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You'd be forgiven for shuddering a little when you notice that Logitech's G35 headset advertises itself as supporting 7.1 sound. Perhaps even more so when you notice that it plugs in via USB, meaning all the sound processing is done within the headset itself. Neither has had a good reputation, and we were curious to see if Logitech's usually high quality offerings managed to skip the curse.
It certainly starts well enough — the rugged, rubberised plastic so popular on gaming mouses these days is everywhere, it comes with three vinyl covered headband pads of varying thickness which can be attached by velcro for extra comfort, and each earpiece is precisely adjustable, clicking between numbered detents.
The flexible microphone can be adjusted with reasonable precision, and feels likely to survive a lot of punishment. Flick it to the up position, and it automatically mutes itself, indicated by a red LED at the end of the mic.
Logitech has opted to position controls on the left earpiece rather than on the 3-metre long braided cord, which smartly reduces the hanging weight and allows for freer movement of the head. A scroll wheel is included for volume, a mic mute button next to it (which also triggers the red light), and three customisable buttons above those.
There isn't a great deal of customisation available though — Logitech only includes predefined settings for popular multimedia players (iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, PowerDVD, WinDVD), Ventrilo and audio settings for the headset as well as voice morphing. It's a surprise to not see greater flexibility here considering Logitech's expansive offerings on its keyboards.
On the rear of the left hand earpiece is a switch that flips between stereo and Dolby 7.1 sound — something which we can say only had mild success in our tests.
Logitech's G35 control panel (Credit: CBS Interactive)
You may have picked up on the mention voice morphing — the G35 software lets you alter your voice thanks to six included different settings: "Cyborg", "Troll", "Giant", "Alien", "Mutant" and "Space Squirrel", adding post processing to achieve some novel effects. You can even tell the program what the natural pitch of your voice is for the best results, and while it's initially a bit of fun, we imagine it will annoy your fellow online players very quickly.
The software suite also features the ability to set bass, treble, volume and microphone levels, and it handily tells you the last time you received a proper surround sound stream. This allows you determine whether you're experiencing proper surround sound, rather than upmixed stereo. An active light in the control panel would have been more useful, but it's not too bad a solution.
Once you've installed the drivers, plugging the headphones in results in the software auto-loading, and Windows automatically switching to the G35s as the default audio device. It's a nice touch that means when you pull them out, Windows auto-switches back to your speakers without the cost or hassle of hardware switch boxes. On the flipside, these headphones will only ever be used for your Windows PC, as no 3.5mm jack is present, and no Mac or Linux drivers are supplied.
Isolation was impressive from these closed headphones — something we'd expect from a more expensive set. Comfort is good too, although the firm clamping may fatigue some users after an extended gaming session.
While they exhibited a tendency to be too bassy like a lot of gaming headsets, the effect was only slight and clarity was acceptable, not muddying up tonality too badly as cheaper sets do. The low frequency was particularly impressive, often emitting a booming rumble usually reserved for subwoofers, that you actually feel. Those who like their explosions will love the G35s.
Playing back Karnivool's C.O.T.E. was excellent in stereo mode (although understandably not as crisp as our Audio Technica ATH-A900s), but in surround mode it sounded like a highly compressed MP3, with sibilants and cymbals sounding watery, compressed, tinny and horrid. If you have a stereo source, best stick to stereo mode.
Things didn't pick up for the 7.1 mode in games either. While it definitely provided a broader sound stage, all the sources sounded slightly too distant and positioning was shot. Loading up Half-Life 2: Episode Two and setting it to 7.1 sound, when a character was speaking everything seemed off by 90 degrees. If they were to your left, it sounded like they were in front of you. To your right, you could barely hear a thing. Potentially this can be fixed with driver updates, but for now, it's broken.
What was that Alyx? You'll have to speak in my left ear, the right one has simulated deafness. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Movies fared slightly better, but the shift in positioning was subtle, and it was difficult to tell if sound was coming from behind or in front — a trend that continued in RightMark's 3D Sound Positioning Accuracy Test.
If you're looking for a good headset to complement your gaming, the Logitech G35s are excellent — but keep them in stereo mode, and leave the surround sound for speakers.