I love my job on a bad day, but having a chance to play some of my all time favourite games and watch some of my favourite films under the guise of “I’m testing these headphones, Tim”
is what makes working for bit-tech
really, really good.
You can probably already guess that I took the chance to test the headphones in full
, over a number of days.
I started simple and low-end, flipping on some standard internet radio and listening to a bunch of my favourite Harvey Danger albums (one of which is free to download
!) The result was a bit mixed and, while I was definitely able to pick out a few subtle guitar chords which I hadn’t picked up on before, I wasn’t bowled over by sound clarity or surround sound features.
If anything, I found the sound ended up a little too bass-y for my tastes and the massive dongle on the USB cable didn’t exactly encourage me to start head-banging. On an attached topic, I wasn’t exactly sure why the dongle needed to be so large and unwieldy. If it really did need to be as big as it is then it would seem a good idea to put some other controls on it rather just a two button volume control and a flashing green LED.
Still, moving on I tried the headphones out under a few different games. SiN: Emergence
isn’t a fantastic game, but the dynamic difficulty makes it fast-paced and accessible – the short of it is that it’s a game where seconds matter and good headphones can give you the edge.
Dropping into arena mode, the sound came out well-balanced and crisply through the ear pieces. Was there any hint of surround sound effects in the Source Engine? It’s hard to say for sure. There were definitely a few places where I could tell where an enemy was approaching from exactly, but a grenade bouncing down the corridor was hard to pinpoint by sound.
Taking these mixed results in hand, I moved on to some more sound-orientated games. First off was BioShock
which, for the sake of less fortunate journalists
who haven’t finished the game yet, must be played with headphones on in the Bit-tech
offices. It’s also a game which has some incredible sound direction and truly creepy music, courtesy of bands like The Ink Spots.
It was the natural choice then for a headphone test and I seized the chance to play through a few more levels of the game, exploring Rapture and generally having fun. Again though, while the sound quality was good enough it was very hard to pinpoint anything which I could clearly label as being surround sound.
Clearly, more extensive tests were in order so I obligingly went home to my personal game collection and pulled out The Big Guns
All of the Thief
games are excellent and I’d be hard pushed to select a favourite out of the three, but compatibility issues with Vista eventually forced me into playing the third game in the trilogy; Thief: Deadly Shadows
. Also, I think Tim was starting to get suspicious about me playing old games all day when my job is technically only to play new games.
Thief: Deadly Shadows
has an incredible sound engine and it’s important to have the sound turned all the way up. I know from experience that surround sound can make the difference a successful run of ’Iron Man Thief’
and a wasted four-hour stretch at the PC. Being able to pinpoint how many guards are where, what material they are standing on and what they are talking about is critical to progressing through the game.
Using the Zalman USB headphones uncovered a new problem however – namely the volume, which proved to quickly become painfully loud. It was the first time that I’d pushed the volume to the maximum and doing so made me appreciate just how quiet life had been before I bothered.
Surround sound was something that was just about discernible at the higher volumes and I was able to tell which direction guards were approaching from and so on, but the volume reached a point where it soon gave me a headache. Using the headphones on a lesser volume still let me figure out where guards were, but the effect was noticeably lessened as the volume decreased.