There's no way around it – this is a great time for gaming audio from every perspective. The people making our favorite games are doing all kinds of crazy stuff with audio tech and composers known for their work on movies are getting into video games more and more. We also have more bandwidth than ever to play with. Xbox Live helped make voice chat something gamers have come to expect, and all that bandwidth means the voice on the other end is clearer than ever, whether it's a teammate, a 12-year-old indignant over a loss (or gloating over a victory), or a friend over Skype.
That means that the hardware we use to enjoy all those advancements is getting more attention than ever, too, and we're seeing more high-end hardware from outside the standard PC gaming-focused companies. That brings us to LucidSound's LS30 headset, designed for use with consoles and mobile devices, and the first entry from the company.
More than meets the eye
Even before you get the LS30 headset on your head, it makes an impression. This isn't your usual gaming headset. As you drill down through the packaging into the actual contents, that impression sticks. It doesn't look or feel like a gaming headset.
But that's the thing. It is a gaming headset. So how does that disconnect work? How is the LS30 as a gaming headset? How is it as a pair of headphones? Is it trying to do dual duty, or is it just gamer hardware in a mainstream coat of paint? At $149.99, this headset is trying to do a lot. That price puts it at the top of the mid-range of gaming headsets.
From the outside, the LS-30 definitely looks more like a standard set of headphones than a gaming headset. That's not a bad thing, though. Usually, when I put on a gaming headset, even in the best of cases, I feel like a helicopter pilot, or like I'm wearing a Transformer on my head. Even when I'm gaming alone, it's nice to not look goofy.
The set looks, instead, more like the Beat by Dre's Pro headphones – even the sticker in the box calls to mind the Beats logo. Say what you want about the audio quality those headphones put out, they do look nice, and the LS30s pick up on the right queues, combining a sleek black look with sturdy brushed metal structure. The ear cups are surrounded by that brushed metal, making sure that every time you go to take them on and off, you feel that cool, solid material against your hands.
The headset does have a white-and-gold configuration, but LucidSound sent me the black model. Aside from the brushed steel highlights and a couple power indicators, the headset is black all the way throughout.
They also adjust easily and smoothly, and stay that way – I never felt them slipping into other sizes when putting them on or taking them off. The memory foam cups helped hold them in place and keep them off my ears as well, making the whole package comfortable to wear for extended sessions.
To help keep the headset from looking like the aforementioned Transformer, LucidSound made the optional boom mic easy to plug and unplug. If you want you can just use the built-in microphone embedded into the headset, or you can plug in the mic. Either way, you have access to a microphone. If you choose to plug in the boom mic, it bends and moves easily to whatever position you like and holds it firmly. If you hit the mute button on your right ear, the mic lights up bright blue. I don't know if it's just me, but blue LEDs irritate my eyes more than just about anything else on earth, meaning that when that mic is muted, I know it's muted. It might sound like I'm complaining, but I think making it so visible is a good choice.
When the mic is off, though, the headset goes totally stealth and can be used as a pair of regular headphones with any 3.5mm analog audio cable between the headset and your audio device of choice. If you plug in a hands-free cable, it can also act as a mobile headset. These both work with the headset turned off, in passive mode, so you don't have to worry about charging them up when you're out of the house. If you can't justify a dedicated piece of gaming hardware and need your tech to be multipurpose, the LS30 has you covered. You can even plug that boom mic in and use that in passive mode (though it won't light up) for more directional audio reception.
Because the mic is removable, it could potentially be easy to lose. While the LS30 doesn't sport a carrying case for the myriad wires and other goods that come in the box, the box seems to have been designed with that in mind. It's easy to seal and re-seal, making it a good place to store the headphones when you're not using them, In the center of the box is a cavity meant to hold all those cables, and the lid on that pops on and off smoothly. I would've liked a carrying case, as that would fit in with the sort of mobile-gaming hybrid nature of the headset, but the box's reusability at least ensures that parts aren't getting lost due to a lack of storage.
Cables and Dongles
Aside from the headphones themselves, the box also includes both a 3.5mm analog audio cable for use with mobile devices, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, an Xbox 360-style audio cable, a USB Micro charging cable, the USB dongle that transmits audio, an optical cable, and a couple rubber caps to pop into the mic cavity if you you want that full stealth look I mentioned above.
Let's talk about that optical audio cable for a second. The USB dongle features an optical audio port on it, and you can use the included optical cable (or any other optical to mini-optical cable, really) to pull clean sound out of whichever console you're plugged into, rather than the sometimes garbled game audio that can come out of the consoles' controllers. I'll accept spotty chat audio, because sometimes the internet sucks, but when the source of the audio is the game I'm playing in the same room, not other players in another city or country, the audio needs to be clean and clear, no exceptions.
On that, the LS-30 delivers with solid range – I was able to go most anywhere in my apartment without my audio source cutting out, and walking around didn't interfere with my ability to chat wirelessly.
Okay, but how does it sound?
One area in which gamers may find the LS30 lacking is in some of the higher end audio options. No matter what audio source you're coming from, the LS30 is a stereo headset. It doesn't do any kind of Dolby, DTS, 5.1, 7.1, or anything like that, meaning you'll want to set your console to output stereo sound.
There are also only three different equalizers – even, bass boost, and treble boost. These are hard-coded into the headset and available when it's turned on. They're easy to toggle between with the switch, and the difference between each one is clear, but it is fairly limited.
The default sound, though, is pretty bass heavy. If you're just plugging them into your phone or amp in passive mode, the bass is cranked way up. This is great for games, as things like gunshots are satisfying and crunchy, but it won't be good for all types of music. I found Miles Davis' Kind of Blue dominated by the bass, rather than complemented. Hip-hop and electronic music, on the other hand, sounded great.
The headphones do get plenty loud, comparable with other similar headphones, though it's worth noting that for closed-back headphones, they do not isolate nearly as well as some other models, so you'll hear outside noise and if someone's close enough to you, they may be able to hear what you're listening to.
I'm also including a test of what the microphone sounds like – as well as a playlist of some other microphones, gaming and otherwise, that I've recorded for reference. I've only started doing this recently, so not every headset we've reviewed will have this, but I'm planning to include these going forward:
First, without the optional boom mic connected:
And second, with the optional boom mic connected:
You can also, if you really want to keep listening to my voice, check out the playlist of mic tests I've done, which includes a Blue Snowball mic as a reference point, and one other headset I haven't written about yet.
One way some of those higher-end headsets I mentioned can get caught up, though is in unnecessary complexity. They pack such a variety of controls onto the headset itself that interacting with the headset becomes a minefield. You go to put them down for a break between matches and end up muting something, changing your equalizer, or flipping some other switch. Here, the LS30 keeps things simple and elegant.
Around the rim of the ear cup, there's a power button on one ear and the EQ button on the other. They're difficult to hit accidentally, but easy to hit when you're looking for them. The controls on the cups themselves are divided up. The left ear controls your game volume, and the right controls chat volume. A smooth spin raises and lowers the volume, and pushing the cup in mutes or unmutes each.
Now, I have to cop to something, here. Due to my experience with some other headsets, I misunderstood an element of the design on this headset. I'm mentioning it here first not just so you can make fun of me in the comments but also so that maybe someone else won't make the same mistake.
The muting is controlled by pressing the plate on each ear in. It's simple and has a satisfying click. The volume is controlled by a ring around the outer edge of that plate. My first instinct, though, was to try spinning the plate itself. The metal plate has a sort of grooved texture, not entirely unlike a vinyl record (ask your parents what a vinyl record is), and when I'd move my finger across it, it interacted with my fingerprints such that it felt like it was moving. In my ear, I could hear a gentle click as I rotated the plate. The thing is, the plate doesn't rotate. The click came from the slight movement of the muting function. The two elements created an illusion of movement that simply isn't there.
Instead, the volume is controlled by the outer plastic ring. This piece is sturdy and easy to understand and use once you stop trying to spin the metal plate in the middle like I did. I think this could've been communicated a little more clearly in the design, but it's not a dealbreaker by any means, and will likely seem totally natural to a lot of people that pick it up.
The LS30 headset is going to best serve those who, like I said, need to multi-purpose their hardware. It lacks some of the features that fan-favorite headsets are known for and, understandably, some of those associated with higher-end gear. It's a solid stereo gaming headset that features good range and battery life, though, and clean audio in both directions. If you're a PC gamer, you may want to skip these, as they don't officially support PC. If you're gaming on consoles and listening to music, though, it does double-duty as a great-looking, good sounding pair of headphones and a mobile headset.
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