Asus Xonar Xense Premium Gaming Audio Set Reviewhardnrg - November 3, 2010
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I always like to start out with music for the subjective listening tests, as I listen to music every day, and can refer to familiar tracks and albums to make judgements and comparisons on the audio hardware. When I initially began listening to the PC 350 headset, I honestly found it to be fairly bass lean and too bright in the mids, but I think all my headphones have started out this way. I put the volume at maximum, dropped the EQ above the bottom three bands, and left the Xense to take the PC 350 on an endless, gruelling, relentless journey that is my bass test track collection.
The point of this exercise is to break the headphone drivers in like a new pair of shoes, effectively freeing up the movement of the diaphragms, and releasing the full potential of the headset. During this break-in period, my girlfriend heard distant lyrics and sounds from my computer room, and actually thought the computer was asking "can I have 5 megs please?" That was with the headset on a desk; if the headset is on your head, very little sound can be heard by other people, even at maximum volume. So, the closed-back design would work well at keeping the peace with room-mates and family members, as your mouse and keyboard clicks would be louder!
Okay, so earlier in the review I showed you the Audio Center, and purposely skipped over five buttons. One of these buttons is "Hi-Fi" (HF), and is a preset that disables the DSP and EQ settings in order to deliver a pure output. Generally, I would recommend this setting if you are using the Line Out, but as I preferred my own custom EQ for the PC 350 headset, I chose to disable the Hi-Fi mode. For the subjective listening, I used my EQ setting, Test 7.
Well, what can I say? This is the first headset that I have auditioned that sounds like a pair of high-end headphones. The entire performance across the whole frequency range is excellent, but what strikes me the most is the bass performance. It is so controlled, yet wholesome. Detailed, deep and full. It actually has a very similar bass characteristic to my subwoofer, but is slightly more laid-back. I'd say if my subwoofer was like being right near the bass bins at a club/gig, the PC 350 is more like being a little way back from the stage... laid back, but thoroughly enjoying it, dancing merrily.
You might have noticed that my custom EQ does not have any bass boost, but does have some mid cuts. This was mainly to take the volume of the vocals down a touch, to sit better in the mix. With a few gentle boosts to the high EQ bands, the airiness of ethereal vocals is lifted from great to divine. I almost can't get over how well this headset performs. If you've ever had the pleasure of going to a club or live music event where the sound quality was spot-on amazing, you'll have some idea of what I'm experiencing. If you like electronic music of any flavour, you will love the Xense + PC 350 combination.
"How about some real music?", I hear you ask. I tried a few albums that are considered to be masterpieces in sound production: Michael Jackson - Thriller, Steely Dan - Can't Buy A Thrill, and Metallica - Metallica. It's really nice to hear a set of headphones reproduce sound so faithfully, and the PC 350 headset delivers an impressive performance. You can clearly hear each part of a piece of music, the guitar basslines, synths, drums, vocals, as opposed to inferior headphones/headsets where the individual parts seem to be muddled together. I think the reason for the PC 350's clarity, is its ability to produce subtle detail. Often, I could hear secondary sounds in tracks that I couldn't with other headsets, such as vocalist breaths, and background voices being picked up by instrument mics. Like the Essence STX, the Xense's headphone amplifier allows this attention to detail to continue, even with lively sections of music.
It was a tough decision whether to give the PC 350 a score of 9 or 10 here. The headset definitely performs like a set of high-end headphones, and this was proved during the music tests. With the other headsets, I would soon find myself missing the music performance from one of my headphones: Westone UM2, Sennheiser HD25-1 II, and AKG K 701. With the PC 350, I could quite happily listen to music all day and night. So, even though there are headphones that sound better, I don't think it's very likely that a gaming headset will ever sound better than this, and that's what swung me towards scoring it as a 10.