Oh hey, Sony, how nice of you to join the party! The console gaming headset party, that is (no, Bluetooth earpieces don’t count). Over a year ago the company had us yearning for a PS3-oriented headset after letting loose its duo of Ultimate Weapons headgear for PC gamers. Then in May, a glimmer of hope shone upon us when its PS3 Wireless Stereo Headset was announced for the DualShock-wielding gamers — and priced at a modest $100.
There’s no doubt that this playing field’s been blanketed with a saturation of wallet-tempting selections (we’re looking at you MadCatz, Turtle Beach and Astro), but Sony’s official kit has a few tricks up its sleeve for a potential home run. Despite the moniker, it’s capable of virtual 7.1 surround sound and displays onscreen status reports exclusively when used with a PS3. We spent a few fragging-hours over PSN to hear how well we could pin-point our enemies with sound to keep the kill streaks coming. You’ll find out the answer by hitting that “read more” link below.
After the usual unboxing ceremony, we were left with the Wireless Stereo Headset itself and USB transmitter. Concessions were obviously to made hit that hundred dollar sweet spot, though — a case isn’t included, nor is a measly USB cable for charging, which you’ll be doing often given its seven-hour battery life. Thankfully, though, the build quality hasn’t suffered much as a result. The majority of the WSH is finished in a textured matte plastic, with hints of gloss on the inner edges and a thin slab of brushed metal on the headband. Our central nitpick is that the WSH did creak and squeak while getting it on and off our head. Overall, we wouldn’t be shocked if it was made from the leftover mold plastic of PS3 slims.
Of course, this is Sony and of course that means this headset sports an excessively forward-thinking aesthetic. It’s tough to convey its fun design as the headset is far from photogenic, but it’s quite dashing in person — almost like a fully realized concept design sneaking into retail. Still, its thick stature and exaggerated curvatures are going to be either love or hate for most on the looks front. Regardless, it’ll ideally be on heads engulfing ears with in-game sound.
Moving right along to that USB dongle, it’s similar in size to a pack of Wrigley’s gum and shares the same texture as the headset. Sandwiched between the stick’s plastic shells is a thin blue LED light, which simply blinks as it searches for the headset and glows solid while it’s connected. During use we found the wireless signal to be fairly consistent — we were able to walk around our two-story condo with minimal signal degradation, and only noticed occasional staticky hiccups while walking a few rooms over. As long as we were in the same room as our PS3 the signal was peachy.
Many gaming headsets we’ve used (wireless and wired) have required multiple cable connections and frustrating setups, but this little USB stick is a delightful departure from those hassles. We simply plugged it into our PS3, turned on the headset and that was it. Ready to play in mere seconds. Better yet, the WSH will automatically turn off if it doesn’t receive a signal from the USB stick for a few minutes, saving us from undue battery drain.
Controls and layout
Many headsets go for cluttered in-line controllers and annoyingly laid-out on-earcup buttons. While the WSH is a member of the latter camp, it still keeps functionality an utmost priority. On the left ear cup’s panel there are four discreet controls. The front has a vertical slider for balancing game and chat levels, while the rear handles the main volume — also, tucked in on the back end is a mini USB port for charging it’s internal Lithium-ion battery. The topmost part of the panel functions as a power / microphone mute button, and positioned horizontally above it’s a button for enabling virtual 7.1 surround sound. Using a thumb and a single finger allowed us to quickly make audio related adjusts, while a light inward push with our palm handled our muting, battery info, and power related needs. We did perceive a split-second delay before our settings took hold, though. Some of this information is also visually and audibly relayed whenever a setting is changed (we’ll detail this a bit). The embedded control layout in place here lends itself well for speedy adjustments.
While the button layout on the WSH is pleasing, the same can’t be said of its retractable microphone under the left earcup. Although it’s adjustable to three lengths, it isn’t flexible and it’s set to a fixed angle, which annoyingly left it in our peripheral vision — unless pushed back to its stowed position. This wouldn’t have been such a problem if a multi-color LED placed on its inner tip hadn’t been glaring in our left eye.
That annoying LED we mentioned earlier? It’s part of the headset’s audio / visual notification system we mentioned above. It glows purple when the mic’s muted and blue when it’s engaged, while a double tap on the power button indicates the battery level using up to three red blinks. It’s a fairly sound idea, but in practice the light was a nuisance and almost unnecessary considering the headset also uses onscreen prompts when connected to a powered-up PS3.
As soon as the headset is turned on, it quickly beeps twice and begins to search for the USB stick. Within a few seconds it confirms it’s set to go with a combination of another beep and an onscreen notification bubble. The bubble briefly pops up on the top right of the screen, exactly as a PSN notification would anytime most settings are changed (for those familiar with Sony’s Wireless Bluetooth Headsets, it’s nearly the same). Using icons akin to a mini dashboard, it displays the volume level, mic and surround sound modes, along with the battery level.
Oddly enough, checking the battery level (as described earlier) doesn’t pull up the notification bubble, and there’s no visual relay of the game and chat balance. Notably, the headset also beeps to confirm whether the mic mute is engaged, when it’s turning off and to notify of low batts along with a screen prompt. We found the various prompts useful, but the system as a whole felt rather disjointed.
Fit and comfort
So, how does this big honking gaming apparatus feel? Sure, the headset’s bulky, but we didn’t actually notice its heft while wearing it. Actually, its ultra-wide build helped the fit by keeping any pressure at a minimum. For adjustment, the headset’s side panels slide along the headband leaving enough room for smaller and larger noggins — and that’s about it. The ear cups only tilt vertically and leave no option to fold flat, but thankfully, the headband has a good amount of flexibility. Most importantly, the padding on the ear cups and headband was excellent for keeping things cushy for hours on end — Sony isn’t kidding when they say these can be used for long gaming sessions.
The headset’s fit wasn’t always like floating on a cloud, though. Its faux-leather on the earpads allowed for absolutely zero breathability, and our ears usually got toasty after a half hour — a cloth set of pads would be a welcome alternative. More frustrating for some, though, may be the driver placement which has the potential to cause cartilage cramping. They’re set moderately deep within the earcups at an angle, but without any padding. For our usage, we needed to occasionally slide the cups slightly forward to avoid sore ear tips. If you’re not fond of your ears grazing the inside of headphones, it’ll be worth it to double check the fit on these.
Let’s be real here, the main reason for procuring this type of kit is most certainly for increasing your killing streaks with better sound cues. For this price point, we’d say the Wireless Stereo Headset’s well positioned against headsets like Turtle Beach’s PX21, and Nox Audio’s Specialist while in stereo. The audio fidelity wasn’t amazing and there’s a slight, ever-present hiss, but it performed respectably as an improvement over our HDTV’s built-in speakers. With music, the highs tended to be exaggerated (tinny even), while mids were thin from a low level of bass.
Although the headset isn’t up to snuff for music listening, it’s not to say the WSH can’t perform its duties as a gaming headset. Its soundstage wasn’t very wide — not that we’d expect it at this price — but it proved spacious enough for gauging sounds across multiplayer maps in Call of Duty: Black Ops, and especially so in Battlefield 3 Beta matches. We’d be remiss not to point out — with shooters especially — that we never had qualms with the clarity of the mids and highs while gaming. The apparent lack of bass was less noticeable, too, as explosions managed to rock our ears without totally overwhelming its 40mm drivers.
If you’re eying that virtual 7.1 simulation, expected to be mildly disappointed. While the soundstage became all encompassing when it was enabled, it didn’t relay clear positioning to us. We found ourselves confused as to where important sounds were coming from, and we particularly had trouble picking up on gunshots and footsteps around us. Oddly enough, Sony states that with PS3 games a surround signal is in fact being down-mixed for a virtual surround sound simulation in stereo. If we weren’t aware of this, our ears would have us believe the headset was simply up-converting a stereo signal to fake virtual 7.1 surround. Notably, the virtualization can be engaged for other media aside from games, but surround sound isn’t officially supported with Blu-ray movies, et cetera. With what our ears heard, though, it’s not like it mattered much as the effect was similar. We never did get the sensation of bullets whizzing by us in games.
Thankfully, the WSH does have a few more positive aspects to it in regard to sound. With the volume jacked up, it remained free of any crackling, and the chat / game balancing was ideal for drowning out vivacious teenagers on PSN. The onboard microphone never let us down as well. Our PSN buddies reported that our voice was always “very clear,” and they heard minimal difference between having the boom extended or stowed. Sadly, there’s nothing in the way of talkback monitoring, so expect to shout when the volume is cranked.
Powering it all down, and reflecting back on our time using the PS3 Wireless Stereo Headset, it’s clear that Sony put a great deal of thought into this. The design and control layout is geared for long gaming sessions and the notification system is a welcome — if slightly fragmented — addition. Best of all, this stands as one of the least frustrating headset setups we’ve used in recent memory. That said, there are some odd quirks like its sweat-inducing ear pads and the microphone’s eye-nnoying LED. The audio quality works well enough for gaming, but overall it’s strikingly average, and the surround sound simulation is decent at best — for the price, we’ve experienced better surround sound from headsets like Tritton’s Dolby Headphone-enabled AX720. As an overall package for PS3 owners looking for a solid, hassle-free headset, though, Sony’s $100 WSH is hard not to at least consider. We’re just surprised it’s taken six years of PS3 until something like this landed on our heads. Better late than never, right? Right?