To really see how these performed, we sat down and played around with a few different features. First off, we listened to a bunch of our favourite tracks - including the latest albums from The Killers and Lemon Jelly. Then, we played a couple of hours worth of Counter-Strike to see how they held up in-game. Next, we played around with Skype to see how the microphone did, before recording some audio direct to disk and then listening to that closely.
Listening to music, the audio quality from these isn't, we'd have to say, spectacular. The audio has a tendency to be a bit fuzzy and muffled, with a lack of clarity at the high-end - although you will find that there's plenty of bass. These really aren't ideal headphones for listening to music on, although they'll do perfectly adequately if you just happen to have them sitting around.
Counter-Strike is a game that really requires more quality in terms of sound hardware than many other titles. Many gamers won't play on anything other than headphones because of the advantage of the strong stereo separation that helps pinpoint players' locations. We found these DSP-500s more than up to the job. The strong bass coped ably with the gunfire and explosions that pepper a CS game, and were accurately able to render subtleties in footsteps from various differences and locations - making them a great headset for the trainee killer.
In Skype, we found that the mic gave us a clear and well-pitched recording, and the mic is clearly capable of handling basic VoIP. How about the more stringent test, the direct recording? Theoretically, this should be a perfect copy of what the microphone picks up, allowing us to really get an idea of its dynamic range and clarity. We're happy to say that the DSP-500 passed this test with flying colours - it is honestly one of the best mics we've ever used, and we've used some pretty good gear. You are not going to get anything better than this for less than £100, we'd suggest. The exceptional quality and clarity of the microphone gives this headset an added use - podcasting. If you're looking for some cheap and cheerful hardware to get started with, but are keen to maintain a near-professional level of audio quality, these headsets would be perfect.
The headphones sit pretty comfortably. The actual cans are rather odd - the padding on the rims is not that soft, but is firm with a furry cloth over the top. Having given these to a few people to try, opinions are really mixed - some absolutely love them and some, like myself, find them a bit odd. The size of the can also felt just a little bit too small for my ears, but I suppose that depends on the size of your head, frankly.
The build quality of the headset is great, and it feels really solid - this isn't some cheap pair of disposable headphones. They've already lasted us a while, and we really don't anticipate them going anywhere.
Also included on the headset cord is a volume control, along with a mute button for the microphone. This allows you to mute your voice without having to fiddle with any software - which is very handy for in-game use.
Overall, the Plantronics DSP-500 is a very solid headset. Although the audio quality listening to music isn't great, it acquits itself very well in games and in VoIP scenarios, especially given the strong bass response and the excellent quality of the microphone. If you're looking for a good pair of gaming cans, we'd really advise you to give these a look.