As someone who is a gamer but also has a busy family and work schedule, I often find my video game time late at night when the house is quiet and most everyone else is asleep. This gives me two options – mute the sound or use headphones. Sometimes it is a hybrid of these, as I leave my headphones sitting my desk as low-volume speakers. For the past several years I have used fairly cheap headphones, starting with a pair from an older Sony portable CD player, moving on to a pair of cheap headphones I bought for my music studio, and more recently ear-buds from one of my iPods. The iPod earbuds have worked pretty well, and I still recall the eerie feelings of hearing the atmospheric sounds of Thief: Deadly Shadows Shalebridge Cradle area flowing through my mind in a darkened room. But the sound quality is not that great, nor is the comfort acceptable for a long gaming session. Recently AblePlanet sent me their new PSM500MM headphones to evaluate for review. The quick version: I have been utterly blown away by this amazing audio device!
Before getting into details, let me be clear: this is not an audiophile review, but a practical gamer’s look at whether or not this set of headphones meets three basic criteria: does it sound great, does the microphone work well in use and get out of the way when not needed, and are they comfortable to wear for an extended period.
The ultimate fighting machine! If you are a multi-media guru and looking for a headphone to perform as well as you do, look no further. The PS500MM has all the required tools necessary to work with your computer.
# SPECIAL FEATURES Featuring Award-Winning Patented LINX AUDIO™-a Hear the Difference™ technology
# In-Line Volume Control with Mute Switch and Clip for Easy Adjustment to Safe Listening Levels
# Lightweight Adjustable Headband for Maximum Comfort
# Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20,000Hz
# Two 3.5mm Plugs
# USB Adaptor
# Soft carrying pouch
TRUE FIDELITY IS THE NEW STANDARD FOR SOUND QUALITY, CLARITY AND COMFORT
Before even getting started I did what I called ‘the idiot test’ – I had my iPod earbuds and my cheap studio cans and plugged each of them into my iPod Touch and listened to a few seconds of Miles Davis’ song Circle from Miles Smiles. Then I plugged in the PSM500 headphones, and left them on for the whole song, simply amazed at the sound quality. I called it an ‘idiot test’, as I figured that if these didn’t immediately sound superior to cheap earbuds and over-the-ear headphones then I’d be an idiot wasting my time with them. I expected a difference, but was floored that it was so clearly and immediately apparent.
When I first put on these headphones to listen in detail I wanted to hear something that would let me know how well it handles the full range of audio frequencies and dynamic range of sounds. I had recently started playing the PSP game Rock Band Unplugged, which drops the volume of other instruments slightly so you can focus on the one instrument you are controlling. If you mess up one track then switch to another, the first instrument drops out entirely until you reestablish it by completing a phrase. The PSP earbuds behave about the same as the iPod earbuds, and playing the game through those was a great experience – you could hear the music fine and the track switching dynamics worked well.
But once again, switching to the PSM500 gave unexpected results: I had expected the drivers to produce a better low frequency response, which they did. The clarity was also much better, which really provided better isolation for each of the four tracks. The stereo field spreading was much more pronounced – you could visualize a physical separation between the instrumentation that simply wasn’t there when using the earbuds, where the tracks sounded like they were all stacked. The final thing that struck me was how clear and distinct the level-shifts were when switching from track to track. Whereas before you felt as though things were moving up or down in the mix, now it was as though you were in a studio walking from area to area and getting the full effect of the one you were nearest while the others were relegated to the background.
Since my kids had also played some of the game, I handed them the UMD and the PSM500s and said ‘check this out’. They were stunned at the quality, and asked the question I had already been asking: how does it make things sound so good? The AblePlanet site has details around the Linx Audio technology and how it employs high quality components to delivery better frequency roll-off and filtering capabilities, and also how it adds harmonics to augment the frequencies present in the audio to give it added warmth, depth and presence. Here is just a small sample of their information:
“Sound quality and speech intelligibility are impacted by high frequency sounds
LINX AUDIO™ filters undesirable sound
LINX AUDIO™ reduces distortion”
Each of my kids asked the same question: ‘can I have these’ and offered to trade for their headphones. To which I answered – NO! The reason is simple – these are excellent headphones, but they also have a great microphone.
I tested the microphone three ways – in the Mac version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the PC game Left 4 Dead, and on a Skype call. To be fair, this wasn’t much of a test – I had been using my built-in microphone for everything prior to this, but I got a couple of comments from friends I had teamed up with in both games about how clear my voice sounded. I mentioned that I was using the PSM500 and they asked if the sound was as good as the microphone quality … and I confirmed it was. My nephew is in China now, and similar to how we had called my niece in Morocco, I had wanted to call via Skype. Since internet cafes are popular abroad, the kids usually have their own headset to talk and listen. With my niece, we could tell she sometimes had difficulty with the clarity of signal. Once I was using the PSM500, though, I never had an issue – everything came through crystal clear on both ends.
I had wanted to test out the USB adapter even though there was no real need, so I plugged it in … and it just worked. It was recognized and the USB audio and microphone settings kicked in and I just kept on going with gaming and music and whatever without interruption.
I went back and asked why my kids would trade their fairly new headphones for the PSM500. The answer was simple – they sound much better. For reference, my older son has a nice pair of over-the-ear Skull Candy headphones, and my younger son an on-ear set of Sennheisers, each gotten earlier this year. They were on sale when purchased, but each sold regularly for ~$100, putting them right in range with the PSM500.
That is what put it in perspective for me: I had been using whatever I could get a hold of for years. I bought the cheapest headphones possible nearly twenty years ago, and since then just used whatever came with a CD player or iPod, and dealt with whatever sound quality they delivered. The whole family had tested out each of our kids’ new headphones when they got them and were impressed by the quality. But everyone agreed that given the choice they would take the PSM500 in a heartbeat. For the money, the sound quality is head and shoulders above the similarly priced competition we’d purchased. Add on a stellar microphone and you have a great value for a tremendous product.
Where to Buy:
What I Like:
– Fantastic sound quality
– High quality microphone
– Simple to use as USB or standard
– Very comfortable
What Needs Improvement:
– … not a thing
So … enough of this review – SET PHASERS TO FRAG!!!