The world of wireless PC headsets is really blowing up! That's just wishful thinking, I would like it to blow up. I hate it, I hate this market. I'm going to tell you a brief story, skip to the goods if you want to know how I unfucked my new wireless headphones that apparently don't work for anyone out of the box.
Stuff That Came Before
So in like, I don't know, 2008? I bought a set of Logitech G930s.
These are in a lot of ways great headphones. They are not bluetooth, A2DP wasn't a thing yet. They're "2.4ghz" so who knows, some off the shelf audio transceiver IC set on the ISM band. Whatever. They worked. The audio quality was up to par (these aren't $295 audio technicas and I'm not Stereophile, deal with it) and the controls were EXTREMELY handy.
It's like this: Plug in the tiny USB receiver for this. You're done. No drivers, no godawful software. The top three buttons are preconfigured to send the next/prev and play/pause media keycodes, so you can control your media player right from the headset no matter where you are. The roller is a volume control that controls the system volume, NOT the headset volume, and the button ahead of it mutes the mic. You can also mute the mic by flipping it up. There's an LED on the mic to show you when it's muted. On the back there's a surround sound switch I never used.
Originally these were the dopest thing. They ran for like 3 days on a charge no matter what I did, they had good range, they were comfortable. I had no complaints. I owned them for many years, and then they started breaking - the mic in particular snapped off midway up the shaft and I had to glue and tape it back together multiple times, then the actual headband broke off the swivel joint and that was that.
So I hit the stores and looked for a replacement, and found none. There was nothing. I could buy wireless headphones but nothing with a mic. i could buy headphone, as in monaural, as in why the hell do businesspeople think phone calls are better if you can only hear them in one ear, i've tried both, stereo is better, as in Plantronics crap intended for the Professional On The Go. There were literally no options for a headset intended for what I used these for - listening to music, playing the occasional game, and voice chat. So I just bought another pair of the same ones and kept using them.
The entire story played out again, everything broke in the same spots, so I needed another set. I was at PAX 2017 and the Logitech booth (yeah, I know, I got suckered) had a pair of G933's on display:
The cords in the image are for charging and analog audio (if you want to use them that way) - these are indeed also wireless. I was wary, but pretty excited. They didn't feel too inferior in build quality, all the features still seemed to be there, and there was a replaceable battery - a BIG deal to me, since replacing the battery on the old ones was basically impossible (reasons) and mine had both died, so I anticipated the same. But the control buttons were on the rim of the ear cup now, instead of the side? I didn't get this. And the whole thing looks like Crysis in a really worrying way. But I really, really hate being the guy who just keeps rebuying Core 2 Dell Latitude's from 2008 claiming "this is the last good machine and it's good enough for me" when it isn't and he's just lying to himself, so I spent an absurd amount of money on these.
I hate them completely. I despise them like a sickness. How can I list the ways? By listing them:
- The battery life is shit out of the box
- The charging jack is hard to find without taking them off
- The mic sounds like DOG SHIT (how did they make it worse??? the G930 sounded great and vocal mics of this type were a solved problem by the 60s)
- The mic mute and volume control play irritating tones in my ears
- The mic is flimsy and rattles if you move your head while it's flipped up
- The control buttons are MUCH smaller and the vertical orientation makes them not make any sense to me. The front-to-back orientation made perfect sense on the G930s - front for forward, back for back. I NEVER got used to these buttons, and their weird angles (fuck Crysis for making everything into angles) make them very hard to actually press. Like, seriously, your finger just slides off of the button.
But the worst part about the buttons is that they literally do nothing at all if you don't have the shitty, horrible program nobody asked for installed. That's right, an entire flagship feature of this device - which worked PERFECTLY on its ten-year predecessor with no special software installed - literally cannot be used without installing a bloated piece of shit that will mess up your computer. It forgot my settings four times before I gave up using it and just uninstalled it. That is to say, I made settings changes, and it threw them away. The most basic function of a program, "save data to a file," it failed on. And as always, there is 75% more real estate expended in the software UI on RGB LED settings and color changing programs than on anything else, which is completely relevant for a device 99% of consumers will use in their bedroom, alone.
So I hate these and I want them gone. I decided today to make that change happen, because I was at Fry's a while back and found out there's new products in this market. Praise be! Capitalism comes through again.
There are now about 5-6 different headsets at Best Buy. Razer has a couple (one isn't stocked there), Corsair has a couple, and like 4 other companies have offerings. Most of them looked pretty hokey. I was on a tossup between the Razer Manowar and the Corsair Void Pro. I ended up buying the Void Pro, so let's move into that.
The Corsair Void Pro
Okay, it looks a little less like Crysis. It's still Gamer as hell, which is a mark against it, but whatever. All purposes for computers that aren't Gaming have been absorbed. Computers are for Gaming now, and if you want to do something else you have to hope Gaming has a use for the task as well. All computer products are dual-use, the way a high-speed switch is - you can use it for millions of harmless and productive applications or for triggering a nuclear bomb, so, the latter is the one we care about.
It has an easily accessible mute button. the mic flips down - the Razer mic slid out, and I felt like that was likely to break. It has a volume *rocker* instead of a roller - I didn't love that, but I wasn't willing to ixnay it. It was $79 instead of $143 like the Razer, so, that's why I walked out with it. The other models I didn't take notes on; they felt pretty indistinct and unimpressive to me.
I should note before we continue that there is a wired model which is also called the Void Pro, but doesn't say Wireless. There is also an alternate SKU of this, the Corsair Void Pro Wireless SE, which is exactly the same except you pay like $60 more in order to receive 1) yellow paint 2) a small usb extension cable with an upright port on the end. This is not worth money.
I got it home and unpacked it, there was nothing impressive in the box. Plugged in the USB adapter and immediately got audio. Yeow, though. Hm.
Pros first: they're comfy enough. Mic turns off when you flip it up and makes a beep to confirm so you don't worry that the switch didn't trigger. More on that point later. The mic can be bent to face your mouth better. The mute button is easily reached. The volume control is less irritating than I expected - I wish it was a roller so I could quickly change volume but this is not a dealbreaker.
Okay now the problems: They sound like shit? Like, they're bassboosted to hell out of the box. I read that pressing in on the volume rocker changes the EQ settings but nothing happened, so apparently you need :) their bloatware installed :) to control :) half the features of :) your new device. What else is new, I bought a Crysis, what was I expecting?
The Inexcusable, Horseshit Problem
As soon as I installed the software ("iCUE" come the fuck on just call it "Corsair Void Pro Driver" you assholes) the device stopped accepting audio connections. That is, Spotify would just pop a blue "we can't play this song right now" error, which I know from experience means one of two things: all available sound hardware has dematerialized (something crashed the audio stack or you're connected via RDP), or something has an exclusive hold on the sound card.
I won't bore you with the details. Nothing fixed this, and googling it confirms it just happens to people and then can't be fixed. I tried many versions of the software. Yada yada. Okay. Here's what worked:
From Device Manager, find the audio device. Right click and uninstall it. Unplug and replug the USB adapter. Edit the device and Update Driver. Navigate to C:\Program Files (x86)\corsair\CORSAIR iCUE Software\driver\audio (YMMV) and pick the inf there. Install the thing named after your headphones. Okay, you should be good now. I am, anyway.
I have no idea why this worked. I doubt it will survive a restart. It's completely unacceptable but whatever. Nobody cares. A corporation made a thing that doesn't work that .08% of their demo will actually buy. Yawn. Whatever. I won my little battle and I'm not going to pontificate on the many failures of capitalism, they're plain to see if you have eyes.
Once I did this the EQ button on the headset started working. All the presets are garbage. I was able to use iCUE to modify the "Clear Chat" one to add a little more high end boost and now I'm fairly happy. I'll update this if they go to shit and become unusable in some fresh new hellish way.
Update: I Returned It, New Headphones Purchased
After my girlfriend tried them out we mutually agreed that the Corsair Void Pro sounds like crap and the EQ only barely rescues it. So I took it back and bought more expensive ones.
It took me a while to decide on a pair, but I went with the Steelseries Arctis 7. This is yet another step backwards in functionality, but, okay, well, so.
So these ones... yeah. They were like, $129? Something like that. I bristled at that price, but anyway.
The mic retracts instead of flipping up. That action is fiddly and feels flimsy. It doesn't mute when you retract it. You have to press a button on the back of the earcup to do that. The button is however latching, so if it's muted it stays muted - this is actually a feature improvement over any other one of these I've had. The Logitechs in particular unmute if you lose and regain signal, which is the worst possible time for that to happen. But it does feel... less high tech, in a way that doesn't really fit the notion of a wireless headset.
To add to that feeling, the volume control is a potentiometer. As in, it doesn't just rotate forever, because it doesn't change the volume on your PC - it's just an analog attenuator inside the headphones themselves. That's a highly desirable feature to many I imagine, it's just that I've gotten really used to using my headphones or keyboard to adjust my whole system volume and having just swapped out my keyboard for one that doesn't have a volume control, swapping headphones as well means I now have no way to adjust volume from e.g. inside a game. I guess that just means I need to go back to a keyboard that has that control again.
So I hooked it up to my PC and it sounded like shit, again. Muddy, muffled garbage with no stereo imaging at all. I'm not talking Stereophile review crap. I mean I was ready to take them back to the store immediately because they were worse than the previous pair.
Before reacting that hard I first installed the drivers. This, unsurprisingly, immediately cleared up the audio. I say unsurprising, not because it's reasonable, but because this class of hardware is hot summer garbage. The audio still wasn't good, but it was much better. After dicking with the EQ for a bit I got something that I'm pretty sure beats out the Logitechs, so, my journey appears to be complete. But did I mention the control panel for these is an Electron app? You just can't win.
You Just Can't Win
My advice is to not buy a product in this category. I realized today after all this that I almost never actually use the mic - I use my Blue Yeti whenever I'm even on Discord, so why do I care about this? Well, it turns out this one masks keyboard typing noise a lot better than the Yeti, but still, was this really worth it?
I guess at this point my advice would almost be "buy Bluetooth instead" because those sets are way more consistent and the tech is far more mature, but the way Windows in particular interacts with Bluetooth is still a little weird. So I think the actual solution is to trip over your headphone cables and break them and yank all your shit off your desk because that'll at least be your own fault, whereas dealing with wireless headphones in any way inevitably leaves you a victim of a shitty industry that doesn't care.
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