Review: Logitech G35 7.1 surround-sound headphones

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The short version: if you have the money to spare, these headphones are the only thing you need for your gaming and media PC.

Logitech’s newest G-series lineup is impressive, but I noted when it was announced that unless you’ve got serious cashflow, you really need to look elsewhere. The most unabashedly luxurious option was the G19 keyboard with its built-in LCD screen, but I found it to be an immature platform and a memory hog to boot. The G35, though not without its quirks, is an absolutely excellent piece of hardware and though it will run you north of a hundred bucks, it’s probably the only headset you’ll want or need for a long time.

Design and fit

g35-001Logitech has a unified design aesthetic for its latest G-series, and while it was a little clunky for the G19, which felt more like a dashboard than a keyboard, it’s nice on the G35. They’re heavy, but not that heavy, and the weight is distributed well. I found them comfortable, and I don’t think they look as ridiculous as some other headphones do on me. The feel of the headphones, headband, and cord is high quality, but the exposed metal when you adjust them is pretty raw-looking.

On that subject, the adjustable aspect is good, but you will be adjusting them every time you put them on your head. The bands open up to numbered increments, which are helpful because they refuse to stay at any setting you put them at. Generally they tended to close up when I put them away, and adjusting them wasn’t as easy as I’d like while they’re on your head. The lighter Carcharias and new Megalodon from Razer have a superior adjustment mechanism.

g35-002You’ll find all the controls on the left side. They’re away from the middle where they might be confusing all clumped together, but having them around the edge makes them damned easy to hit on accident when you’re putting on, taking off, or adjusting the headset. The buttons themselves have a nice, high-quality feel to them and have the same satin finish as the rest of the earcups. There’s also a volume dial, which was nice (I used it more than the one on the G19 when I was using both), though the notches it rolls through are pretty widely spaced.

The microphone works just fine, and, while not removable, does fold up out of your way pretty well and is adjustable to whatever extent you need. You can customize when the mic LED is lit (when muted, not muted, etc) but I’d just as soon have it off all the time if there weren’t a mic mute button I was always hitting on accident.

Okay, nice rims, but what’s under the hood?

Of course, the reason you get these things is for the sound. And I’m pleased to say it’s great. The G35s use Dolby’s virtual surround sound system, which is very good, although there are some that prefer the actual multiple-speaker route. Tritton’s AX Pro system, for example, actually has multiple speakers, and the freaky Psyko headphones I tried out use an even wackier system with multiple sound orifices. Don’t let the name fool you, “virtual” surround sound is a perfectly admissible version of surround sound, using specially-designed speakers and deflectors to place the sound close to where it would be if were actually, say, behind you.

For regular stuff like music, Skype conversations, and TV shows, the non-surround setting is the best. It places the sound very close to your ear and I found them a very pleasant environment in which to listen to my favorite albums. Sound is very well-balanced, loudness was good, and the USB connection means there’s never any line crackle. The isolation inside the G35s is also excellent, probably better than any pair I’ve used so far. Whenever I thought I was hearing a sound from outside the headset, I was always mistaken.

For gaming, which these are really designed for, you’ll want to switch it over to the surround mode. This makes music sound rather distant and indistinct, but playing a game compatible with Dolby’s 7.1 surround is a fantastic experience. There are a few hiccups, like certain directional sounds being disproportionately quiet in some games, but I place the blame on Dolby and the game’s makers rather than Logitech. Team Fortress 2 was fun as hell with these, and although I think the balance of the game’s sounds needs to be tweaked (dispensers are incredibly loud sometimes), I definitely played better when I was using the G35 than my other regular stereo headsets. Being able to place a gunshot or footstep with an extra few degrees of precision can be the difference between surprising someone coming around a corner and being surprised by them.

USB audio: a blessing and a curse

The USB connection never failed to work, and I learned early on to shut down any media players and give the computer a few seconds to get used to the new setup before launching a game. Whether the game or movie you’re watching supports the surround sound I found was a bit of a crap shoot, however. I probably needed to do more due diligence in checking what systems a game, media player, or media file supports (or has encoded), but is it too much to expect from a headset that says 7.1 that it deliver a 7.1 experience?

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The G35 control panel helpfully tells you when real surround sound was last passed to the headset, so you can check after the fact whether the game or movie supports it. I would have preferred, perhaps, the light on the Microphone to signal a successful surround-sound stream or game.

On the whole I’m glad of the USB connection; no one wants to fiddle with a bunch of paired-stereo analog cables any more, and while I’ve always thought headsets having their own drivers inside was excessive, I allow it for all my other devices so why shouldn’t I here? More and more audio solutions are involving USB or digital audio, and while audiophiles may balk, nobody’s listening to really high-end audio through a regular sound card anyway.

One very annoying thing is that every time you start your computer, the control panel gives you a popup:
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Really, Logitech? Do you think we’re all idiots?

And of course, the less said about the voice-morphing capability, the better. It exists, what do you want from me? I’m not 13, and these things wouldn’t even fit on a 13-year-old’s head.

Winner!

The G35 is a great headset, and the more I used it, the more I came to rely on it as the “real” sound of a game. While for a quick session of this and that, or for just music listening late at night, I still used the Carcharias or whatever was lying around, games begged to be used with this thing. $130 (or $115-$120 street price) isn’t too much to pay if you’re someone who enjoys the cinematic experience of gaming and watches surround-sound content on your PC.

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