Headset: Razer Megalodon 7.1
Razer's Megalodon 7.1 audio headset represents a significant shift in the way gaming headsets work. Usually, devices like this piggyback on your computer's sound card, sometimes even requiring that you install drivers to get the most out of the them.
The Razer Megalodon is a USB gaming headset, but it requires no driver install. Simply plug it in and, as long as your computer recognizes it as an audio device, you're all set. All of the audio processing takes place using Razer's Maelstrom Audio Engine, which lives in a control brick roughly halfway up the USB cable between your computer and the headset. The Megalodon is comfortable enough, even if the ear cups are a little on the small side, so that they rest on your ears instead of around them. Fortunately, the soft fabric that covers the cans helps keep them from getting painful. Also, the headband is made of the same fabric and adjusts smoothly to fit your head.
The control brick isn't small. It's not the kind of thing you want sitting in your lap while you game, but it's not huge, either—about the size of your palm and the thickness of your hand. The brick also has a rubber bottom that allows you to put it down on flat desk surfaces without worrying if it's going to skate around your desk.
The control brick has all of the controls you would expect for a headset, including microphone mute, a volume wheel, and buttons to toggle the wheel from volume control to microphone sensitivity and microphone level. When the microphone controls are off, the "Maelstrom" button at the top of the brick switches the audio processor between 7.1 surround sound mode and 2.1 stereo. If you're playing a game or watching a video that supports 7.1 channel audio output, you'll hear it in all of its (simulated) glory. Otherwise, you won't notice much difference between the two modes.
Offloading the audio processor to a dedicated unit gives the Megalodon control over the overall audio experience, and it shows. The Megalodons sound fantastic, with deep bass and rich overall sound quality. Voice quality is just as good; the microphone is thin and feels a little flimsy compared to the PC 350, plus it slides around with less resistance. But in the multiplayer games I tested the Megalodons with, no one had any issues hearing me clearly. Even if there were problems, the fact that I can adjust microphone levels on the fly using the control brick without using software is a pretty big advantage.
Considering the Megalodons retail for $150, their price is in line with its competition from Logitech, Sennheiser, and Plantronics. The Megalodons are a bit flashy, with LED Razer logos on each ear cup, but that's what we come to expect from gaming headsets these days. Overall, the price for the performance with the Megalodons is pretty high, but if you have a great sound card already, you may be disappointed that it's rendered worthless when you plug the Megalodons into your system.
Ed.: adding to Alan's evaluation, I've also been using the Megalodons for a couple of months now and have found two additional nit-picks. First, they seem to have a problem with 64-bit operating systems (a known and as-of-yet-unresolved issue). Razer has a firmware rev. 2.7 update available, but this did not prevent the headset from cutting out at seeming-random intervals while gaming. The symptoms of this are audio that begins cracking and eventually dies out. Additionally, the control brick is actually closer to the headset than the USB interface. I'd prefer it the other way around. As is, if I stand up with the headset on, the brick flies off my PC. Previous headsets gave me much more room to move around while wearing them.
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