Plantronics is known for it's assortment of audio headsets and bluetooth products - many PC enthusiasts also associate the name with gaming headsets although this does only make up a small part of their range.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on the Plantronics GameCom 780 Gaming Headset for review and used it solidly for over a month of testing in different scenarios.
The GameCom 780 is a USB headset, implementing DOLBY technology to provide a 7.1 surround sound experience through a pair of 40mm drivers. There is also a noise cancelling microphone and volume/mute controls on the ear cups for easy reach. We had high hopes for this headset and sent it up against both analog motherboard audio (ALC-892) and a mid range soundcard (ASUS DX) / headset (Corsair HS1-A) combination.
Cable Length: 2 meters/6 feet
Speaker Driver Size: 40mm diameter
Speaker Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz
Speaker Sensitivity: 123 dBSPL /mW
Speaker Impedence: 32 ohms
Microphone Frequency Response: 100 Hz - 10 kHz
Microphone sensitivity: -45 dBV/ Pa +/- 5dB
Maximum Power Input for peakers: 10 mW
The GameCom 780 is mostly black with some red highlights - the Dolby LED is blue and only illuminates when the Dolby software (installed on the PC) is running. In keeping with the red highlights, the cords are also matching red and quite sturdy. The other good thing about having a red cord is that the USB plug is easy to identify if you have it plugged into a hub or around the back of your PC. The microphone swivels up and down so you can move it out of the way when you don't need it - it also bends so you can move it closer to your mouth if you need to. The padding is cushioned felt-like material. The construction is mostly high gloss black plastic with the "GAMECOM" branding emblazoned across the top of the head band and strong wire rods that connect the ear cups.
The main thing that I noticed was how light this headset is - probably one of the lightest headsets of it's class I have seen to date.
The only potential negative that I could pick out is that glossy plastic shows up fingerprints and scratches more than matte plastic.
Without doubt, the GameCom 780 is very comfortable. I'll acknowledge that we all have different shaped heads but for me this headset was like slippers for my ears. In the interests of "testing", I wore the headset for skype and music whilst working for over 4 hours straight and I was surprised with how comfortable it was. The tension in terms of how tight it grips your head is also really well balanced and feels firm enough not to move out of place without being too tight. If you don't have any sound playing through the unit, you can still hear what is going on around you - eg. keystrokes on a (non-mechnaical) keyboard. As soon as you start playing music, watching a movie or getting a game underway, ambient noise seems to disappear altogether. For example, typing on that same keyboard as before doesn't penetrate the ear cups at a low to moderate volume setting. I could comfortably wear this headset all day or a on regular basis.
The ear cups swivel to lay flat but have resistance so they don't flap around in an annoying way. Having the microphone mute slider and volume rocker on the left ear cup means that you are not hunting around in the dark, following the cord looking for an inline remote.
When compared side by side on the table, the GameCom 780 didn't look as durable as the Corsair HSA-1 headset that we used for comparison. On closer inspection of the GameCom 780, the ear cup swivel mechanism, all the joints, connections and padding feel more than strong enough to survive normal wear and tear. This seems to be a situation where the product is more sturdy than it's weight would suggest. You would need to really mis-treat the GameCom 780 to break it - I can't see a problem with tossing it in a bag for a LAN event, dropping it off a desk or flinging it across the desk during a 'rage quit' tantrum.
The microphone has some flex in it and it rotates into place smoothly. Again, there is enough resistance that if you only rotate the microphone half way, it will stay where you leave it.
The retail packaging is pretty standard and includes a plastic shell inside the box to keep eveything where it should be. I've included a box shot below so that you can see what to look for if you plan to buy one retail (versus e-tail).
There are labels that remind you to install the software from the installation CD before trying to use the GameCom 780. Installation is painless and if you lose the CD, you can get the software from the Plantronics website. Whilst I didn't have any problems at all installing the software or getting the GameCom780 to work on Windows 7 64bit, I didn't test it on Windows 8. As I said before, there are 2x40mm drivers in the GameCom 780 so the 7.1 surround experience is simulated via software.
After seeing the software that came with our motherboard sound platform, the ASUS Xonar DX discrete sound card and the O-Zone 7HX Headset, I was pretty surprised with how limited the Plantronics GAMECOM 780 interface was. There is a Dolby checkbox and 2 radio buttons to select either Music or Gaming/Movie modes - that's the extent of the control. The big question to be asked is - Does it matter?
For Audiophiles this is likely to be a problem but then again, audiophiles wouldn't buy this headset. I don't like tweaking EQ settings or special effects etc for games - the game developer usually spends a small fortune on a sound engineer so I'm happy to just enable the Dolby surround effect and listen to the game as the developer intended (or close enough).
So now that we have ascertained that the software is easy to install but has limited options in terms of tweaking - does it work? Yes is certainly does.
The sound with Dolby Surround enabled is truly immersive and when playing Battlefield 3, it was a very audio rich experience. Bass is deeper with Dobly enabled, directional sound is also much better than with the Dolby mode disabled. Having used this headset for over a month, I had Dolby enabled almost all of the time because it just sounded better.
It's worth mentioning that I couldn't tell the difference in sound when switching the Dolby mode from "Music" to "Game/Movie". I tried switching while listening to music, in games and on a skype call and decided that if there is a difference in the sound output between these modes, I can't pick it out. Thinking it might have been a software conflict with the ASUS drivers, I tested the GameCom 780 on my laptop and came to the same conclusion, the Dolby checkbox makes a big diference but the radio buttons don't seem to do much if anything. In the end, I don't consider it an issue because the GameCom 780 sounds great - especially when playing First Person Shooters.
The surround experience was a big improvement on the onboard analog (ALC-892) offering and on par with the discrete ASUS Xonar DX sound card/Corsair HSA-1 headset combination in Dolby 5.1 emulation mode via the ASUS Xonar DX Audio Centre. I'll say on par because both sounded great and I couldn't pick a clear winner when gaming. Keep in mind that the GameCom 780 is about half the price of the Xonar DX/Corsair HSA-1 combo.
In Battlefield 3, Skyrim and Diablo 3, the directional sound was most apparent. Racing games and the War Thunder flight/arcade sim also seemed to benefit from the added bass and directional capabilities of the Dolby software. Gaming with the GameCom 780 certainly makes for an immersive experience so it's fair to say that Plantronics achieved what they set out to in this regard.
Listening to music on the GameCom 780 is a pleasant experience. I doubt this product will satisfy audiophiles but if you are like me and you listen to music while you are working or browsing the net, the sound is fine with Dolby disabled and pretty good with the Dolby Software enabled. The GameCom 780 is certainly better than the ALC-892 onboard analog solution but I felt that it wasn't quite as good as the more expensive discrete Xonar DX/Corsair HS1-A combination. This could be due to the EQ settings in the ASUS Xonar DX software.
Watching a Blu-Ray of Star-Wars Episode 3 was great and I couldn't pick a clear winner out between the GameCom 780 and the discrete soundard solution.
Audio was clear at the other end with very little background noise. I tested this in game and on skype with a few different people and they all said that the volume level was good and that my voice was coming through clearly.
The Plantronics GameCom 780 should be on your wish list if you want improved sound for your games but either can't install a discrete sound card or can't afford to buy both the sound card and a decent headset.
If you look at our recent Node 304 mini ITX build, there is only 1 PCIE slot on the motherboard and it's needed for a high end graphics card - a USB headset like this is a perfect match, right down to the matching blue LED and black finish.
I compared the GameCom 780 to a soundcard and headset combination worth about double the price and consider that for gaming, the GameCom 780 should satisfy all but the fussiest gamer. The Dolby output from the headset when gaming, listening to music or experiencing movies was more than I had expected from a pair of 40mm drivers and software.
The price point of $85-$90 is reasonable for a USB headset like the GameCom 780 and one of the easiest upgrades you can make from onboard audio. It is also very light and comfortable enough to go the distance on even the longest gaming sessions.