Today I will be taking a look at the all new Asus Vulcan Pro headset, this is an updated version of the Vulcan ANC I tested back in February 2012. I must confess to being a little disappointed with the original Vulcan so it will be interesting to see what improvements may have been made…
The Vulcan Pro is a stereo headset designed for Pro Gamers with the option of Virtual Surround Sound via the attached ROG Spitfire USB audio processor. In addition to this the Vulcan Pro also features Active Noise Cancellation (ANC).
The Asus Vulcan Pro comes very well packaged in a smart red Republic of Gamers box. The front of the box features a large image of the Vulcan Pro headset along with the ROG Spitfire USB audio processor. The front of the box also goes on to highlight Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) along with following:
Powerful Hardware DSP
The only ANC for Gamers
Precise Positioning Audio
Long Lasting Comfort
The back of the box features a graph depicting the Vulcan’s Noise Cancelling credentials showing that it has been specifically designed to filter out low frequency computer noise.
I addition to this the back of the box also highlights the following features:
ROG SPITFIRE – DRIVER-FREE GAMING AUDIO PROCESSOR ON THE GO
Driver-free USB hardware DSP (digital signal processor)
Immersive 7.1 virtual sound, headphone amplifier, and FSP EQ
Perfect for LAN parties and tournaments
Lightweight at 326g with complete over-ear coverage
Ultra-soft breathable cushions with memory foam made from Japanese protein leather
Cable with in-line control / cable organizer / touring case
Opening the lid of the box allows you to see inside, but you don’t get to see the headset as this is hidden within the smart carry case adorned with the Republic of Gamers logo, of course!
Inside the box you find the Republic of Gamers carry case, Quick Start Guide and Warranty information.
Within the carry case itself we find the Vulcan headset, detachable cable with microphone mute, detachable cable with ROG Spitfire USB audio processor, detachable microphone, Dual-Pin Flight adapter and a Cable organizer.
At the time of writing the Asus Vulcan Pro headset is retailing for approximately £94 and comes with a 2 year warranty.
First impressions are very good as they were with the original Vulcan ANC; the headset looks almost identical apart from the new finish on the ear-cups. The main addition is the inclusion of the ROG Spitfire USB audio processor found at the end of the USB cable. Overall though the whole package is one that seems to be of a very high quality, let’s take a tour around the headset and its accessories…
The left ear-cup of the Asus Vulcan Pro features three main areas of interest, this can be seen in the image below left. The lower hole is for the detachable microphone and is square in its design ensuring that only the microphone will fit into position. Above this we have the main 3.5mm input jack that connects to the ROG Spitfire USB audio processor, found 2.5m further down the cable. Finally we have the ANC On/Off switch and its associated LED (red) just above.
The right ear-cup, rather cleverly conceals the single AAA battery (disappointingly not supplied!) that powers the ANC. Access to the ear-cup is via a small push button in the base of the ear-cup.
Both ear-cups feature Japanese protein leather (breathable and antibiotic!) and also breathable memory foam to aide comfort. The ear-cups are large enough to be of the over the ear variety (Circumaural), this helps to ensure that background noise is also kept to a minimum.
The headband is plastic covered with an internal construction of Aluminium, this should ensure that the headband is hard wearing (some headbands after a lot of flexing have been known to snap!). The inner part of the head-band features a large padded area, covered with what appears to be the same Japanese protein leather as the ear-cups. The headband is of course adjustable allowing for an additional 35mm per side. On both sides of the headband at the base, is a smart metallic Asus logo.
The uni-directional noise filtering microphone is detachable as you can see, and can be fitted to the left ear-cup when required. The microphone has been extended over the previous model and is now 20mm longer, to ensure closer proximity to the mouth for better pick-up. The microphone itself is of the flexible variety and features high quality supple materials ensuring the mic stays where you put it!
The Asus Vulcan Pro features two inline control boxes along its 2.5 metre braided cable, the first (working from the USB connection) is found approximately 1 metre from the USB plug and is the ROG Spitfire USB audio processor. This little box of tricks features a driver free hardware based Digital Sound Processor (DSP) and has three specific modes. The first of which is the AMP mode that enables the Spitfire’s on-board headphone amplifier to boost the performance of the Vulcan headset. Next we have the Surround button that somewhat predictably enables the 7.1 virtual surround sound mode. Finally we have the FPS button that enables a preset EQ setting that improves positioning for crystal clear movement and gunshot sounds. At the base of the ROG Spitfire unit are the two 3.5mm jack plugs for audio-out and microphone-in, these are connected to the cable that in turn attaches to the Vulcan headset itself.
A further 1 metre down (assuming all cables are connected) from the ROG Spitfire control box we find the in-line volume control and a microphone mute button. Both work perfectly well and are well positioned for easy access, but the volume control does seem a little basic as it is just a very small plastic wheel. The control box also features a clip at the back should you wish to clip it to something.
As can be seen from the images below the Vulcan headset comes in a rather cool looking carry case, the headset fits inside by virtue of the fact that it can be folded! Both of the ear-cups fold inwards allowing the headset to be easily transported in its case. In fact everything fits inside with a special place for the microphone and a small netted section for the cabling and the ROG Spitfire. NICE!
Overall the Asus Vulcan Pro looks really promising, so far so good, but now let’s see what they sound like…
Well I guess I could skip this section as there is no Driver and no Software, yes that’s right just plug in to your nearest USB port.
Of course you can plug in the Vulcan Pro headset by way of its x2 3.5mm Jack plugs (Audio/Mic) if you wish, assuming you have on-board sound or a dedicated sound card. But I guess this would miss the point a little as this would mean that you would not be connected via the ROG Spitfire USB audio processor. But a least you have the option, should you wish…
Once into Windows and into my first Game (Call of Duty Black Ops II) and online with my friends, I immediately ran into a problem. It sounded rubbish, lots of echo and I felt I could hear my own voice. After fiddling with the controls it became apparent that it was only a problem if I was in Ventrilo (our VOIP of choice). After some further digging around and some Googling I found a new Windows setting that I have never seen before. Under Control Panel, Hardware & Sound, Sound, Speakers, Properties, Levels – we find Sidetone!?
It was this Sidetone that was effectively feeding back the pick-up from the microphone and playing it back through the headset; the result is quite horrible! Once muted (and the slider set to zero to be sure), the Vulcan Pro sounded a whole lot better.
The Asus Vulcan Pro headset was tested using my rig as a platform; running Windows 7 64bit (service pack 1) with all necessary Drivers installed. A fresh installation of Windows 7 was performed as a matter of course.
The Vulcan Pro was tested using both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 and no issues were encountered, in fact for most of the testing period (approx 1 week) the headset was connected to the Gigabyte Aivia Osmium keyboard that I’m using.
The following games were used during testing:
XCOM Enemy Unknown
Call of Duty Black Ops II
Far Cry 3
Metro 2033 (benchmark)
Unigine Heaven (benchmark)
Evaluating the audio performance of a headset is a rather subjective affair, but all I can do hear (haha!) is give you my opinion of the Asus Vulcan Pro headset, with the knowledge that I have tested various other headsets (wired, wireless, True 5.1, True 7.1, 5.1 Virtual & 7.1 Virtual) in the past. What’s probably more interesting hear (oh stop it already!) is that I have tested the Asus Vulcan ANC headset in the past and was left a little disappointed…
Overall the audio performance of the Vulcan Pro is very good, if not amazing! Each time you turn your computer on the Vulcan Pro sets its default sound mode to everything on (AMP=On, SURROUND=On & FPS=On), unfortunately this is not the best sounding mode in my opinion. But to fully appreciate the performance we need to look at the ROG Spitfire USB audio processor and its associated modes separately, so we can see (hear) what they do.
With this setting on you are effectively using the ROG Spitfire’s dedicated headphone amp, which of course should be a good thing, and it is. With this switch set to on the headset comes to life, while providing far more power to the delivery at the same time. What this translates to is that it’s loud, real loud (only if you want it to be, of course) and even when the volume is cranked up there’s very little distortion present.
Pressing the Surround button on the ROG Spitfire control enables 7.1 Virtual Surround Sound. While this does indeed widen the sound-field and make your game feel more immersive, in my mind it’s still not good enough for true audio positioning. That needs to be left to true surround sound headsets such as the (Razer Tiamat 7.1). That said from a Virtual Surround Sound point of view it’s actually very good giving the impression that the sound is indeed coming from all around you, and is certainly as good as any other Virtual mode that I have heard.
Enabling FPS via the button on the ROG Spitfire control does something rather special (according to Asus!). And to be fair it really does do something, what Asus have done is attempted to isolate the general sound of footsteps in-game (Crysis 2, Battlefield 3 & Modern Warfare 3 were tested among others) and boost these frequencies (well actually they dumb down some of the mid-range frequencies that mask the sound of footsteps!). So what we end up with is a EQ setting that should allow for the all important footstep to be heard more easily.
When set to on there’s certainly a significant difference in sound as everything seems to be dumbed down apart from footsteps. The issue of course is, what’s more important the clarity and quality of the sound you are listening to or the footstep? Via the On/Off switch aboard the ROG Spifire the choice is yours, for me I preferred it off, maybe I’m just not competitive enough…
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
Then we have this clever ANC technology; what this is designed to do is effectively filter out background noise. When testing the original Asus Vulcan ANC headset I wasn’t all that impressed with the ANC technology, it did work (i.e filtered out background noise), but it also filtered out some of the sound that you actually wanted to hear as well. Well there’s more good news as the Pro version of the ANC technology seems better (yes that’s right I can hear a genuine difference!); less of the sound you want to hear is lost with the Vulcan Pros meaning that turning it on is now a far more viable option. In fact after wearing the headset for sometime with ANC On, on removing the headset My Rig sounds almost unbearably loud! It seems that the Asus Vulcan Pro headset has a knack for filtering out fan noise/hum and more importantly not much else, nice!
For me the best setup was AMP=On and SURROUND=On, both settings provide a richer more immersive sound, using these settings the Asus Vulcan Pro headset sounds really good with the ability to deliver excellent bass and good treble.
To some degree this section is easy; the Asus Vulcan Pro headset has to be one of, if not the most comfortable headset that I have ever used. This is brought about mainly by the extremely low weight at 326 grams and the excellent comfort of the Japanese Protein Leather and Memory Foam ear-pads. They are in fact so comfortable, I have considered just keeping them on permanently, if only Asus had developed a nagging Wife ANC mode also…
As there were some niggles with the original Vulcan ANC (review here) mainly regarding the microphone, let’s take a look at those niggles first. The first was that I had problems with the microphone and that the material that the microphone was made from was very, well plasticity and not all that flexible and it’s boom a little short. Well your not going to believe this; the new mic is longer, is now made of a far more flexible material and the driver has also been updated for better pick-up. Good job Asus, at least someone is reading this stuff…
Of course what this translates into is that the Microphone works perfectly well and once setup correctly I had no complaints from my on-line friends while using our VOIP of choice (Ventrilo).
I must confess that I was a little concerned that Asus Vulcan Pro was going to be very similar to the original Vulcan ANC, a headset that I found to be a little lacking, when tested in February 2012. But my fears were definitely unfounded; what Asus have seemingly done is rebuilt the Vulcan from the ground up and what they have come up with is superior to its sibling in almost every way…
Predictably the Vulcan Pro came well packaged in a smart Republic of Gamers styled box, with the headset and all of its accessories already well protected within its own carry case. The accessories included are both useful and of a high quality, although I’m still a little unsure as to how I use that Cable Organizer!
One of the many attractions of the Vulcan Pro is that it can be used without the need for any software as all of its DSP is handled by the ROG Spitfire USB audio processor. Due to the design you can also use the headset without the ROG Spitfire should you wish! So once out of the box, it is a true plug and play device, making it very portable between machines.
Of course the main event is the sound and it is here that the Vulcan Pro does itself proud. With the AMP setting set to On and the Surround mode enabled the Vulcan Pro is as good as any Stereo based, Virtual Surround headset that I have used. The AMP mode really lifts the sound giving it not only more punch but an extra edge and the surround mode adds some real immersion too. Of course this is only Virtual don’t forget, true positioning (thinking 7.1) is nigh on impossible, that’s best left to the likes of the Razer Tiamat 7.1, at almost twice the price!
The Achilles heel of the original Vulcan ANC was the microphone, but all of those issues have now been sorted. With a longer and more flexible microphone and with a new Driver too the Vulcan Pro’s detachable Microphone is great.
As I have already mentioned in the review, the Asus Vulcan Pro headset is one of the most comfortable headsets that I have used to date. The lightweight (326 grams) and the combination of the Japanese Protein Leather and the Memory Foam ear-pads, meant that the headset remained extremely comfortable even during long gaming sessions.
Overall Asus has done a great job improving the Vulcan headset and the Pro sits head and shoulders above its older sibling. The Vulcan Pro looks cool, sounds great, is extremely comfortable and all of that can be bundled neatly into a smart ROG carry case and taken with you, should you wish. Of course, as always this comes at a price, the Vulcan Pro headset isn’t exactly cheap, but it is damn good…