When you're shopping for gaming peripherals on a budget, you know there'll be a few trade-offs along the way. On the components side, it's easy to quantify those trade-offs precisely with GPUs, CPUs and even storage devices. However, when it comes to peripherals and specifically headsets -- well, headsets are basically The Wild West. If you're an online shopper, you often end up buying a device without hearing or wearing it. And when you do get to try out a headset, determining sound quality isn't like running a few Cinebench tests. To a degree it's about personal tastes, but Roccat's Noz budget cans have a few highlights on their spec sheet that everyone will enjoy.
Priced currently at $35/£35, the Noz features a 10-20,000Hz frequency response range that you'd expect to find on much pricier gaming headsets. There's a smart and understated all-black look to the headset, and it's super light at 0.5 pounds (210g), so it both looks and weighs the part for competitive players who log serious hours at a time and don't want to watch their own RGB lights reflecting off their screen. However, it faces stern competition from fellow sub-$100 models that deliver stronger audio quality.
Roccat Noz Specifications
|Driver Type||50mm neodymium magnet|
|Design Style||Closed back|
|Microphone Type||Electret condenser|
|Weight||0.46 pounds (210g)|
|Cord Length||8 feet (2.45m)|
Design and Comfort
I'm totally on board with the look of the Noz. Sticking firmly to an 'all black everything' design principle, it looks smart and subtle rather than basic, and that's thanks to some nice typography choices and well-finished materials. Sure, those materials are predominantly plastic, but they add up to an incredibly lightweight headset. In fact, this is among the lightest we've tested, even more so than the eSports-focused Logitech G Pro, which in comparison is positively portly at 0.6 pounds.
The earcups themselves are smaller than most models, but even with big ears I didn't have any problems with their size. At the rear of the left earcup is a volume scroll wheel and mic mute switch, both easily located without having to stop what you're doing or remove the headset. A few headset manufacturers are moving away from inline controls in favor of this on-cup design, which I'm behind 100%. It's just easier to locate the buttons this way.
The cushioned contact pads are covered with cloth fabric that feels slightly rougher than what I've felt on headsets from other brands. Perhaps it's the coarser weave. The foam padding doesn't feel quite as luxurious as rivals models, like the HyperX Cloud Alpha, which seems as though it drapes the clouds of Mount Olympus around your delicate auditory organs by comparison. The Noz certainly has enough padding to avoid discomfort or that telltale 'I've been wearing a gaming headset' wave in your hair. Ultimately, the coarse cloth and mediocre padding are barely noticeable when you have the Noz on your head; they're just little details that remind you this is a budget headset.
The microphone can hack 100-10,000Hz and stayed just about in position after I set it, with minimal noise during adjustments. It's also detachable, but I'm not so eager to use the Noz as on-the-go headphones. That's partially due to the 3.5mm connection, which is awkward to connect to modern smartphones, and partially due to the look. The Noz looks great next to your rig, but not quite appropriate for streetwear.
Moving onto sound, the Noz's major weakness reveals itself. Firstly, through some combination of contact point materials and the exact size and shape of the earcups, it produces the dreaded 'seashell' effect. For those who've never had the misfortune of enduring the seashell effect firsthand, it's a subtle but maddening constant sound akin to a whoosh of air -- a bit like holding a seashell to your ear. Years ago, the market was rife with low-priced headsets that produced this effect, but it's been a while now since we've spotted it in the wild. Unfortunately, the seashell effect negatively impacts the headset's overall audio quality.
Closed-back headphones like this (which feature a hard, enclosed outer shell) are engineered on the basis of creating a chamber around your ear inside which frequencies resonate. Contrastingly, open-back headphones -- like Sennheiser's Game-series cans -- give their drivers more space to resonate. The important thing for closed-backs is to isolate the outside world and direct all sound into your ears. In this way, the soundscape produced by closed-back headphones sounds like it's coming from your head.
Closed-back and open-back designs both have their pros and cons, including narrow stereo spread from the former and sound from the latter. But when a closed-back headset isn't able to properly isolate the sound from the outside world, the whole principle's thrown off. The result in the case of the Noz is an imprecise, slightly reverberating aspect to all sounds. Let's be clear: it's subtle. Subtle enough that you can still hear all the sound cues in games and recognize the mix of your favorite songs. But it's there. And it means that extra oomph down in the low-end doesn't get the opportunity to show its stuff. Rather than feeling powerful around your ears, the bass response sounds slightly muddy.
This is a shame, considering you can actually hear a lot of good things with the Noz. As flappy as the bass can be, it doesn't distort at higher volumes. And higher up the EQ range, frequencies have a way of cutting through assertively without sounding jarring. All in all, it sounds like the 50mm drivers are very well-engineered -- they just belong in a different chamber. A V2 of the Noz with a slightly adjusted designed would prove a real contender for king of the budget headsets, but sadly it's not there yet.
Features and Software
This being a low-cost proposition, you're not showered with freebies and accessories to accompany this headset. All that's in the box is the headset, detachable mic and 3.5mm cable. And we have absolutely no issue with that, as extras like travel bags, replacement earcups and adapter cables often just end up on a landfill.
Software functionality would have been a nice bonus, however, since it's always handy to tweak the EQ a bit for different usage scenarios.
Despite its problems with sound isolation, there's a lot to like about th Roccat Noz, particularly in looks and feel. But the pluses also extend to its control layout and in the characteristics and low-end power of its 50mm drivers. I'd genuinely love to see a new iteration of the Noz with sound quality that could actually go toe-to-toe with the SteelSeries Arctis 3, Corsair HS35, Corsair HS50 and HyperX Cloud Alpha.
At the time of writing, the Noz's price has dropped from $70 upon launch to $35. However, there are still better headsets available at that discounted price, including the Corsair HS35, which is currently sitting at $30, depending on the color.
As it stands, we just can't quite recommend the Noz with our whole hearts for anything above $35. But if you see it for $35 or less, it's worth grabbing this good quality headset with decent sound and comfort levels.
Image Credits: Roccat
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