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1.18.2009

Plantronics GameCom 777 Headset Review

So I promised a review on the GameCom 777's I was using last week.

The short version:  They're awesome stereo headphones for gaming, and the mic quality is good.
For surround there may be better options.

The GameCom 777's are circumaural 'phones, so they're big, and they set around your ear instead of on it.  Even though they're large, they're not heavy, and being circumaural they don't put too much pressure on your ears, so they're comfortable for extended use.  Unlike many circumaural headphones, these are not closed-air 'phones. They're open air, they have vents in the earpieces that let room noise in. This means you don't end up shouting while you're wearing them, and you can hear people around you. I like this feature, because it meant I could hear if my daughter woke up in the next room, or if my cel phone was buzzing. This may bug some people who want to shut out the world when they're gaming. These headphones have a noise cancelling mic that sounds good. It swings up into a indentation in the headband when not in use.
The mic sounds fine, and all my friends said that in-game the voice quality was good.  The mic does have noise-cancellation, so it doesn't pick up a lot of background noise.  

The GameCom 777's big selling feature is that they ship with a Dolby Headphone USB audio interface. If you're not familiar with Dolby Headphone. It's a technology to mix 5.1 sources down for use in headphones. Here is the catch. Dolby Headphone doesn't require dedicated hardware. Any headphones can be used with it. The problem is that many games support settings to downmix their audio in the Dolby Headphone format. The dongle that ships with the GameCom 777 is supposed to take 5.1 Surround or Stereo sources and process them into Dolby Headphone. Obviously upmixing Stereo into pseudo-surround is not going to give a real surround experience. Mixing 5.1 down into Dolby Headphone acutally works. I was skeptical at first, but once you give Dolby Headphone material a listen, it's a pretty good effect. The catch is that without dedicated rear channels, you really never get the impression that the sound is really behind you. I listened to the official Dolby Demos, and my general impression was that the "rear channel" effects are just panned very far left and right in the speakers.  My brain could translate this into a rear effect in game, but it was more of an active decision on my part to know that when I heard an effect panned this way that something was behind me.  I guess what I'm trying to say was that the effect wasn't totally natural.  I took a little thinking about it to register what I was supposed to hear.

If you are considering the GameCom777's for surround usage, listen to these pre-mixed Dolby Heaphone demo's here.  Since the encoding is already done, you can hear the effect on regular headphones.  This is what your games will sound like using the USB adapter. 

I will say that these headphones sound great.  The mids and high-end are crystal clear.  Bass response is good, but these phones don't have a dedicated sub for a "thump" effect.  Still they easily sounded as good as some of the nicer headphones I've used in this price range.  I played some music from my iTunes library (iTunes Plus higher bitrate songs) and they sounded much better than on my desktop speakers or my cheaper Logitech headset. I have no hesitation on recommending these headphones based on sound or build quality.

One more thing to consider, the USB adapter included in the GameCom can only deliver audio at 16-bit 44.1 or 48k sample rates.  If you have a high quality sound card, you may want to buy headphones without the USB support so you can plug directly into your sound card. 

My biggest hang up with these headphones is that for $100, I don't feel the surround effect was convincing enough.  My recommendation depends on your specific need. 

  • If you don't care about surround, buy the GameCom 377, it's the same headphone set, but without the Dolby Headphone USB adapter.  It only costs about $40-50 and uses your existing headphone jacks.  If your games support Dolby Headphone processing in the game engine, you won't need the adapter anyway.  I've also heard good things about the Yamaha CM500.
  • If you do need surround, then your $100 would be better spent on a pair of headphones with real multiple drivers in each earphone.  Cheaper options are available from Zalman, nicer headsets are available in Speed-Link's Medusa series and Razer's Barracuda.  I personally decided to exchange the GameCom 777 and have ordered a Medusa 5.1 home editon package.  I'm hoping for the best and will give them a review once I've had a chance to use them for a while. 


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