Apr 24, 2009

Hey, Four-Eyes! Does Gaming with a Headset Give You Sore Ears? Read On:

My Windows PC croaked its last breath about a month ago, and being long fed-up with Microsoft's OS, I purchased a refurbished iMac to replace it. Apple's design and OS X are absolutely fantastic, and I haven't looked back once.

The only hitch I've encountered revolved around gaming headsets. The iMac has a audio in jack, but it is just that. A microphone is a much lower-gain widget, and requires amplification to be audible. PC sound cards compensate for this fact with a 20 db mic boost feature, but the iMac sound card doesn't offer such functionality.

I initially started shopping for a USB headset to solve this problem, and found that the industry is offering a pretty wide variety of USB units. Unfortunately, this is only half the story.

Like many other glasses-wearing gamers, I suffer from a comfort problem with the majority of today's headsets. The most popular type of headphones is an on-the-ear (aka "supra-aural") design. The pressure these models exert sandwiches the wings of our glasses between our ears and our skull, and quickly becomes painful.

As such, I've been searching for a headset with both USB connection and also a circumaural (fully around-the-ear) design. Far as I can tell, there ain't no such bird. That said, there are a few nice circumaural models sporting the old PC-style 3.5mm stereo connectors. Hmm...

So, how to hook a PC-style headset up to a Mac? Enter Griffin's iMic product. This little widget accepts both 3.5mm analog audio input and output, performs a full, 24-bit analog-to-digital conversion, and interfaces with a Mac or PC via USB. (So, it's essentially a USB sound card.) What's more, a little switch on the side toggles the input jack between a normal audio line in and an amplified mic input mode - perfect! This cool little widget lists for $50 on the Griffin and Apple online stores, but psst - Buy.com has them for about $35 including 2-day shipping!

I installed mine last night, and enjoyed a raucous, two-hour trip through the Deadmines with some good friends, completely sans ear pain! Can I get a "w00t"?!

BTW, the circumaural headset I picked up is Razer Carcharias (see pic). About $70 on sale at Best Buy, so not cheap - but no ear pain, remember? The sound quality is decent (the frequency response is only an acceptable 20 - 20,000 Hz), but they will certainly do. The mic performance seems just fine as well. They are an open-eared design, but since they are circumaural, they still block what I'd estimate as 30% of outside noise, so you do get a little noise isolation. My wife complained that I was talking a bit loud on Ventrilo, so that is telling in itself.

If any other four-eyed and sore-eared gamers are looking for the next step up on the audiophile ladder, Sennheiser's PC 350 circumaural headset is the ticket. I was very nearly seduced by their excellent 10 - 26,000 Hz frequency response, but couldn't quite justify the price tag. The best price I found was at Amazon - and they were asking $139.

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