By Andy “fro” Popkin
Last week after a chat with Jason Bass I somehow ended up getting a brand new, not yet on the market, Creative SoundBlaster Arena headset sent to my dwelling. I actually received two packages, one contained a Puretrak coLPad that I did not even know I was getting and with that was a G8 coL Hoodie and the new headset. The coLPad is very nice. This mouse pad is incredibly smooth, the design is wicked, and it’s HUGE! The hoodie is an interesting article of clothing. I am not too fond of zip up hoodies, but this one is still one that I will wear on occasion. It is comfortable, and fits well. Obviously the other package was the headset, so…
Unboxing was quick and easy. You get the headset (no way!), a CD-ROM which holds Creative’s software package (and does not have to be installed), a guide that basically tells you to plug in the headset and load the CD in to its drive (lots of need for that), and a “safety guide” for all you that chew on your headset cord. Pretty basic packaging, and none of that annoying sealed up crap which causes you to slice your hands open. From the way this headset is packaged, it obvious creating a headset that travels well was on Creative’s mind. It folds flat similar to the Bose headphones and the microphone boom is detachable, which is always nice. The plastic that makes up the external shell seems pretty strong, and the “joints” where the cans rotate may break if you go Hulk on them but otherwise they are solid.
The very first thing I did with this headset was, take a guess, plug it in. I also opened up iTunes. My library is rather extensive thanks to all of my “friends” music collections. I never listen to a brand new set of headphones without at least 12 straight hours of breaking them in. The longer you let them break in, the better they will sound. Plus this process helps you keep speakers/headphones lasting longer. Twelve hours later… These things f*@$ing BEAT. Lil Wayne was literally making my ears feel like I had a 12″ subwoofer mounted on each side of my head. I did the usual tweaking to my EQ just to make everything sound better but still, they bump hard. They also cover the mid-range and high (treble) frequencies very well. Over all great sound, much better than any other gaming headset I have used lately. The cans and the padding around them do a decent job of keeping your loud PC fans or yappy dog from being heard, especially when you have music or in game sounds going on. I prefer using in-ear headphones for music, but these put out nearly the same sound when comparing the bass output and overall audio quality.
Again with the travel idea in mind, the Arena headset utilizes a built in USB soundcard so you can take this headset to any computer you desire and get the same sound quality at each one. This is a great feature as many of you know for when you are at a LAN tournament. Switching to a different computer every match and being able to keep your sound exactly the same is crucial. In Counter-Strike, I was very impressed with the preciseness of the in game audio. AWP shots don’t make you become deaf, but at the same time you can also hear much “farther” away. Really any headset today combined with a good soundcard will give you the capabilities to hear “far away” but these do a great job of it. It was hard to get used to how accurate the in game sounds are, but in the end you will benefit from the pin point placement of the sound that is produced by the Arena headset. The microphone is very clear when using Ventrilo or in game chat. SoundBlaster’s “Silencer” software really does a great job of blocking out ambient noises from being picked up by the microphone, allowing your teammates or whoever you may be talking to hear you loud and clear.
A cool feature about these headphones is that they can be just that, headphones. The microphone boom is removable for when you are on the go, or if you just don’t want it sitting there in your face. It’s actually somewhat annoying when you are using the microphone, because it sits almost way out in front of your face and is usually in your peripheral vision. This is not a huge issue and you will quickly forget the microphone is even there, but some may not feel that way. The padding around the cans is very cushy, made of the same soft leathery foam that has been on over-the-ear headphones since 1965. The top support cushion is made of the same material, but slightly stiffer leather. All in all, the headset is very comfortable even after many hours of use. No “ear burn”, which many others cause even after a short time usage.
Next, I decided to test out the software package that ships along with this headset. There are 15+ voice effects, virtual surround sound settings, and all of the usual Creative audio software. The one thing that I did find useful about the software is that you can turn on the microphone silencer feature, which mutes 75% or more of the background noises around you. You can test it for yourself in case you think it’s bogus, but it really does work. One thing I did notice is that using the Silencer your voice is tweaked slightly so you sound a little younger, but it’s hardly noticeable. Other than that I pretty much used the software to turn off any of the sound effect features that may be checked which distort the audio. Virtual surround sound doesn’t do well with headphones, so I wanted to make sure that was off. For those of you with Macs, I did test this headset on my Mac Book Pro, and the sound was equal to the sound from Windows which backs up the idea of a USB soundcard producing the same quality audio on each computer. The one thing that I wish was included with this headset, is some sort of USB to 3.5mm connector so these can be used with an mp3 player.
If you are looking for a new headset that is made for gaming and music, there is no doubt that the new Creative SoundBlaster Arena headset is on my list of the all around top gaming headsets on the market. For $99 it’s more affordable for most gamers, in comparison to some other headsets in the gaming market. For more information on the Arena cans, click HERE.
I would like to thank Creative for allowing us to review this headset pre-release. And keep an eye out for the compLexity headset in the following month or two!