are some seriously good headphones for the money. You get not only great build quality, but cracking sound quality that you’d expect of headphones costing a lot more than these do. Both sets are excellent all-rounders from music, to games, to films. However, these are not just headphones, they are headsets. As such, there is a further element which needs careful consideration, and that is the built in microphone quality. It’s here where the Sennheiser PC-333D Headset really outpaces their Creative counterparts and that’s why I would recommend them in this shootout over and above the competition.
Bringing it back to a question I posed earlier, I would highly recommend stretching your budget on your headset, and going for something a little more expensive. These two headsets have shown that for a little more money, you get excellent sound quality that can really give you a competitive edge in the game, or immerse you completely into a new world. A great headset like these will last you a long time, and should be seen as a solid investment.