Skullcandy enters the gaming arena with their new line of headsets made specifically for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Their PLYR1 headset features wireless connectivity, Dolby Digital 7.1, a flip-up boom mic, and onboard Voice Balancing.
Skullcandy PLYR1 Wireless Headset
2.4 GHz Wireless Technology
Audio Inputs: Optical (Toslink), 3.5mm Aux stereo mini-jack
Audio Output: Optical (Toslink) pass-thru
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Ear Coupling: Over-Ear
Driver Size: 40mm
Impedance: 29 ohm
SPL: 104 dB (+/- 5 dB)
Distortion: THD <0.1%
Note: Specifications are provided by the manufacturer and were not tested in this review for accuracy. For consistency purposes, the same demo material from my review of the Astro Gaming A50 headset was used.
Additional Items Used To Conduct Review:
Sony PlayStation 3 Slim
Various music tracks from my mp3 library
The Rock Blu-ray
The Adventures of Tintin Blu-ray
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Video Game (PS3)
When Skullcandy acquired Astro Gaming, the parent company tasked the designers at Astro to develop a line of headsets for the casual gamer to be marketed under the Skullcandy brand (priced under $200), while retaining the boutique Astro Gaming line (priced $200 and above). The results are the SLYR, PLYR2, and PLYR1 gaming headsets. If my review sounds similar to my review of the Astro Gaming A50, that is no coincidence, as there are many similarities between these two
The PLYR1 is a 2.4GHz wireless headset (available in both white and black), and comes packaged with a wireless transmitter stand, an optical cable, a USB charging cable, a USB power cable, and an Xbox Live cable. Connecting to a Sony PlayStation 3 or Microsoft XBOX 360 game console is very simple. Connect the USB charging cable into the mini-USB port on the transmitter and into a standard USB port on the game console. Next, connect the optical cable to the optical audio input on the transmitter and into the optical audio output on the game console. If you were using optical audio from your game console to your home theater receiver, the transmitter does have an optical pass-through. After charging the headset using the included USB charging cable (no AC adapter is included, though), just depress the power button on the back of the right ear cup. The headset and transmitter are paired before shipping from the factory. When powering up the game console, the transmitter will power up as well. The default setting on the transmitter is for stereo output, but depress the button on the top for Dolby Pro-Logic IIx (7.1). When setting up on a PS3 and selecting optical audio as your primary audio output, make sure DTS is turned off, forcing the console to downmix DTS tracks to 2-channel PCM stereo, since the PLYR1 does not support DTS. Although not documented in the Quick Start Guide, Bitstream should be selected under Video Settings/BD-Audio Output (Optical). If using HDMI as your primary audio, you can activate the secondary audio feature, but everything output over optical will be downmixed to 2.0 PCM stereo. For Game Chat (using the attached microphone), select “Skullcandy GMX Dolby Transmitter” as both the input and output device under Settings/Accessory Settings/Audio Device Settings. For XBOX 360, you will need to connect the headset to your XBOX controller using the included XBOX Live cable. Thus, only PC and PS3 users are truly wireless.
Now that everything is set up and the headset charged, it’s time to demo some material. But first, let’s take a look at the headset itself, which is very well-balanced and quite comfortable once adjusted to your head, although the earcups may be a bit snug for those with larger ears. On the left ear cup, there is the adjustable microphone, which swings up and down, and mutes when in the 12 o’clock position. On the back of the right cup is the USB charging port, and below that is a 3-position EQ switch (Bass, Supreme, and Precision modes). At the bottom of the right earcup is the Xbox Live port to connect to your Xbox controller for chatting (which is not required for use with a PS3 or PC). On the outside of the right earcup is the power button, and next to that is a 4-way toggle button to control volume (up and down) and in-game audio (front to back), which comes in handy when the only chatters are teenagers.
My one complaint is in the design of the transmitter. While I thought it was nice to combine the transmitter with a stand (much like the wireless headsets from Turtle Beach), placing the power and Dolby buttons on the rear of the transmitter instead of backlit buttons on the front was a mistake, especially when you consider the placement of those buttons on the back. Having those buttons on the front, instead, allows for much easier access to them. Having the buttons in the back almost requires that the transmitter be picked up and turned over to make sure the correct button is pressed.
I began with a few music selections in stereo mode, including Into The West by Annie Lennox from the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Peacekeeper by Fleetwood Mac, and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (a rock opera rendition of the H.G. Wells story, narrated by Richard Burton). There are three Audio Mode EQ presets to choose from: Bass (1), Supreme (2), and Precision (3). Bass mode sounded a bit too boomy and high frequencies were often cut. Precision had much clearer highs, but dialogue occasionally sounded hollow. Supreme was an acceptable compromise, with a more balanced sound with little to no distortion. Enabling the Dolby Headphone setting on the transmitter added an even wider and deeper surround presence to the music.
Movies were next, and I started with The Rock, a film well-known for its over-the-top surround sound mix. Listening to the uncompressed 5.1 PCM track, with Dolby enabled, sounded decent, but not quite expansive. Switching to the 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track was a major improvement in surround and low-frequency presence, providing a much more immersive experience. The results were virtually identical with Megamind and The Adventures of Tintin (switching between the DTS-HD MA 7.1 and the 640 kbps Dolby 5.1 tracks on Tintin).
In my review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3., I gave high praise to the sound design when played through my home theater setup, and playing the game at home for a few hours while wearing the PLYR1 was a treat. Gunfire and explosions had decent dynamic range, and I could have sworn I heard enemies sneaking up behind me. Footsteps, in-game dialogue, and gunshots were a bit more distinctive in Precision mode, but overall the sound was still a bit harsh, with increased treble. Call of Duty sounded best in Supreme mode, in my opinion. During online game play, I enabled the chat function, and fellow gamers were able to hear me quite clearly through the attached microphone. When the chat became too obnoxious and distracting, I was able to easily fade them out using the balance lever on the side of the right ear cup.
A complaint I’ve often had with wireless headphones is the amount of interference the transmitter and receiver tend to introduce. This was very evident in my Seinnheiser RS-110 wireless headphones, but those were less than half the price of the Skullcandy PLYR1, and used 900 Mhz RF to transmit their signal. The PLYR1 uses 2.4 Ghz technology for its wireless communication, providing audio that is not only free of interference and distortion, but is so crystal-clear, you’d swear you were listening to wired headphones. The rechargeable battery, receiver, and mixer add a good amount of weight to the headset, but the engineers and designers at Astro have successfully balanced that weight along with cushioned headband and earcups to provide a nice, comfortable fit. The PLYR1s do not do as good a job at sealing out room noise as the Astro Gaming A50s, nor do they sound as clear, but the PLYR1 sells for $120 less than the A50 (which sells for $299.99). Also, the PLYR1 is targeted towards the casual gamer, while the A50 is targeted at the professional gamer. That being said, the Skullcandy PLYR1 is a worthy, less-expensive option for a quality wireless headset, offering Dolby Digital 7.1 surround sound for both the casual gamer and home theater enthusiast looking for a solution to late-night television viewing.