Not long ago, if console gamers wanted a high-quality headset for console play, the decision was a no-brainer; they’d purchase a pair of Turtle Beach cans. However, over the last few years, a number of viable contenders have challenged the manufacturer’s reign. From the Tritton Pro+, the F.R.E.Q. 5 and 7’s, as well as products from Astro, Razer, Sennheiser, SteelSeries, choosing a headset has become a complicated undertaking. Considering the price of these peripherals typically ranges from one to three hundred dollars, making a proper decision is critical.
Last year, things became a little more complicated as Skullcandy entered the console headset market. Following their acquisition of Astro Gaming, the Utah-based organization unveiled their two inaugural products: the SLYR, an entry-level set of earphones, and the PLYR 2, a device which combines comfort and wireless functionality. While the PLYR 2 enjoyed a favorable assessment, the lack of Dolby Surround Sound would prohibit the peripheral from winning over audiophiles. With the release of the PLYR 1, Skullcandy corrects that omission, delivering a device which proficiently balances price and performance.
Upon opening the eye-grabbing PLYR 1 box, purchasers will find a breakaway plastic clamshell. Capable of protecting the headset in transit, the housing unseals without the need of scissors or knife. Considering how we’ve marred devices while trying to rupture the resilient polystyrene, Skullcandy’s packaging approach is to be commended. After the headset is removed, owners will also find a number of cables used to pair the PLYR 1 to a PC, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360, as well as a fold-out multilingual connection guide.
Uniting the PLYR 1 to a console is a largely effortless task, assuming owners have a TOSLINK output. Using the included USB and optical cables, owners connect the GMX Dolby Transmitter to either 360 or PS3. A visit to either console’s settings menu allows each system to output sound through the optical jack. For PlayStation 3 owners, moving to the Accessory Settings options allows the PLYR 1’s microphone to be used in voice chat. Regretfully, owners of either the Wii U or latest Xbox 360 redesign won’t be able to utilize the peripheral without buying a 3.5mm cable. Since these machines sacrifice optical output, users will only enjoy stereo 2.0 sound. As such, they’re likely better served by the PLYR 2.
Connecting the PLYR 1 to a PC is a similar assignment, assuming the owners have a sound card with an optical port. Without such an outlet, the peripheral utilizes either the USB power line or a 3.5mm cable for input, again sacrificing the fidelity of Dolby Digital Surround Sound. On our test systems, the Skullcandy GMX transmitter was quickly recognized after making a connection through a USB port. Next, a trip to the Windows Control Panel was necessary to change the default monophonic output into 5.1 or 7.1 fidelity and ensure the microphone was enabled for voice communication or recording.
One of the best attributes of the PLYR 2 was the device’s commitment to comfort. Pleasingly, the PLYR 1 replicates that experience. Constructed of lightweight plastic, the headset’s frame is light, accommodating six-hour gaming sessions with the fatigue to burden or a vice-like grip around the temples. The headphone’s aperture size can be adjusted by sliding each ear cup along an eight-point extender. Additionally, the flexibility of the PLYR 1’s frame allows the headset to fit a variety of cranial sizes. The downside of elasticity is that the unit doesn’t feel as sturdy as headset’s constructed of hardened plastic. While the peripheral might remain undamaged from a fall to a carpeted floor, we wouldn’t want to drop the PLYR 1 on tile or hardwood.
Aurally, the PLYR 1’s output is solid, with the 40mm drivers articulating evenly across the sonic spectrum and almost no distortion, even when the volume is raised to extreme levels. While headsets such as the Astro A50s might offer snappier highs and punchier bass, they also cost almost twice as much as the PLYR 1. That said, Skullcandy does offer users an easy way to shape their sonic output- a three position switch located on the bottom of the right earcup. Supreme mode makes no adjustments to the sound signature while Precision mode heightens the midranges where players might hear the footsteps of a pursuing foe. The Bass setting unsurprisingly augments the low end, useful for making drumbeats more forceful or increasing the impact of explosions and gunfire. For extended testing, we used the PLYR 1’s to watch films, listen to music, conduct Skype-based interviews, and well as enjoy Surround Sound enabled games. In all contexts the headsets performed commendably, nearly converging on the quality of their higher priced competitors.
Since headsets place our ears adjacent to the sound source, spatial fidelity on a set of headphone is often inferior to a tuned speaker set-up. To test the PLYR 1’s 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound, we used three sonically superior PS3 games for testing: BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves For the PC, we investigated the output of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dark Souls, and The Witcher 2. Although identifying the location of adversaries using sonic information was articulated clearer with our in-house, 500 watt Logitech Z906 Surround Sound setup, the PLYR 1 was able to convey enemy placement convincingly. Additional testing through diagnostic software confirmed convincing channel separation from the headsets two drivers.
Charging the PLYR 1’s wasn’t a quick undertaking, with a four-hour duration typically filling the built-in batteries with power. Regretfully, the bundled Micro-USB charging cable isn’t long enough to make usage while recharging a possibility. Once the headset has filled to capacity, users can expect to get about 12-14 hours of playtime before rejuvenation is necessary. One thing we’d like to see built into a future PLYR iteration is an auto-off capability; more than once we forgot to turn off the headset at night and woke up to a completely depleted battery. Pleasingly, the PLYR 1 demonstrated a wall-penetrating wireless range, operating more than 75 feet away from the transmitter without disruption. While the unit shares the 2.4 GHz frequency with cordless phones, routers, Bluetooth peripherals, and some WISPs, we encountered no interference, even in densely populated urban settings.
One of our favorite features of the PLYR series is the folding microphone. Ingeniously, moving the boom to an upright position mutes the transmission of sound, which is much easier that locating a button tucked away on an edge of a headset. Unfortunately, the core problem we had with the PLYR 2 remains unchanged in the PLYR 1; the device’s input level is too low. Although the right side of the headset has a stubby joystick to adjust volume level and the balance between game and voice levels, no fine-tuning could bring our speaking voice above a subdued level. As such, owners are forced to talk louder or try to bring the end of the microphone very close to their mouth, which increases the prospect for breathing and distorted plosives (exaggerated P and S sounds). While the hushed input isn’t a deal breaker for gamers, anyone wishing to do podcasting or voice over work with the PLYR 1 might want to find another solution.
Currently, the PLYR 1 comes is two color schemes: gamers seeking a white headset may purchase one from Skullcandy’s website, while the black model is currently an exclusive to Best Buy retail and online channels. Considering the unit’s $179.99 MSRP, the PLYR 1 delivers praiseworthy performance, save for microphone output and a build quality that’s just a bit too malleable. The upside of a polystyrene-based production is that the headset is light. Coupled with the supple fabric ear cups, the PLYR 1’s most remarkable distinction is the peripheral’s devotion to comfort.
MSRP: $179.99 USD
Output: 7.1 Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound for digital input, Dolby PLIIx for non-digital inputs.
Driver Size: 40mm
Impedance: 29 ohms
Sound Pressure Level: 104dB (+/- 5dB) 20hz-20khz
Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.1%
Warranty: One year for manufacturer defects