Itâ€™s a pretty good time to be a PC enthusiast right now. AMD just released the HD6990 dual-GPU flagship while Intel is going full-force with their Sandy Bridge platform. But if youâ€™ve been paying attention to the PC audio market, youâ€™ll know that enthusiast-targeted audio hardware are hard to come by. This week weâ€™re getting a double helping of just that, gaming audio hardware.The people from Razer sent over a couple of hardware for the Back2Gaming test lab: the Razer Orca and Razer Banshee gaming headsets. Iâ€™ll be reviewing the Banshee headset for this post. For the Orca review, check out Billyâ€™s post here. This is gonna be an exciting review, so letâ€™s make this showy!
The Banshee is part of Razerâ€™s Starcraft II gaming gear line-up intended for Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty.BUT that doesnâ€™t mean this stuff only works for said game, though. NO. Weâ€™ll put the Banshee through a full suite of tests on-location in Dreamz Productions audio/video recording studio.
- Frequency Response: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Impedance: 32Î© at 1kHz
- Sensitivity (@1kHz, 1V/Pa): >102dB at 1 kHz
- Drivers: 50 mm, with neodymium magnets
- Frequency Response: 100 – 10,000 Hz
- Sensitivity (-42 dB Â± 2dB @1kHz, 1V/Pa)
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >58 dB
- Pick-up pattern: Uni-directional
[singlepic id=1706 w=320 h=240 float=left] [singlepic id=1705 w=320 h=240 float=center] [singlepic id=1708 w=320 h=240 float=center]
My first impression when I saw the packaging was â€œWOAH this thing is huge.â€ Upfront youâ€™ll see the headset protected by clear blister plastic encased in cardboard with a Starcraft II theme going on. The test sample we have here is the retail version so this is what youâ€™d look for if you were say in a storeâ€¦ though I find it hard that youâ€™d miss it with that flashy Starcraft II logo in the lower front.[singlepic id=1699 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Checking out the back of the packaging we see its key features. Let me just type those up here:
- Circumaural Design with 50mm Driver Units
- Volume & Mic Control Buttons on the Headset
- Actions-Per-Minute Lighting System – Just thinking about using glowing headsets make me feel like an emperorâ€¦ a Terran Emperor.
- 8 Preset EQ
- Detachable Microphone Boom â€“ A boom is a rod or shaft thatâ€™s connected to the main mic sensor.
- Braided 7-Foot USB Cable â€“ French or corn row, I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s long though.
Below that we see the same stuff translated into 4 other languages: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean.[singlepic id=1709 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Up top is pretty clean with the catchphrase â€œCall down the Thunderâ€ prominently displayed.[singlepic id=1707 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Underneath shows us the Technical Specifications of the Banshee. Basically the same as the specs posted prior to this page. It also tells us whatâ€™s inside the box that being the Razer Banshee Starcraft II Gaming Headset itself, a Quick Start Guide and a Master Guide. Hmmmâ€¦ it doesnâ€™t say driver CDs. I wonderâ€¦
Just below that are the System Requirements for the Banshee and they are as follow:
- PC/Mac with USB port
- Windows 7 / Windows Vista / Windows XP
- Mac OS X (v10.5.8 to 10.6)
- Internet connection (for driver installation) â€“ so thereâ€™s my driver.
- At least 35MB of hard disk space
The box seal is also below, youâ€™ll ruin the box if you try to open it up top.
INSIDE THE BOX[singlepic id=1700 w=320 h=240 float=left] [singlepic id=1701 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Inside the packaging we see the Banshee protected with thermo-formed plastic, the mic boom separate from the headset and the USB cable protected in a cardboard inlet below the plastic. That blue background actually contains the Master Guide and Getting Started guide as well as a sticker sheet with the Razer logo. Pretty big ones at that.
[singlepic id=1703 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Pretty much everything there. So letâ€™s check out the Banshee itself.
Sorry guys, Iâ€™d really loved it if theyâ€™ve sent Linda Liao over for us to shoot this with but sadly that isnâ€™t the case.[singlepic id=1686 w=320 h=240 float=center]
After looking at the image behind the box and in the RazerZone website, Iâ€™d believe this headset is in black but surprisingly itâ€™s in light gunmetal. Itâ€™s got a clean, smooth finish with a couple of panel lines running along the headband and down the sides to the earcups.[singlepic id=1693 w=320 h=240 float=center]
The Starcraft II logo is the main attraction of the earcups prominently brandished at both sides.Â The earcups have a light swivel and do not rotate. Their size alone is pretty much enough to accommodate heads and ears of all sizesâ€¦ people sizes, that is.[singlepic id=1691 w=320 h=240 float=center]
The left cup is where the cable goes through and a rubber cap protects the microphone port when the boom is not connected. The controls for the mic volume and mute are located on this cup, also.Â The right one is identical sans mic port and cord.[singlepic id=1695 w=320 h=240 float=center]
The headband is lined with soft cushion foam which are, as advertised, very soft.[singlepic id=1696 w=320 h=240 float=center]
The ear cushions are the same as the headband padding and are quite comfortable. Iâ€™d go into further details into this later.[singlepic id=1698 w=320 h=240 float=center]
The USB cable is 7 foot long, enough clearance to run it a cable organizer, through your desk and plug in to the back of your rigâ€¦. or aboveâ€¦ or in front. Depends on your case configuration, really. Stillâ€¦ itâ€™spretty long. And solid. Itâ€™s got a Velcro strap running along it to organize the cable when not in use, nice addition there and a plus for convenience.[singlepic id=1690 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Capping off the USB cable is the USB plug, plated in gold. And no, itâ€™s not for bling. Gold plated conductors provide clean, low noise connection from the source so this is a pretty nice touch. The USB contacts inside are also gold-plated, FYI.
LIGHTS ON PLEASE!!![singlepic id=1745 w=320 h=240 float=center] [singlepic id=1746 w=320 h=240 float=center] [singlepic id=1747 w=320 h=240 float=center] [singlepic id=1748 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Note: This headset is intended for Starcraft II gameplay as its major feature involves in-game interaction with the game and reflecting those onto the lighting system. But a headset is a headset and thus must be tested with its intended purpose: sound delivery.
I will be posting a separateStarcraft II experience review when I get some time with the Spectre and Marauder gaming mouse and keyboard. Now on to the main event:
Sound is a really hard category to judge properly. Be it bass, mids, or highs people will have differing opinions on the matter. I think everyone will agree though on clarity and that pops, hisses and noise are just unacceptable. I try my best though to translate my sound experience into what most people would say fair. For this, we put the headset through a couple of tracks in differing formats.
To fully maximize the sound experience, Iâ€™ve dropped by Dreamz Productionsâ€™ studio and used their audio recording room to eliminate ambient noise. If this unit was an analog one, I wouldâ€™ve pitted it against the studioâ€™s Sennheiser and Audio Technica headsets. That would be a very interesting match.
Listening and Music
The Banshee is a USB headset meaning that it has its own audio processor inside the headset. That means any audio enhancements you might have configured in your dedicated or internal sound card will not reflect on the Banshee.
For this round, Iâ€™m putting the Banshee into familiar territory with some Kpop offering among others with the following:
- Son Dam Bi and After School â€“ AMOLED [320Kbps CBR MP3]
- The Banshee delivered nicely on the synths and vocals but was a bit holding back on the bass. Playing around with the EQ, I raised the bass on the Campaign preset and that was pretty much what the Banshee needed to go thump ta-thump thump.
- 4minute â€“ Dreams Come True [1162Kbps FLAC]
- Iâ€™ve seem to have taken a liking to the Campaign preset of the Bansheeâ€™s EQ setting, since it makes the vocals and bass have that oomph. The riffs were well presented with ample depth on the song. I had to revert to it since my custom setting used above really impacted the drums on this track making it a wee bit noisy in 70+ gain.
- Uptown â€“ My Style[192Kbps VBR MP3]
- Vocals were pretty clear. The rap verses of the guys were solid and alive. The Banshee did a good job delivering the live feel of the track and giving that swag that Jenniferâ€™s verse exudes. Using the custom EQ, the Banshee had plenty of thump and kick on the bass. You can actually feel it by touching the earcups on a fairly high volume
- Rie Tanaka â€“ Fields of Hope [CD]
- I tried playing around with the EQ while this track was playing and especially took notice with the Zerg, Terran and Protoss presets. I have no idea if these are EQ presets tailor made for race enjoyment, but I will admit that I like the Protoss setting. I replayed the track on the Default EQ preset and the Banshee delivered OK. I set it into Campaign again, and thatâ€™s where the depth and feeling of the song really came to life. Gave it that depth that the song deserves. So for the remainder of the review, Iâ€™m sticking with this preset.
- Ayumi Hamasaki â€“ Moments [DVD]
- The Banshee had that close feeling to it for this track. It delivered the melody nicely, something Iâ€™ve probably missed when I was playing this disc in my 2.1 setup. All in all, the Banshee did great.
- Lee Hyori â€“ 10 Minutes [192Kbps MP3]
- I just had to include this one since it has very deep bass. The Banshee really did a number on my ears when I churned this up to 100 Volume using the Custom preset. Plenty of bass really. Really really.
The more recent songs in the list feature some nice effects like depth and audio panning, some subtle and some bold. They add to that great audio experience and the Banshee managed to reproduce these effects superbly.
The Banshee is free from pops, hisses and noise during the playback of the above playlist from AMOLEDâ€™s heavy synths, Fields of Hopeâ€™s tear-jerking vocals to 10 Minutesâ€™ gut-busting bass. I was particularly checking out how powerful and deep the bass is and it does deliver on this part.
Overall, great sound performance from the Banshee. Now I wonâ€™t think shrieking when I hear the word banshee anymore thanks to this headset.
Movie and Video
For this round, we fire up Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer Bluray. This movieâ€™s got great sound effects and music. Iâ€™ve watched this movie before in a 5.1 setup as well as in stereo headsets with virtualized surround so Iâ€™m really curious how the Banshee handles multi-channel input.
I jumped to Chapter 9, 1:38:33; the movieâ€™s climax and where lasers are fired from all angle.[singlepic id=1743 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Putting emphasis on surround and directional capabilities, the Banshee did an ok job conveying distance and direction through the drivers but was a bit shy in the movement department. Some of the beams sound effects originating from behind that are supposed to pass through the front didnâ€™t sound well but that would be me nitpicking already. Overall experience was still satisfying, though I did have to remap the channels which also go every stereo setup Iâ€™ve watched this movie on.[singlepic id=1744 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Gaming[Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2]
Mission: Act II â€“ Of Their Own Accord[singlepic id=1749 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Any FPS player will know that its always helpful when you can hear where your next victim is coming from. Modern Warfare 2 features a well-delivered storyline bundled with superb voice-acting. Gameplay-wise the in-game audio adds to the immersion experience and the Banshee effortlessly delivered on this department.
In-game dialogs were clear and close. This mission puts the player in Washington taking on hundreds of enemies in both open and closed spaces. Enemy armour and helicopters are plenty as well as rockets flying everywhere. To put it simply: hell on earth. All of these were reproduced clearly with vivid depth by the headset. The Banshee had plenty of kick when it came to explosions but was a bit low for my taste. And the last part of this mission is a real treat.[Dead Space 2] [singlepic id=1742 w=320 h=240 float=center]
I really gotta thank a couple of friends for convincing me to play this game. Not that I donâ€™t know itâ€™s a good one, I just donâ€™t want toâ€¦ because Iâ€™m a wuss.
Something I really appreciate with any horror game is the fact that they really pick some of the worst times to make a boss pop up. Even if itâ€™s predictable you still get the pants scared off of you when a damn boss wants to come out of frigginâ€™ nowhere.
Ambient sound and distant sounds also plays up the chill factor and the Banshee complements Dead Space in this part. Check the screenshot above, that SOB was jumping around like it wants me so bad. The Banshee did a good job conveying the distance and direction of where that that that that that thatâ€¦ thing, is gonna land so I can score some hits on it. Not too sure though but when sound relating to Isaac was on, they seem to come from a bit off the rear. His panting and occasional murmuring were quite defined and the headset did a great job just delivering that punch every time that that that that thatâ€¦ thing tore down a pylon.[Red Alert 3: Uprising]
Yuriko Campaign, Chapter 3: Ruin and Reunion[singlepic id=1750 w=320 h=240 float=center]
At the start of the mission, you get surrounded right off the bat. The Banshee was particularly powerful in this one, sounding clear enough with only low gain in the volume. The AMV prior to this mission sounded really, really close and made it seem like the voice was coming from the sides. No big deal though, Uprising is already brimming with unrelated game distractions. Moving on, Yurikoâ€™s in-game narration sounded clear with the unit voices, as generic as they are, were crisp. Playing the game with a pretty high gain gave the Banshee a bit of rumble so like I said, I really had to drop the volume quite a bit to get a good experience. All things considered, the Banshee did well with the gameâ€™s pretty bland audio offering giving the voices and sound effects a bright and live feel.[Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty]
Campaign, Zero Hour: The Evacuation[singlepic id=1751 w=320 h=240 float=center]
Of course we canâ€™t be forgetting the actual game the Banshee was designed for. As stated earlier I wonâ€™t be going to much detail with the APM Lighting System as that would be irrelevant to a dedicated sound review. I will comment on the alert light features though later in this article.
Starcraft II features a 128-channel option allowing a rich assortment of simultaneous sound effects to be rendered while playing at the cost of performance. Maxing this out gives you the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the game environment. This particular mission Iâ€™ve chosen specifically because of the ambient sounds. Right off the bat with the Campaign EQ preset and the sound channel maxed out to 128, the Banshee really started to impress giving that perception of a lively environment. Rustling leaves, birds chirping, electrical buzzes, wind blowing, you name it. Getting the fight on, I noticed my favourite preset really delivered great action sounds like gunfire and kill sounds but dialogs turned out a bit occluded and off so I turned back to default. Dialogs and voices really work great at default setting. They were crisp, had depth and direction as well that slight hint of radio hiss. During the CG cutscenes, expertly delivered lines are given plenty of life and justice by the Banshee giving full body to the scene. All in all, it is safe to conclude that the Banshee was indeed married to Starcraft II and itâ€™s not all marketing hype. Definitely meant for each other.Nuff said.
Getting straight to the point, the Banshee is a great piece of hardware in terms of function. Itâ€™s got great treble and mids and with a few tweak to the graphic equalizer, head-numbing bass. Its exclusive features like the APM Lighting System and Alert lighting, adding functionality still fails to impress due to the lack of impact it has on the player itself. Again, I might do a separate article for this if I get the chance of taking the Marauder, Spectre and Banshee for a full Starcraft II marathon.
This is a headset offers a full spectrum of full bodied sound and plenty of bass to make it a worthy piece of audio hardware. It easily satisfied on our test categories with the Banshee scoring plenty of props in the music and gaming category and had reasonable output in the movie department. The microphone did great, too. Though I may not have included a methodical test for it, I just had a very long talk with a friend, nearly 6 hours and I just kept the mic on in Skype. He was able to hear the background talks (when I put the headset down to go pee or something) and my voice loud and clear when we were talking. Also, sound tends to leak over the cushions and if you really, really prefer total sound isolation, it is imperative that you get the replacement leatherette ear cushions. You wonâ€™t regret it. Also, the Banshee has a very serious tendency to easily tire your neck out during gaming sessions. Its weight puts considerable strain on the user over long periods of time and I suggest taking a break or resting the headset on your shoulders once in a while. What? You didnâ€™t think that affects performance? Well it does for me, considering it hampers it when you have to take it off when that neck pain starts to set in. So for performance overall, sound quality is a notch shy of perfect because you might need to adjust the EQ to really get the bass out there, still packs a pretty sweet sound offering and is deserves much praises in performance amongst gaming-oriented headsets.
This factor is pretty much hit or miss. Some might like the Banshee, some wonâ€™t. Not all gamers really find the aggressive look appealing, but in my case, Iâ€™m reasonable. The light gunmetal/metallic silver finish really gives it that sci-fi look with the lights adding the final touch to really set this headset apart from anything before it. But the real treat for me was when the Banshee is all lit up. This is its appeal, I used it in the office for a week and I received pretty much all positive comments on it. Their only gripe were that it was too big. Indeed the Banshee is huge, but it I canâ€™t really imagine it being any smaller.Â In conclusion, just the fact that thereâ€™s no headset like the Banshee in the market today Iâ€™m awarding it a solid near-perfect score in looks and appearance.
As of this writing, the Banshee is currently tagged at $119.99 (5,700 PHP) and that is a price most people will not go for when they look for a headset. At that range, youâ€™re looking at the professional audio equipment market with the likes of Audio Technica and Bose. But I would like to stress the fact that this is enthusiast-oriented equipment intended for a certain group of people. A certain group that include people that use exotic coolers, striped SSDs and multi-GPU solutions that average people wonâ€™t even comprehend of having. Itâ€™s all about that extra swag that really makes something like this worth getting. If youâ€™re a Starcraft II fan, a real fan, and you love to show off your love for Starcraft and also love enjoying occasional music from your computer then this is really intended for you. And if youâ€™re already forking out that cash, donâ€™t forget to get the leatherette cushions to really, really maximize the enjoyment of the Bansheeâ€™s offering.
So there you have it. The Banshee, billed as exclusively for Starcraft II, was able to fully satisfy in all categories tested. If you were to ask me why I would pay $120 for this my answer would be simple.
It’s got swag.
As much as I’d hate to say it, an enthusiast always prides himself in performance and puts looks in the backseat. Is it too bad, if you can have both? For those who likes the Banshee’s appeal, its the best of both worlds. Add to that the lights and you got one swingin’ headset. If there’s one thing that really turns me off about the Banshee its its sheer weight. The pressure it puts on the neck can really strain a player in long sessions and if you got a bald head, the headband cushion and earcup tend to itch adding more reason why I ask anyone who gets this to get the leatherette ear cushions. Last thing would be the lighting. Don’t get me wrong, the lighting feature is nice but the fact that you can’t see the lights is a real ball-buster. I don’t know if it was intended for the audience of those eSports player… who knows. I would’ve really loved it if the lights were able to go with music. That would be nice. But alas, these are more wishes than drawbacks based on my liking. So in conclusion, the Banshee is a great headset with great sounds. It might be a bit heavy on the noggin and budget but its well worth it if you are a real Starcraft II fan… or a wannabe eSports pro.[nggallery id=93]
Leave a Reply