This is a product review. This is also a story. A story about success. A story about triumph in the face of adversity. A story about excellent use of resources, and a product that is brilliantly attuned to its target market. This is a review of the Plantronics Gamecom 788 Digital 7.1 USB headset.
I approached this review with a concern for my own personal bias. A product deserves to be objectively reviewed, but sound is such a subjective experience, and a 7.1 headset with a price tag of only $80 doesn't exactly inspire confidence. I've never been so pleased to make a poor first judgement.
It should be noted that the 788 is a strictly PC headset requiring a free USB port to connect and power it, but setup was a breeze. Remove the giant sticker from the USB connector telling you where to download your resource program, plug it in, switch your current headset to the new one, the same with the microphone and you're ready to start tracking enemies through walls in your favourite FPS.
The headset makes a nice point of mounting things you'll be using a lot, like volume controls, microphone mute, and a toggle between 2.0 and 7.1 operation mode directly on the left cup, which is certainly better than having a dangling dongle that you're constantly trying to find while playing.
The downloaded Dolby controller program even allows you to switch between "Music" mode and "Movies/ Gaming" mode. Though, to be honest, I haven't the slightest clue what this does; after much toggling in movies, music and games, it seems to make no appreciable difference, but it also uses almost no background resources, so I'm not bothered by it.
If I have to nitpick, the cord from headset to computer is frustratingly short. Six feet just isn't enough for a headset that's going to be moving with you as you fish for stuff around your desk. If you're like me and have right-side tower, you'll quickly discover that your headset needs to be plugged into the front USB ports. This leaves a thin, unbraided cable slung in front of you at all times. This all leads me to feel that the 788 is better suited for use on a laptop where these concerns don't exist, and that saddens me..
The pads on the cups are also quite firm, and the cloth cover on them bleeds an awful lot of ambient noise and do a pretty poor job of focusing bass. Your friends might tell you, as mine have, that your microphone makes you sound like an AM radio talk show host if it's not in just the right spot. Chewing with the microphone up also causes it to rattle in your left ear, and the cups themselves are clearly too small for human ears, causing them to become uncomfortable during extended use. They also, for whatever reason, rotate to face backwards, so instead of becoming comfortable around-the-neck speakers, they become awkward on-the-shoulder armour.
You'll almost certainly notice these things over time, as I have, but I'm not worried about any of them. I couldn't be bothered less by them because I adore the 788. I wouldn't care if the cable was two feet long with exposed wires that shocked me every five seconds. I wouldn't care if the cup pads had spikes in them. I wouldn't even be all that bothered if the inside of the box was laced with Anthrax, because the audio experience is simply excellent. Not just excellent for an $80 headset. It's excellent full stop. Sure, it lacks perfect clarity on account of being digital, causing the high-end to wash out a bit under the constant bass, and the low-end doesn't have the hit I would like, but the positional sound is brilliant. It may not have the ability to manipulate each driver in it independently, or crank bass levels while listening to music, but all of that is explained by the same reasoning for not having memory foam filled leatherette pads and expensive braided cables, or fancy external docks. The 788 fights up in price brackets. WAY up. And it comes out swinging.
Every single bit of the headset feels like it was meant to be that way. Every design choice, good or bad, was made in the pursuit of delivering a simply fantastic positional audio experience to a gaming audience and price bracket that couldn't previously dream of it.
Everything but that weird shoulder armour mode.