Altec Lansing AHS602
If you're tired of playing the silent type in games such as Counter-Strike and Unreal Tournament 2004, Altec Lansing's AHS602 two-way headset might be just the solution. In addition to offering refinements such as SRS 3D sound processing and an in-line control module, the AHS602 lets you communicate with other players through a built-in boom microphone. Although the AHS602 ($99 list) is also suitable for DVD sound, Voice over IP (VoIP), and speech-recognition applications, its high price and specialized features are overkill for nongamers.
About the same size as a typical set of full-size headphones, the AHS602 features sealed, ear-cupping drivers that completely cover your ears, effectively blocking out background noise and limiting sound leakage into the room. The padded, adjustable headband enhanced the 'phones' comfort, but this reviewer's ears felt clamped down after about an hour of continuous wear. The boom mic, which is attached to the left earpiece, can be swiveled up and out of the way when it's not in use.
One 2.3-foot cord segment connects the control module to the left earpiece, while a second, 5.3-foot segment emerges from the control module and splits into a 1/8-inch stereo headphone plug and a 1/8-inch mic plug for two-way communication through consumer computer sound cards. The in-line control module allows you to adjust the overall playback volume, the microphone volume (mute, low, high), and the SRS 3D surround effect (includes on/off and level controls). A single AAA loads into the control module to power the headphones' active circuitry.
In our testing, the AHS602's respectably large 40mm drivers set this model apart from the cheaper, smaller two-way headsets that are better suited for less engaging applications such as VoIP and voice recognition. While the SRS circuitry added some extra depth to the soundstage in Unreal Tournament 2004, it fell short of delivering a convincing surround-sound simulation.
Frequency response was fairly even across the spectrum, with the headset showing balanced treble and midrange performance in combination with average bass response. Teammates reported hearing us clearly when we spoke through the built-in mic. For the sake of comparison, we tested the AHS602 and our AKG K 55 ($42 list) 'phones, which don't have a microphone. Although we preferred the more natural, airier sound of the K 55, the AHS602's showing wasn't bad. As a bonus, DVD videos played on our laptop sounded good through the AHS602, especially with the SRS circuitry activated. We preferred listening to music with SRS turned up midway, because the sound was too diffuse with SRS cranked and too thin when SRS was off.
In terms of convenience, the AHS602 shares the same disadvantages of other PC analog headsets. If your computer isn't blessed with front-panel audio ports, you'll need to plug directly into your sound card, which disables your desktop speakers, unless you have a splitter. By comparison, competing gaming headsets such as Plantronics' DSP-500 ($109) use a single USB connection. In addition to more convenient jack placement on certain PCs, USB-powered 'phones don't necessarily need batteries for surround enhancement effects. That said, they can't take advantage of the better sound from high-end audio cards, either.
In the final analysis, the AHS602 headset works as advertised, providing reproduction of in-game sound effects and enabling clear communication with teammates in multiplayer games. Although it sounds wholly average and is fairly pricey, the AHS602 won't disappoint gamers wanting to avoid the feedback that results from simultaneously using multimedia speakers and a standard PC mic.