The company bio of ZOWIE speaks of efficient durable products that come at affordable prices, much like a Kia or a Hyundai automobile. Funny about that, as ZOWIE's Asia office is located inside the 'Hyundai tower'.
Further to this, they add that all their products are developed for "the people's ideal"; sounds more like the people's republic of you know where.
Anyhow, all of that aside for a moment and what we have are a set of two channel gaming headphones; a headset if you will. ZOWIE calls it the Hammer. So let's see if indeed we can deliver a blow or two.
Package and Contents
The Package and Contents
Right then, let's take a close look at the contents of the package and see what's included.
The box that the Hammer headset comes in is not badly designed. It's easy to read the name of the product and includes a picture of what it's being designed for. It's also quite sturdy, so I would not imagine any damage being done in transit.
To echo a famous comedian:
'What's the deal?'; with this new trend of having some totally unknown person on the side of the packaging claiming that he 'shot' x amount of people after using the product.
This means nothing as the person is obviously getting paid to say what they're saying. And even if they're not, what does it prove? - That same totally random guy thinks the Hammer makes him play better. Well, that's a reason to buy something right there. This is not just something ZOWIE are doing; it has being around longer than they have.
Okay, let's get back to the package now. Included with the test sample I received were the headphones themselves. There's also a pair of extra ear cushions and an extension cable. What's interesting is that there is no documentation provided in the box.
Speaking technically, let's start by looking at some specifications.
Frequency response:15 - 25.000 Hz
Speaker dimension: 40mm
Sensitivity:98 +/- 4 dB
Jack: stereo mini
Frequency response:60 - 10.000 Hz
Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
Sensitivity: -57 dB +/-4db
Okay, on closer examination we can see that the ZOWIE Hammer has been provided with a frequency response figure of 15Hz-25,000Hz which is very good indeed.
However, as I have said before, I feel that these figures have been cooked a little to extract on paper better performance than what is there to begin with.
I was not able to garner anything more in depth in the specs department. But given that there is not even a product manual, I'm not surprised.
So, regarding how loud they will sound on paper, I cannot offer much. What I can say, though, is that volume is never really a factor with most headsets and headphones. As long as they are matched to an appropriate source, the nature of how they interface with your ears usually insures that maximum volume is attainable most of the time, unlike loudspeakers that have to constantly battle with ambient noise. However, as with anything in life, it's not black and white and there are exceptions to these rules.
I have a feeling that we might be home for dinner a little quicker than usual on this technical overview. So let's keep on moving.
The speaker dimensions for the actual speakers in the headphones themselves is 40mm which is a pretty 'middle of the road' size; about what you might expect for a product like this aimed at the gaming crowd.
The cable length is fine coming in at 3 meters and it should be plenty of length for most people unless you really like to move around.
One interesting little feature here is the inclusion of a spare set of ear pads. The fabric is meant to be for gaming and the leather is meant for music and games.
On the microphone side of things, we get quite a large one here that seems to be fairly well protected in its molded plastic shell.
As you might expect on a mic like this, the frequency response is quite tame coming in at 60Hz to 10.000Hz which is really just meant to pick up the human voice.
Speaking of 'picking up', the pattern of this mic is uni-directional which means it's meant to be used in one direction and does not pick up ambient noise from the environment.
Connections are handled by two stereo mini-jack cables, so we are dealing with an analog only system. As a side note, these cables both come with extensions that can be used if needed.
Also included is a small volume control which can be clipped onto the user's shirt if needed.
Overall, regarding build quality I think they are strong enough for what they need to do. But this is at the cost of visual appeal.
Setup and Installation
Once the headphones themselves are taken out of the box and connected to your soundcard, all that's remaining is to locate the small control centre on your desktop and place the headphones on your head.
Once this has been done, the next step is to set the master volume for the headphones using their in-line volume control.
There is not really anything I can think to add here, aside from maybe choosing fluffy fabric ear pads or the simulated leather option, which makes me think of 'low fat' or 'no fat'.
By now the headphones should be about ready to rock and roll, so let's get them fired up.
Performance Testing - High End
After taking look at the specs of these things which seem a little optimistic and also taking into account the plethora of different headsets I've taken a look at this year, honestly, I have no idea how these things are going to perform. So let's find out now.
The High End
Whether you're a gamer, music lover or movie buff, it's important that the high frequencies are kept intact as much as possible. Unfortunately, while headphones have many benefits that can aid in providing a robust high-end, there are also some limitations; size is a big one.
During my testing of the high-end reproduction, my first impression was that the sound was not dissimilar to the high-end found on the Razor's, largely in that it seemed to take a back seat role and never convey that 'buzz' or raw energy that a dedicated tweeter, even a cheap one, would.
These headsets are reliant on a single 'full range' driver tasked with reproducing the whole frequency range. The result is passable, but far from 'stimulating' or 'exciting' to listen to. In fact; 'dull' and lifeless' come quickly to mind.
Further to this, I have serious doubts as to whether the ZOWIE Hammer can get above 15 KHz which is about 2/3 of our range of hearing.
So much for the claimed 25 KHz in the spec run down. As is usually the case even on some more expensive headsets, these numbers mean almost nothing at all when everything is done and dusted.
Having said this, though, I did not feel agitated by the experience, meaning that it's better to have missing high-end than a giant lump of over exaggerated frequencies in the high-range that make you want to cover your ears up.
So, what about the mid-range? Read on to find out.
Performance Testing - Mid Range and Low End
Middle of the road
The mid-range frequencies are important in the roles that they play when reproducing drums and other percussion instruments and also the human voice largely.
Listening to the mid-range frequencies reproduced by ZOWIE headset is an enjoyable experience overall.
I found that while the timbre of the sound was a little ordinary, (meaning, does it actually sound like a drum kit is being played or more like a recording of one), the rest of things fell into place to some degree with good integration between those all important mid-range frequencies and the ones above and below them.
Having said that, when making a direct comparison to what I remember of the Razor's and the Sharkoon's and even the cheaper Steelseries, I found this headset to be the least enjoyable to listen to during music testing.
The only headset that I preferred this to was the ASUS wireless headphones. But it's not really a fair comparison because they had other criteria to meet besides just sounding good. And I also recall they felt more solid.
Now this is one area where a gaming headset must really cut its teeth, because if it's not able to deliver a punch when things heat up, then it's not served its due purpose and shell be destined for the peripherals walk of shame.
The Sharkoon's earlier this year provided some of the best bass I've ever heard from a headset. However, I wish I could say this was the case with the ZOWIE Hammer.
If a good low end is equal to a nice unrestricted LAN connection in gamer language, then the low end of the ZOWIE's is akin to a 33.3k dial up modem; truly unspectacular in every way, with bass frequencies not being deep and present in any describable manor.
Further to this, they don't deliver anything of note in 'all the easy spots' of the frequency range, where even the poorest audio products can sink a couple of free throws.
My theory is simply this; a poor selection of cheap and nasty 40mm drivers. The Razor's managed to use the same sized driver with comparatively fantastic results.
I would happily recommend a set of Logitech 2.1 speakers for half the price which are going to bring the average gamer so much more pleasure and bass for their bucks.
Games and Movies
Now, from the outset this product is targeted at users who play 'e-sports' games, which I assume means 'electronic sports'. How futuristic of us taking a healthy past time and shoving it inside a plastic box. I'm literally tingling with excitement at the thought.
Now, all the rage with these headsets is about positional audio; being able to hear the direction in which something is coming at you, the player, in order to gain an advantage. Although, since nearly all gamers would own one of these headsets already, I'm not sure what advantage would actually be gained. It sounds more like company spiel to me.
I'm not going to start digressing about how it "really sounded like a missile was behind me" or "how much better at killing they made me". Nope, forget that.
Instead, I'm going to say that this headset does exactly what it says it's going to do and will provide any gamer with a means of hearing himself in the simulated world.
Chances are, though, that if you're a terrible player to begin with, they will not make you start winning. And if you're a champ already, then you will probably still keep winning.
Since these are only two channel headphones, movie viewing is going to be restricted to algorithms built into on board sound cards. However, what I will say is; "Golly, they hurt your head!". I mean, seriously ZOWIE; what would an inch and a half of foam add to the build cost?
Now, as a product aimed at a user base, that by definition is going to use the product a whole lot and for long sessions, why on earth would you choose to use a solid hard piece of plastic for the headband? - This is a disappointing aspect of the Hammer and shows that virtually zero thought about the target audience (well, at least their health and safety) was put into designing this headset.
The ZOWIE Hammer is an interesting product with mixed results at the end of the day. They are fairly well packaged and assembled and seem strong and rugged.
The Hammer also comes with a good length of cable and a little novelty gift of another set of ear pads in case your ears happen to sweat a lot. The supplied microphone is also strong and well protected and should provide a good sturdy solution for gamers who want to talk and play.
Although this is not the area to mention new findings, please bare in mind that there is no software or even a manual, so configuring the mic is left up to the user.
Continuing with the mixed bag analogy, listening tests were just that. Some mild rock music was passable for the most part, but electronic music was the best.
The low-end was atrocious, never sounding impressive no matter what volume level or EQ setting was used. And this was on the best consumer sound card out, the ASUS Xonar Essence STX. So, you get the picture.
So, "what's the bottom line?" - I hear people out there saying "what do you expect? They only cost a hundred quid AU?". Well, so do the Steelseries Siberia Red and they are a much stronger product.
Spend a little more and you get dedicated surround with an array of eight speakers featured in the powerful 5.1 Sharkoons. Spend a little more again and you get a gorgeous pair of Razer Megalodon in their sumptuous little hat box with all the trimmings.
I feel I really have to be cruel to be kind. It's not like every company can nail the bull's eye with their fist arrow. But I'm afraid ZOWIE missed the whole target zone and got the little guy standing behind, minding his own business.
If I were in touch with the designers I'd say; re-group, reload and come back again stronger with more knowledge and I'll start over with a clean slate.
No-awards today I'm afraid. But my score does reflect the fledgling nature of ZOWIE and their need to gain some experience with what's required when designing a product. So I'm not going to be excessively stiff with my mark, because even corporations and companies must start somewhere.
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