Hot on the trail of their very impressive new Xonar sound cards, ASUS have just sent me some wireless headphones. Up until this point I was not aware that ASUS were in the headphone business, but with so many users, particularly gamers, needing a personal audio solution and also taking into account the trend towards wireless devices, it makes sense to see an offering in this category by arguably one of the largest manufacturers in the game.
Offering an easily accessible retail price and a simple software-free installation, it will be interesting to see what ASUS have come up with in what will be my first ever headphones review for TweakTown.
The Package and Contents
OK then, let's take a detailed look at the package contents for these new wireless headphones. Firstly, we have a small sturdy blue and white box which is very similar to the original Xonar D2 package. On the front we have a nice image of the headphones with some decorative graphics located next to the image. On the side of the package we have some specs of the product along with another image depicting the ability for the headphones to fold up easily and fit inside their carry case, which oddly is not depicted on the package.
Inside we find the headphones packed up nice and tight inside their black carry case and securely lodged inside a small cardboard tray. Along with these two items there is also a small USB dongle for charging the headphones and also for sending the 2.4GHz wireless signal out around your office or home. Of course, we also get a special USB charging cable like the ones found with most digital cams along with a brief manual outlining the features.
All in all, things look promising after unpacking the unit and inspecting the contents of the package. Let's hope that this carries on with strong performance from these headphones.
Right, now; these are quite a simple little product without a whole lot of features and connections to list and explain.
Firstly, let's discuss the wireless aspect of these headphones. According to ASUS they use a 2.4GHz frequency band to operate a two-way digital transmission between the USB transmitter and the headphones.
Now, because I'm not totally familiar with using wireless technology I cannot say how this device will affect the performance of other wireless devices you might be using, if at all. Perhaps you can have numerous devices using the 2.4GHz frequency to communicate with each other; I don't know exactly what the limitations are of this technology. The range for these headphones is listed at 15-20 meters which should be more than ample for most home offices etc.
Moving on to the battery located within these headphones; this is a lithium rechargeable battery like the one found in digital cams and mobile phones. With these batteries it's important to ensure that the first time it's charged it receives a full charge of four hours. Failing to heed to this warning could result in drastically shortened battery life, so be warned.
Now, according to ASUS this battery should be good for "up to" eight hours of use before each recharge. And it is also said to have a stand by time of three months.
The weight of the headset is listed as 122g and the USB dongle is 13g. Hopefully the lightweight design of the headphones will help prevent the user from experiencing excessive fatigue over long periods of use. The size of the speaker unit located inside is 40mm and the frequency response is given as 20Hz-20KHz which encompasses the entire spectrum of human hearing, as I have mentioned before. Now, we are not given a plus or minus figure along with the frequency response, so it is not possible to tell with how much attenuation this figure is possible.
THD or Total Harmonic Distortion is given as 0.08%, which while a good number is not any reason to expect above normal results when analyzing how much signal gets through as opposed to electronically generated noise.
As mentioned, the driver in the headphones is 40mm in size and is claimed as a high performance unit. I do not have any other information other than the size unfortunately. With regards to the built-in microphone, I do not have any detailed specifications on it.
Without further ado, let's motor on to the setup and installation phase of the ASUS HS-1000W solution.
Setup and Installation
Right then, the first step once everything is unpacked and ready to go is to insert the USB dongle into a vacant USB port and attach the supplied USB charging cable, firstly to the dongle and then to the headphones.
Once this is done it's time to play the waiting game as the lithium polymer battery takes its first charge. According to ASUS the first charge should be four hours with successive charges being two and a half hours in duration. Upon completion of this initial charge the cable should be disconnected and the headphones set to "On" with or without the microphone being activated, depending on the current use.
Although this isn't stipulated in the manual, at this point it is important to set your Windows sound device to "Avnera audio device" and UN-select whatever sound device you have running. I also found it necessary to click on the volume slider until a sound is heard in the headphones. There may also be a need to restart Winamp or whatever software you have running before you can listen to these headphones.
Now, I assume the lack of dedicated software is the reason the user has to go through these small checkpoints each time these headphones are used. I did not encounter any further issues, but it is very important to follow what I have said above.
Given the simplicity of this product there is not a great deal more that must be covered. After all, they are very much designed to be a simple product that is for the most part, 'plug and play'; or as I sometimes like to refer to it, 'plug and pray'.
Now, before moving on I'll quickly mention that in order to sync the USB dongle and the headphones together, the link button on the headset must be pushed at the same time as the small button on the USB dongle. This will cause both devices to flash at the same time with a green light. Once this green light has turned solid again, the device is ready for wireless communication.
Testing the Highs and Lows
Now we get down to business. I'll begin with musical performance as I usually do. Given the wide range of music being listened to these days and the particular demands it has on certain aspects of a product, I used a large variety of different songs as a gauge to where the headphones stand.
Lows: The low end is always an area where headphones are going to show up their shortfalls because of the inherent small size of the driver used. It becomes a logistical nightmare to try and return any decent low end. The case here does not differ with the HS-1000W; low end was there, but commanded no presence and gave very little in the way of an omnipresent sound stage and certainly took on the 'one note' quality found in the majority of non-specialist headphones.
This means that the difference between say a bass guitar and a kick drum which should be vast (and is vast) fails to come across at all with the HS-1000W. Instead, one hollow thump is traded for another. It's not that the HS-1000W does not have bass, it does; just not a lot of quality bass.
Mids: This is an area where headphones should shine and the HS-1000W does have a relatively balanced overall vibe to the mids, but the complete and utter lack of any transient information negates any good achieved here I'm afraid.
High-end: I'm afraid it's more of the same here with the high-end being muffled very badly and failing in any way to convey a sense of presence to the listener. I will go out on a limb and say perhaps the short falls with music are due to the wireless design and again perhaps due to 'something' being done as the signal is sent down the USB bus and beamed out of the dongle.
Now, please do not get me wrong, many users will love the HS-1000W to death as they roam their palaces listening to whatever they want wirelessly from their PCs. However, I have to take into consideration all of the different users whom might consider this product and consequently warm them of any pitfalls they may encounter.
My job is to take into consideration all the factors involved in making a product a successful one. Does it do what it says it's going to? - Does it cost too much? - Are there issues with its operation? - Is it simply a good product that I can recommend time and time again?
In the case of the musical abilities of the HS-1000W, you end up in a situation where you can say some users will find the performance to be perfectly fine, while another group (audiophiles) may say it's not up to the job. All I can really do is stipulate where the product fails and of course where it succeeds in meeting expectation and leave the rest up to the individual users as they decide what their priorities are.
Wireless Performance, Games and Movies
Firstly, I must make mention that the wireless range of the HS-1000W is very impressive, allowing me to walk all around my house streaming data straight off the web. I could lie in bed, stand on the veranda, it did not matter where I went in my house; the signal was always strong and never missed a beat. I have not done a whole lot of testing with wireless products. In fact, this is only my second, but I must comment that it worked flawlessly and also impressed those around me.
For the signal to drop out I had to go all the way outside to my car port, but this really was pushing the limit of the 2.4GHz wireless network and I only did it to see how far it could actually travel.
I must say, though, on a basic level of loading any data on the PC and being able to listen to it wherever I am in the house, this is simply awesome. I absolutely cannot fault the wireless capability of the HS-1000 it does exactly what it says and is simply handy to have.
Due to the less demanding nature of game audio, the HS-1000W will be fine for any gamer who wants wireless capability for their gaming setup. Used in conjunction with the latest from EAX, I see no reason at all for the HS-1000W not to be a great companion for the LAN gamer or any gamer who wants wireless and portability.
Now, while we're on portability, the HS-1000W fold up very neatly to fit snugly in the small black carry case, which should make these a great travel companion.
Movies are unfortunately quite demanding on audio equipment, much the same as music listening can be. I would recommend using "Dolby Headphone" in your software decoder to create an artificial 5.1 environment when listening to movies. With respect to how well the HS-1000W can be recommended for movies, I would put them halfway between the performance of games and music, due to movies possessing a lot of vital transient information like music, but being in a surround format which lessons the blow of being without those transients.
Before I conclude my thoughts on these headphones, I must make a mention to the microphone feature of the HS-1000W which allows the user to walk and talk with other people using Skype or MSN Messenger. Now, this is not a recording Mic; it's simply there to facilitate speech wirelessly, so I will not critique it but will say simply that it will make life easier for anyone buying these headphones.
In closure, I will re-iterate that for serious music listeners, wireless technology (at least in my testing experience) is not a good solution, with the inherent fuzz enough to scare off any audiophile and the lack of bass depth and wholeness also being of serious concern, too.
However, as I have said previously, things get better for the HS-1000W when taking into consideration their ability to use the 2.4GHz wireless network to facilitate their use anywhere in your house/office. Let me assure everyone, this technology works and works well; not once dropping out like a mobile phone might.
For gamers and movie buffs, things are a lot rosier than for audiophiles and I have no problem recommending these to a gamer or casual movie viewer; they will surely get the job done.
So, for a user who travels and does games, music and movies, these are a good solution and shouldn't break the bank. Just be warned if you're an audiophile.
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