Zowie Gear Hammer e-Sports Headset Review

hardnrg - 2009-11-11 15:44:11 in Speakers/Headphones
Category: Speakers/Headphones
Reviewed by: hardnrg   
Reviewed on: November 23, 2009
Price: $59.99

Introduction:

Zowie. Wowie Zowie?! Nope, this is Zowie Gear, a relatively new brand for computer gaming peripheral products. The people who work at Zowie Gear have previously developed and manufactured products for professional gaming at other companies, and created the new company with the ambition of becoming the best manufacturer of professional gaming gear. Currently, the line-up of products is mostly mousepads, but there are also two headsets and two gaming bundles. The gaming bundle seems to be a painted Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical, along with a mousepad, mouse bag, and low-friction teflon pads (mouse skatez). I'm not quite sure why this mouse is in the Professional Gaming bundle, it seems quite pedestrian compared to the gaming mice from Logitech, Razer, and even Microsoft. I'm literally still scratching my head... Anyway, enough about the other products, I'll stop, it's Hammer time.

The headset I'll be looking at in this review is the 3.5mm version of the Zowie Gear Hammer (there is also a USB version of the Hammer). Will it be better than other gaming headsets? Is it the best for professional gaming?

 

Closer Look:

In the world of audio, the better headphones tend to be packaged in a box rather than one of those annoying plastic bubble things. This isn't a definitive rule, it's not even really a fair generalization, but it certainly raised my expectations as soon as I saw the headset. On the front of the box, you can clearly see the words "designed for e-sports." So, this is not an ordinary multimedia headset aimed at the general public, it has been specifically designed for serious competitive gaming. The back of the box lists the important and unique features, and the technical specifications, as you would expect (which you can see properly, later in this review).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The product package comprises of the headset itself (which has an in-line volume/mic control), an extension cable, and a pair of alternative earpads.

 

Let's look at each of these components in detail.

Closer Look:

As soon as I looked at the headset, it instantly reminded me of the Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones, and other similar headphones used in professional media production. The headphones are circumaural, meaning the earpads rest around the ear. The headphone cord on the Hammer is single-sided and enters on the left earcup. Quite uniquely, the headband is made of a flexible rubber compound which seems to be virtually unbreakable and must surely be a strong selling point for heavy-handed gamers, as well as being able to survive journeys in suitcases. I should point out here that my HD280 Pro headband shattered in several places thanks to baggage handling on a flight, and that I would put money on the Hammer's headband surviving such rough handling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The earcups are attached to the headband via metal ring segments. These metal pieces act as rails, upon which the headband end can slide up and down, and this is how you can adjust the headset to fit your head. This sliding mechanism relies on friction, so it is infinitely adjustable, unlike many designs which have a limited number of clicked steps. So, the advantage is that you can get an exact fit, but it does make me wonder how well the friction grip would hold up after many adjustments over an extended period of time.

 

 

Moving on to the boom mic component of the headset, I have to say right away that it is the most heavy-duty design I have ever seen!

 

Usually the boom is made of plastic or some sort of flexible metal spiral hose, but the Hammer's boom is a single piece of rigid metal. If you've ever owned PC headsets before, you will probably have run into problems with the microphone boom breaking or falling off completely. The mic's casing is fairly chunky and there is no way to adjust the distance of the mic away from your face, but fortunately it is very well placed. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the boom mic is on the left side of the headset, but the boom itself actually can be rotated a full 360°, so if you really preferred the boom to be on the right side of your face, you could wear the headset the other way round and invert the left and right channels on your soundcard (as long as this is an available feature on your soundcard's software/driver).

 

 

The in-line volume/mic control is also fairly chunky, but is very light, so shouldn't present any issues. The mic control is a simple on/off slide switch, and provides a microphone mute ability.

 

 

The back of this control has a clip, so you could attach it to your clothing in some way, to stop it flapping against your body if you start flailing around in the middle of a firefight. The photo is taken with the headset above, and the rest of the cable and jack end below, so the control clips downwards. On the opposite side to the mic mute switch, there is a rotary control for the headphone volume. It's always nice to have an in-line volume control on a headset, especially when driving the headset directly from the soundcard, so that you can adjust the volume in-game without alt-tabbing out of the game to the soundcard mixer panel.

 

 

Quite standardly, the headset has 3.5mm jacks for both the headphones and mic. If the headset cord is not long enough to reach your computer, or if you like to have a bit more freedom of movement around your computer, an extension cable is provided. You could also use the extension cable to extend the mic connector whilst the headphones are connected to an amplifier.

 

Each earcup has a flanged edge that allows the earpads to be removed. The speaker grille looks like it might slightly restrict some of the sound, but does of course serve the purpose of protecting the speaker driver very well. You can see that this part is easily removeable by undoing the two screws. So, for the modding eccentrics out there, you could try cutting a few sections of the grille out to free up the sound, if you felt there was some occlusion present.

 

 

The earpads have an edge that you can stretch over the earcup's flange, much like a fitted bedsheet over a mattress. It's a little tricky to get the fabric over the plastic, but this results in a very snug fit, so the earpads stay in place. Both the stock leather pads and the alternative velvety pads are very comfortable. It probably would come down to personal preference, but the velvety pads seem like they would be the option most people would choose for extended or frantic gaming sessions.

 

Specifications:

 

Headphone:

Frequency response 15 - 25,000 Hz
Speaker dimension 40 mm
Impedance 32 Ω
Sensitivity 98 dB ± 4 dB
Cable length 1.2 m + 1.8 m = 3.0 m
Connectors 3.5 mm gold-plated

 

Microphone:

Frequency range 60 - 10,000 Hz
Directivity Uni-directional
Impedance Low
Sensitivity -57 dB ± 4 dB


 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of Zowie Gear

Testing:

Testing Setup:

Comparison Headsets:

 

Music:

I listened to a wide selection of music, from psychedelic trance to symphonic classical, to explore the ability to deliver powerful sound whilst maintaining the clarity of finer detail. The Hammer headphones provide a tidy and controlled bottom-end, more punchy than the X-52, but not boomy like the Medusa. The mids appear well balanced and again are favourable to the X-52 and Medusa, but the high end seems somewhat muted or muffled. So, the Hammer is not quite as bright sounding as the X-52 or Medusa, but because of the well-executed bass and mids, it sounds the best overall.

I should point out here that the Hammer didn't really need much EQ adjustment at all, whereas the X-52 and Medusa pretty much required EQ adjustment to make them sound decent.

 

 

 

 

 

Movies:

Both of the comparison headsets are 5.1 designs, with 4 drivers in each earcup, and they suffer from slightly imbalanced sound across the frequency range, sometimes resulting in quiet dialogue, or overly boomy explosions (not in a good way). As the Hammer is a straightforward stereo design, the resulting movie sound is reproduced more faithfully, as it doesn't not have the mismatched speaker problem of the X-52 and Medusa. So, although the other headsets can seem more exciting and dramatic, the Hammer is more accurate and clear.

The Hammer is a closed-back design, meaning the earcups don't have holes on the back. This did seem to restrain the sound somewhat, and the soundstage didn't seem all that wide compared to the X-52. It was a tough call, but I think the Hammer and X-52 are neck and neck in movies. While the Hammer reproduces all the sound levels better (i.e. dialogue vs. foley vs. music etc), the X-52 has a wider sound, so things appear further apart from left to right.

 

Gaming:

Although the headphones are a closed-back design, there is some sound leakage in both directions, so other people in the room (or on the train/bus/plane) can hear what you are listening to (if it's very loud), and you can hear loud things around you. I personally feel that professional gaming headsets should have at least some level of sound isolation, mostly so that the only sounds that you hear are from the headphones, from the gaming world, not the real world. With the velvet earpads, there is almost no sound isolation; switching to the leather earpads provided a little sound dampening, but it was still very little. This means that your gaming environment would need to be fairly quiet, and if you are gaming late at night, you might annoy other people in the same room.

I tried driving a Hummer in Crysis and could hear the engine properly, unlike with the X-52. There was also no problem with other sounds in front of, or behind, the player in other FPS games (e.g. gunshots, grenades, and other explosions). So, as with movies, the sound delivered is much more accurate than the comparison headsets.

Testing the microphone out in VoIP apps (Ventrilo, TeamSpeak and Skype), I found that the mic does pic up some plosives and breathing noise when the mic is directly in front of the mouth, but it is not as pronounced as with the X-52 or Medusa. Adjusting the mic slightly above or below the mouth eliminated these unwanted noises. This is quite a basic concept that people should follow when using a headset, but the large housing on the mic appears to do a better job at filtering out the unwanted noises and capture your voice better.

 

Conclusion:

You know what, it's very hard to fault the Hammer headset at all. It doesn't require drastic EQ adjustment to sound good, and sounds better still with a touch more bass and treble. The mic boom and mic housing are very solid and look and feel like they could take a beating as well as hold up during regular usage (I'm looking at you, Medusa!) The circumaural design means that the Hammer doesn't press down on my ears, which doesn't lead to the ear pinnae fatigue I get from wearing supra-aural headphones and headsets for several hours. Being able to adjust the headband infinitely meant that I could get the earpads in exactly the right position on my head, and the headband does not flex inwards so much to produce too much pressure either side of my head, but is not too loose, so it feels comfortable and secure on my head. The microphone picks up my voice very clearly and certainly proved to work very well whilst playing games online. I feel like I could go on for ever listing the merits of this headset, but I should stop, it's Hammer time (sorry... couldn't resist, again!)

This headset isn't perfect though. The fact that the headphones provide almost no level of sound isolation could pose a problem if you have a noisy computer, have an air-conditioner running nearby, if there are noisy kids in the house, etc etc. If you are playing a game where you need to keep your ears peeled, listening out for footsteps or other distant/feint sounds, having the real world intrude upon your ears could mean that you don't hear the subtle sounds, and possibly lose your competitive edge. Playing in a quiet room would solve this, but we all know this is not always possible (maybe not ever for some people!)

The high frequency response was a little disappointing, and I think the headphones would be more engaging if the top end performance was improved, as they would seem more bright and lively, rather than performing very well only in the bass and mid frequencies. This is, admittedly, a bit of a harsh criticism. I realize that the retail price of the Hammer headset means that the headphones aren't going to be reference-class quality, but I hope to see Zowie Gear develop more headset products in the future, and have some higher end headphone speaker drivers on offer.

If the headphones provided decent sound isolation from the real world, and the high end response was a bit better, I would recommend the headset as the best you can get. As I've tried to stress in this conclusion, the shortcomings are actually minor, and I found the headset hard to fault. You can really tell a lot of thought, design and consideration went into developing the Zowie Gear Hammer headset, and it all paid off as Zowie Gear have produced a headset worthy of the professional gamer. I have never played games professionally, but I used to play Unreal Tournament (99 and 2k4) on the European leagues for about a year, and I understand the importance of a decent headset when the matches matter. I would personally use the Hammer headset over any headset or headphone+mic setup I own when playing online games, and I hope Zowie Gear continue to grow and produce further outstanding headsets.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: