Plantronics has been around for quite a while now when it comes to producing audio headsets. Their products have been used by call centres and airline pilots around the world and even NASA astronauts like Neil Armstrong himself!
Today I will be looking at the Plantronics Gamecom 780 which is part of Plantronics Gamecom range of headsets specifically targeted towards both PC and console gamers. This specific headset will however only work with PCs and Macs. Bare in mind that the Dolby 7.1 software is only available on the Windows platform, so if you plan on also using these on a Mac you will only be able to use them in stereo.
The headset comes in a stylish black and orange box with a plastic tray inside to hold the contents securely and protect the headset inside. A clear plastic window extends from the front of the box all the way round to the right hand side, to allow the contents to be viewed without having to open the packaging.
Listed on the rear of the box are some basic details of the features of the headset in various different languages, along with some information about the 7.1 Dolby technology incorporated into the headset. The left side of the box contains details about the specifications as well as stating that the headset comes with a two year limited warranty.
Upon opening the box, you are presented with the headset and a dark red USB cable tied neatly to the rear of the packaging inside an orange cardboard tray. The cable itself is folded up in an orange warning label informing the user to install the software first. Also inside is the Get Started Guide with the Dolby Software CD taped to the front inside of the box.
Once the headset is out of the box it’s remarkable how lightweight it actually is, especially as when you first set eyes on it as it’s rather large. The black and red design of the headset seems to go well together and there is a matching red USB cable (2 meters long) trailing from the left ear cup.
One thing that you will notice straight away, even when the headset is in its box, is the exposed red wires that go from each ear cup into the headband. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this from a design point of view, as it’s not something I’ve come across before, but it does certainly give the headset its own unique look. The wires do look pretty sturdy though, so I don’t think there is anything to worry about with regard to durability.
Overall the headset feels quite sturdy and well built and seems to be mainly made from plastic with the exception of the soft velvet type padding on the headband and the ear cups.
The headband itself seems quite well made and has the Gamecom logo along the top which is a nice touch. It doesn’t flex very much, but it didn’t look like it was going to break at any point. On the underside of the headband is the soft cushioned black padding to allow it to sit comfortably on top of your head. The headset can be adjusted via the extension of the metal arms which extend from the headband into the ear cups, so I had no problems with the fitting. As the headband does also bend slightly, it should accommodate larger heads fairly easily.
Each over the ear cup contains a 40mm driver and uses soft black cushioning to allow them to fit comfortably around your ears whilst also encompassing them. Again there were no issues with the fitting of the headset and the ear cups sat comfortably around my ears. Each cup can be rotated 90 degrees inwards and allows the headset to be laid reasonably flat when not in use. This feature also allows the headset to be worn around the neck and dependent on which way up the cups are facing can still be used to hear the sound being output.
The left cup has the microphone attached to it, which can be rotated roughly over an 145 degree arc from top to bottom. The microphone itself cannot be moved any closer or further away from your mouth (it does bend slightly but I’m not sure it’s been designed for that purpose!), but the wide range of angles gives plenty of scope to have it placed in a good enough position for voice communication anyway. The microphone also has noise cancelling built in, which should allow it to filter out any background noise when you are talking.
Three controls are situated on the side of the left hand cup around the edge. The Mute Microphone switch and the Volume Up/Down dial are both positioned towards the rear while the Dolby 7.1 On/Off is positioned towards the front on its own. The controls allow for quick and easy access to the headsets functionality when required and there were no problems with finding the actual controls when the headset was fitted.
The Dolby 7.1 On/Off switch also lights up blue when in use, so you can tell whether or not the functionality is enabled when the headset is not being worn. Both the Volume Up/Down and Dolby 7.1 On/Off controls also emit audible tones in the ear cups when used. A high pitched tone is used to signify On/Up and a lower pitched tone for Off/Down, which makes it easier to determine what you are changing when the headset is in use.
Overall the headset gives a good initial first impression for its price range, which at the time of this review was around the £39 mark.
The Plantronics Gamecom 780 headset connects directly to any available USB port on your PC via a single standard USB connector. The connector is attached to a 2 meter long red cable, which should hopefully be of sufficient length to reach any PC situated near you. However, you may struggle if your PC is further away e.g on the floor, although I myself had no issues with the cable length when connecting the headset to my own rig which is situated beside me.
The headset also comes with the supplied software that is required to be able to use the Dolby 7.1 functionality. The latest software version can be downloaded from the Plantronics website.
Once installed it becomes apparent that the software has a very lightweight UI. Through the interface you can toggle the functionality of the Dolby 7.1 to be enabled/disabled and you can also switch between either Gaming/Movie or Music modes. The software also allows you to open the Windows Sound Control Panel directly from its interface. Toggling the Dolby 7.1 on/off has the same effect as pressing the same button on the actual headset and switches between both Stereo and Dolby 7.1.
Note that the software is an integral part of the headsets full functionality and unless you install it you will only be able to use the headphones in stereo mode. Also when the software is not installed, the blue light on the Dolby 7.1 switch stays on constantly as the switch is basically rendered ineffective. There are also none of the audible cue tones when either adjusting the volume or pressing the Dolby 7.1 switch. So as the orange label wrapped around the USB cable warned, install the software first!
One additional thing I would have liked to have seen with the software would have been a manual/auto update feature to allow me to update it if and when a newer version was ever released. I hate trying to keep software/drivers up to date and having to trawl through vendors websites to find them all can sometimes be a real pain.
The Plantronics Gamecom 780 was tested using my rig with a fresh installation of Windows 7 64bit (service pack 1) installed together with all the latest relevant drivers and software.
A variety of games were used to evaluate both the headsets Stereo and Dolby 7.1 sound capability including:
Batman – Arkham City
Left 4 Dead 2
Aliens vs Predator
The performance of the headset was mainly evaluated by the quality of the sound produced in both its stereo and virtual Dolby 7.1 surround sound modes whilst gaming. Obviously this can be quite subjective as it not only depends on the quality of the sound produced but is also affected by the user’s hearing and their perception of surround sound while using a headset.
The headset performed well when it came to stereo sound. The sound quality was very clear and crisp when playing Trine 2 and was very rounded, so there were no overpowering high or low frequencies. There were no problems hearing any of the dialog being spoken and the music quality output was also very good both in game and when listening to a few tracks from the Tron Legacy soundtrack (although I didn’t seem to notice much difference when switching to Music mode). The headset also performed well whilst watching some stereo videos on YouTube and no issues were detected.
With regard to the headsets virtual Dolby 7.1 surround sound, again the headset performed really well. Sound could be heard clearly coming from the appropriate directions and it really gave the impression of being immersed within the game. The direction of any attacking zombies/aliens was known well in advance when playing Left 4 Dead 2 and Aliens vs Predator and also when watching the Pod Car race sequence in Star Wars : Episode One the direction of sound was again really good. When switching between the stereo and surround sound modes you can certainly tell the difference and you get a much more rounded immersive experience. The sound is not quite comparable to real surround sound but this is to be expected, as the headset is only using 2 speakers and is doing a very good job delivering the virtual surround sound to your ears.
The only downside I could see about the headsets performance was a lack of heavy bass. This was quite obvious when playing games such as Battlefield 3, as the explosions just didn’t seem to have the same rumble feel I was used to. The same was noticed while watching the opening sequence of Star Wars : A New Hope as there just wasn’t that rumble feeling again when the Star Destroyer passed overhead. However some headsets can also be a bit overpowering in this respect so it’s a matter of preference, but overall this headset outputs a very well rounded sound.
Although the microphone can only be rotated through an 145 degree arc, there were no issues with it picking up anything being said, even when talking very quiet. The microphone sits around an inch away from the mouth when in position and there was apparently no issues experienced with the clarity of the sound when talking on VOIP. The microphone is quite sensitive though, so it may have to be adjusted to suit your needs. The microphone on/off mute switch is also easily accessible and when muted no sound is picked up from the microphone itself within either Windows or VOIP.
The microphone was also tested using the Windows 7 sound recorder, just so I could clarify the quality of the sound for myself and to test the noise cancellation. The output of my voice seemed very clear and crisp and the difference could certainly be noticed when switching from Dolby 7.1 to stereo mode. Obviously if you were using VOIP or Skype you would want to set the headset to stereo mode, although if your playing a game and want the full virtual surround sound experience this obviously isn’t feasible, so other people will notice a slight difference in sound over voice chat.
Whilst using the microphone there was also no external sound picked up from the fan noise of the two PCs running either side of me or any other external noise, so it seemed that the noise cancellation was indeed also doing its job.
After having worn the headset over a considerable amount of time now for both gaming and watching movies, with some sessions lasting up to 4+ hours, I can certainly say that they do indeed seem to be very comfortable.
The soft cushioning on the headband does its job well and prevents any issues or discomfort from the headband pressing down on the top of your head. The same soft cushioning around the ear cups also allows the headset to be worn for extended periods of time without experiencing any hotness or discomfort around the ears. The over the ear cups sat well around the ears and I guess the only issue if any would be the lack of any sound cancellation to block out any external noise from a noisy gaming rig. Obviously this isn’t an issue when you’re playing a game or watching a movie however, but considering the price you can’t really complain.
Overall, I think the Plantronics Gamecom 780 headset represents really good value for money considering it also features 7.1 virtual surround sound. The packaging was sufficiently well designed with its black and orange look and the ability to see the headset from the outset via its clear window was nice. The headset was easy to install and there were no issues with the required software, so it was up and running within minutes of inserting the USB plug into my PC.
The soft velvet cushioning on both the inside of the headband and the ear cups made the headset very comfortable to wear for long periods of time and no discomfort was experienced during its use. The overall design of the headset is pretty basic, although maybe Plantronics was trying to go for that rugged retro aviator feel, but the build quality is pretty solid and considering the price the overall quality is excellent.
The microphone worked well for both gaming and VOIP and the controls were within easy reach and quick to adjust when needed. The addition of the Dolby 7.1 switch lighting up and the pitched tones in the ear cups when adjusting the controls were also nice touches.
The headsets sound quality while in stereo mode seemed to perform very well and the overall immersive experience while using the Dolby 7.1 surround sound was second to none. The sound was very balanced and although the lack of heavy bass might be an issue for some, it is really a matter of preference.