I had a very difficult time sitting down to write this review because every waking moment in front of the PC became a “testing session” as soon as I laid eyes on the PC 350s at my desk. If you are the competition – these are THE headphones to beat. While they aren’t designed around multiple uses, with some minor design tweaks we could see these cans ushering in a new lineup of Sennheiser headphones. Read on to find out why we are so excited about a set of headphones for the first time in a long while.
Features and Design
If you have read my past headphone reviews, you know I lament the lack of truly great gaming headphones. Previous Sennheiser products, like the PC 150 and PC 160 fell short in one way or another. The PC 150 had the punch and sound signature for gaming, but is relatively cheap feeling with an inflexible design while PC 160 had respectable design, but lacked the kick needed for gaming. Both were still good choices, but a good headset was so close I could taste it – and then I saw the PC 350s.
If you’re the type that likes to cut to the chase, here it is: After auditioning dozens of different headphones from various manufacturers, these are the headphones I have on my desk. They’re so good that everyone that has had a chance to listen to them either now owns a pair or is saving up for them. They aren’t without their faults, but they’ll impress everyone but your snobby audiophile friends that listen to nothing but vinyl through tube amps.
The PC 350s are part of the new G4me line from Sennheiser, aimed at the discerning PC gamer. It looks like the product design world has finally noticed that not every gamer wants to look like they’re wearing an official Delta Force communication unit or some high tech looking contraption that cuts off circulation to you head. The look is sleek, simple and refined, but bold and glossy. The ear pads are soft and comfortable for hours of play, though they can get a little warm. The headband is adjustable, with extra padding, and the single cord design keeps the wire clutter gremlins at bay. On the left earpiece is the swivel down directional, noise cancelling microphone, which can be muted using the inline remote, which also controls volume. The single cord terminates at the standard green headphone and pink microphone 3.5”stereo jacks.
Image Courtesy of Sennheiser
Testing and Use
Unlike some past Sennheiser gaming headsets, the PC 350 does not come with a USB adapter, which is important for several reasons. First, most gamers have invested in a nice, beafy sound card that offloads environmental sound effects and other audio processing to the dedicated hardware. Adding a USB adapter essentially nixes all that gear goodness, since Windows will treat it like a sound card. Second, when it comes to Macs, you’ll need a USB audio adapter of mic preamp. All Macs use line-in ports, which offer no signal boost. There is a legitimate reason for this, but it is a bad one, and means that you will have to shell out anywhere from $20 to $100 for a USB audio adapter. We tested the PC 350s on a Mac Pro using both a cheap USB adapter and a Sennheiser UUSB1 adapter ($80) and saw no discernable difference. The bulk of the auditioning occurred on a PC sporting a Creative Soundblaster X-Fi card.
There are many tricks that folks into high-end audio can pull to squeeze out every drop of detail from a set of cans. This review is written from the perspective of the average consumer considering options in the same price range, feature set, and without the time or concern to do things like mod the cords. Also, we are running these without a dedicated headphone amplifier, like 99% of the music listening public. Sound quality across a battery of music types was excellent, though not quite at the level of some similarly priced dedicated music headphones, especially after modding and hooked up to a $500+ amp. They do hold their own in most genres, though. We tested most selections as MP3s at 320kbps, but also broke out the CDs for a few. Pop, techno, industrial, rock, spoken word, jazz – it all sounded very good. We noted some slightly tight bass, and a little muddiness at the center of the sound stage, along with some flatness depending on the quality of the recording and the dynamic range of the music, all of which could be due to listener and selection bias.
Radiohead’s OK Computer sounded excellent overall, with some slight dispersion at the center of the sound stage. Each chime in No Surprises was crisp, with a satisfying, slightly tight bass line. Classic David Bowie was detailed and satisfying. Björk didn’t quite shine as bright, even when she tried to be abrasive, and the ultra-deep tones in Hunter felt slightly attenuated. Led Zeppelin seemed mildly deflated, but still excellent in detail, stage, and tone overall. Chicks On Speed punked their way through loud and clear, and Miss Kittin purred along pleasantly. Ethereal music suffered slightly due to the tight sound, sapping some of the atmosphere. Delerium was slightly uninspiring and flat, compared to the jumpier tunes. Experimental electronic music, like Aphex Twin, was experimentally delicious. Saul Williams’s latest release had good reaction and punch, and the perfect sound field. Jazz and swing brought a grin to the faces of everyone that listened through the PC 350s. Sinatra at the Sands, Chick Corea, and it even fared decently during Dr. Jekyll as Mile Davis launched some crazy toots of the old horn.
On the gaming side, we took the PC 350s for a spin around Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2 (so we could stop and play with the environmental sounds without fear of being turned to giblets), World of Warcraft, and Battlefield 2142. WoW doesn’t tax the sound system much, but communication over TeamSpeak2 is essential. Sound quality from the mic was crystal clear and among the best we’ve heard for headsets. Environmental sounds were surprisingly good due to the snappy response. Bullet ricochets and boots on the ground were easy to make out around corners, though the built in E.A.R. stereo imaging may have actually worked against the system, since most games and sound cards do much better sound localization processing. The overall tight sound really brings those snapping twig and accidental runs to the forefront.
We would like to see future versions with a detachable microphone, so they could be used in public without those looks questioning which airport was missing its traffic controller. The cord is a comfortable 9 feet for those with towers stowed further away from the desk, but some type of management would be nice for those of us that could make do with a 4 foot cord. The main concern most people will have is the price (a hefty $250 MSRP, $180 street), but you’re paying for quality. And for a change you’ll actually be getting it!
The Sennheiser PC 350 may not satisfy every audiophile that craves the thrill of piling on components and mods to eke out every bit of performance, but for those that just want to plug n’ frag look no further. They handle music with surprising ease, and the closed design will block out the cursing of you LAN party buddies as you headshot them with your eyes closed by listening to the sound of their eyes blinking. Overall, the sound signature is tight, weighted toward the higher frequencies (“bright”), and sports very clear mids. The sound stage is sized well, with some slight blur at the center, and the sound and headphones themselves are not significantly fatiguing. While they might cost you, the PC 350 will look great, perform great, and leave you grinning with every listen.
• Excellent sound quality
• Integrated mic
• Sharp looks
• Microphone not removable