The Zalman USB surround sound headphones arrived on my desk in an unusual way. I was away from my desk for a minute to set the second batch of tests running for the Coolermaster Cosmos, review and when I returned my desk had been laden with geeky gifts. On the top of the pile was a plastic dome containing these very headphones.
Yeah – that’s right, a dome. Didn’t you know that boxes are like, sooo passé? Domed packaging is where it’s at and to hell with the complications which must inevitably occur in shipping the things. It’s not like they’d have to stack very well, after all.
Now, for those who have never been blessed with a chance to find out, a plastic dome isn’t exactly the easiest type of packaging to get into. Even using every single blade on my Swiss Army Knife, I still struggled to pierce the plastic shell without cutting myself, even when attacking the rim of the dome. In the end I resorted to trying to gain entrance through the cardboard base, which was probably the best idea of all since it was slightly perforated.
Shoving a blade through into the centre of the cardboard was a delicate procedure as well, as I didn’t want to slip and damage my new headgear. However, after a bit of force I managed to cut a fingerhold large enough for me to tear outwards from.
All in all, it wasn’t the easiest or most simple start to a product review that I’ve ever had and I was left with the impression that the choice of a plastic dome for packaging was made on the basis that design is law. Still, packaging isn’t really a major concern and the main thing is that I was left with a pair of intact and possibly brilliant headphones when it was all over.
I say possibly brilliant because, well that’s what we’re about to find out, isn’t it?
Surround Sound Headphones?!
Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction and the reaction of everyone around me when I got my hands on the Zalmans in question. I was instantly bombarded with questions and comments about the very nature of surround sound headphones, something I’ve never tried using before but which I’m still a little cautious about.
“You need to do it with algorithms, not multiple speakers!” Cried one technology journalist, using my new mountain of gadgety presents as an excuse to take a break from his review. “It doesn’t matter! The speakers are right next to your ears anyway! Cried someone else. Meanwhile, I wondered just how exactly I was supposed to put the headphones on since they had emerged from the plastic womb which had carried them in an odd shape – as if they had been folded in on themselves in a subtle attempt to make a black hole. Or something.
In fact, before we get into the matter of how the headphones actually sound it’s probably worth talking a bit about the general design of the headphones, which is unique to say the least.
Basically, the headphones are what I think is best described as a ‘hinge and pivot design’, by which I mean they have both a hinge and a pivot in them which lets them fold up. The hinge is located just above the actual earpiece, while the pivot is on the earpiece itself and let it swing about if not held firmly.
Why are they there? What purpose do they serve? I’ve no idea, beyond the fact that they let the headphones fold up and they only really serve to make the headphones uncomfortable and unwieldy to use. Release the tension on the hinge a little and the shape of the whole thing will collapse, which makes taking them off one-handed (which is pretty much the normal way to take off headphones) a bit of a problem unless you actually like hitting yourself in the back of the head with the earpiece.
The entire idea is pretty flawed anyway and the only reason we can see for their existence is let the headphones fold up for easy storage. The problem here though is that even when folded up then they are still massive – mainly thanks to the extra inches on the earpieces which jut out from the fore and aft and which are probably used to house the multiple speakers which the packaging boasts about.
So, what exactly do these headphones gain from having this collapsible design? Nothing, but they definitely lose out on the comfort front thanks to the way they insist on obeying Zymurgy’s First Law of Evolving System Dynamics, which is to say that always flop about as they damn well please no matter what you do.