Speed-Link Medusa 5.1 Home Edition (SL-8796) Headset Reviewhardnrg - February 18, 2007
Back of the box
After my initial excitement of looking at the front, I turned the box around and then my eyes grew wider as I was greeted with some of the key features of the Medusa 5.1 Home headset. It's always a bit frustrating taking pictures of the box before opening it, and this review was certainly no exception!
Inside the box
Opening up the box, revealed... ANOTHER box! Haha! I couldn't help but laugh, a box inside a box... But after seeing so many product packaging approaches, opening up a box without having to reverse-assemble a 3-dimensional puzzle of polystyrene sections and plastic wrapping really was a pleasure I could not remember experiencing. It felt like Christmas had come early! The inner box looks very much the size and shape of a shoebox - a black and shiny shoebox. Anyway, I'd spent more than enough time taking pictures of the outside of the boxes and was more than ready to see what was inside the double-boxed surprise.
Never in a million years would I have guessed Speed-Link packaged their products so exquisitely! It looked like it had been gift wrapped as a Valentine's day gift or something with soft fabric and silk ribbons. I started to feel the love. I started to feel the warm fuzziness. This headset must have been packed by fair maidens, that's the only explanation I can suggest (well, it's the one I'm going with anyway). I like how Speed-Link have taken a rather different approach to packaging as there is little that you need to discard, no useless internal packaging that simply fills a space, just a modest amount of quality materials that ensure the headset is absolutely immaculate and well-presented.
Right, well back to the headset then and here you can see the unpackaged headset resting on top of its amplifier, the multi-language user manual, and the accessory box (so, a box in a box in a box!). The headset I shall come back to last, so let's have a look at the amplifier and see what we find inside the third mystery box!
Ok, so here's something you don't see very often - an amplifier for your headset. I like the sleek look and the minimal design. It's a two-tone silver/black combination which suits me just fine as almost all the hardware I own is black, or black and silver. On the front you've got three toggle push button switches and a rotary volume control. The two upper switches toggle between the two inputs and the two outputs. Yes, that's right, two in and two out. You'll see how that works shortly. Below the volume control is the power button. Underneath that we have a microphone socket - this is to connect an external microphone. When you connect a microphone here, it deactivates the headset mic. Finally, at the bottom, we have a mini-DIN connector headphone socket for the headset. A custom connector for the headset? This doesn't mean you are restricted to using the headset with the amplifier, far from it - more on that later though. Nice to see the controls all at the front and not spread all over the amplifier to the sides, rear or top of the housing.
A distinctive swirl design is molded into the side sections which I think gives it a unique look and some character. So far I'm impressed. On the previous page you saw the headset resting on the amp. This was not merely a cunning place to balance them for a photograph: the amplifier's housing is actually designed to double as a handy place to keep your headset when not in use. Now I know for a fact a lot of people will like this feature as I, like many others, have to hang my headphones on my chair, corner of the desk, or bed and quite often they just end up on the floor and sometimes get lost in a pile of ... unsorted things on the floor. Ok, I'm messy, there, now everyone knows!
Round to the business end of things and yes, you weren't expecting that were you?! Just look at all those connections. Marvellous. A peek underneath and you will find four little round black non-slip feet located near to the corners which ensures good stability and resistance to being unwittingly moved around.
The amp supports not one, but two 5.1 inputs, each with microphones. So you can use this for two computers and, as we shall see soon, many other devices. So ok, two inputs, all fine and dandy. How about the two outputs? How does that work? Well, the rear output bypasses the amplifier to connect to your speaker system! This could be a set of computer speakers, a stereo amp or even a 5.1 home cinema receiver. I think this is fantastic! No messing around with silly little switch boxes, using an obscene number of splitters, or even worse, having to unplug cables all the time. I can switch between my hi-fi speakers and the headset at the touch of a button and that makes me very happy. And why is there yet another microphone socket? Unlike the front mic connector which overrides the headset mic and sends the signal to your computer, the rear mic connector is designed for an external mic that routes the signal directly to the bypassed output, i.e. it routes the mic signal directly to your speakers rather than down to your computer. The sheer number of options for connnectivity far exceeded my expectations for a headset amplifier.
Cables / PSU
So what's inside the mysterious third box? A fourth box! Haha, I'm not joking, but the fourth box is only the box for the AC/DC power adapter, at the top centre of the picture. The Russian doll game thus came to an end. A fair number of cables for a headset right? At the top left and top right of the picture you've got the 5.1 audio + mic cables for two sets of computers. The cables at the lower half of the pictures are a number of adapters to give you more options. At the bottom left there is a 6x phono/rca to 3x 3.5mm stereo adapter to convert one of the 5.1 cables to phono. This enables you to connect to any 5.1 device with phono connections such as a DVD player. The bottom middle cable is a simple stereo + mic adapter cable to let you connect the headset directly to something like the front audio jacks of a computer or a laptop. And finally, a 5.1 + mic adapter cable to let you connect directly to a 5.1 soundcard.
I really was pleased to see Speed-Link provide a whole host of cables and adapters to suit a wide variety of different uses of the headset. It really opens up the possibilities of when and where you can use the Medusa 5.1 and while called the "Home Edition", one can easiliy see that it could be taken away on travel, to work, and play.
Well without further ado, on to the headset!
Even with the headset's cable coiled up, you know there is a generous length there, and you'd be right! There's FOUR metres of cable which means I can wander around most of my room without taking the headset off. The 9-pin mini-DIN connector has to be used either with the amp, or with one of the two adapter cables supplied.
Four individual volume controls indicates that the headset's surround sound will be able to be customised to achieve the desired balance of sound. This in-line set of volume controls is about 40cm from the headset, so it ends up somewhere around your mid to lower torso which is quite easy to reach. The headset is an open-back design meaning it is not sealed on the outside. This gives a more "open" sound, resulting in a wider soundstage, meaning there is a greater perceived distance between extreme left and extreme right.
The microphone stem is very bendable, so you can adjust it to a different shape to get the microphone tip at the optimum position. It also rotates up and down at the headset itself to give a large degree of freedom. The microphone is removable, with the idea that it would be safer in transit if it was detached.
The microphone connector is a decent quality phono connector (RCA/cinch). The mouthpiece isn't the smallest I've ever seen but still manages to be quite unobtrusive.
As this headset is meant for gaming, it can be folded up in two different ways. The first is to rotate one earcup up towards the headband and then close the other earcup up against it to make a small bundle. The second method is to swivel the earcups 90° and lay the earcups flat. Both ways seem very practical for packing the headset for a LAN-party or other trips away from home. I've taken the photos with the microphone attached to illustrate that it's not completely necessary to detach the microphone.