Aspiring to gain relevancy in the gaming headset marketplace, aspiring to gain ground against veritable titans like SteelSeries, Tritton and Turtle Beach, Skullcandy finally stepped into the ring with both feet this year by acquiring high-end audio systems manufacturer Astro Gaming. With a $200+ product line that includes the A30, A40 and A50 headset models, Astro is esteemed for their upscale retail — the A40 is even the official headset of Major League Gaming.
But SkullCandy has left its new partner’s old wares to their own dimension, opting instead to develop an original headwear line from scratch. The result: the SLYR, PLYR 2 and PLYR 1 – a PC/PS3/Xbox 360-compatible trio of specially designed gaming headsets boxing the professional spirit of Astro’s past into more affordable packages starting at $80, $130, and $180 respectively. Game Rant went ears-on with the middle-ground option, the wireless PLYR 2, and what we discovered was an encouragingly inspired piece of gaming periphery.
While it lacks the PLYR 1’s inclusion of Dolby Digital Surround Sound virtualization, the PLYR 2 is predicated upon Skullcandy’s patented Supreme Sound technology. Now, that’s the kind of vague, esoteric terminology that can fly right over a causal peripheral buyer. But the idea is rather simple: Bass is strong but unobtrusive, providing power and impact to a full range of sounds; tinny vocals are scrubbed clean, illuminating the natural inflections of the voice; and highs remain crisp and clear, avoiding the all-too-common muffling or piercing effect that can accompany crescendos and natural loud fluctuations. And for the most part the PLYR 2 lives up to its billing. Surround sound doesn’t quite match the A50′s high-end hyper-realism – perhaps ditching Dolby was the difference – but it’s crisp and immersive nonetheless. First-person shooters capture everything from explosions to footsteps; music can tug at your heartstrings in one song while bass-massaging your eardrums in the next.
Ultimately, though, sound is what the ears make of it. Where most high-end headset packages will offer an abundance of user customization tools (read our Tritton Pro+ 5.1 review), the options can get a little ambiguous in Skullcandy’s mid-range milieu. This was evident with the PLYR 2. The only means of adjusting the frequency — the density — of its sound is the EQ3 Equalizer, a switch on the lower right cup which toggles between three tuning profiles: Bass, Supreme and Precision. I was able to discern the subtle shifts in frequency that occur with each setting and gave the switch a heavy workout between different songs, videos and games. Trouble is, Skullcandy doesn’t provide any specifics regarding the levels in their instruction manual (which is thin on detail all around) or on their website, and it’s impossible for a user to determine the whether or not their optimal range is being harnessed. It’s a handy feature, the EQ3. It’s just bound to leave the purists and pedants truly devoted to tinkering — connecting — with their sound yearning for more.
Functionally, the PLYR 2 is a surfeit of harmony with a side dish of headache. In a vacuum, it’s a field-worthy wireless gaming headset: Voice quality is received and transmitted with crystal clarity; the pivoting boom mic conveniently switches on or off automatically as it’s flipped up or down; a four-direction toggle knob on the right ear adroitly adjusts master volume (vertically) and voice/game-volume balance (horizontally); wireless connection is established instantly through a palm-sized transmitter (which plugs into your device) and sustains impeccably within – as far as we could test – 100 feet; and the battery will pluck 7 hours out of a full charge. Unfortunately, the PLYR 2 doesn’t mesh well with every console setup. Thanks to a super short 41-inch cord for its transmitter-A/V input connection, anyone whose console is remotely distant from their television would be facing a few… furniture alterations. This hassle is only compounded with HDMI-wired systems (i.e. circa 2007 and newer), as the headset’s A/V cables would still need to plugged in while a user reroutes the console’s audio (via system settings), but not video, into the two red/white prongs.
As a testament to their brand name, the Skullcandy PLYR 2′s look delicious. The initial line is being offered in three different color schemes – Black/Yellow, White, and Teal/Navy (Game Rant, appropriately, received the foremost) – with the secondary shade coating the headset’s inner lining and perfectly contrasting a sleekly engraved, sharply edged, fragmented primary-colored shell. Input jacks are conveniently concealed within the underside groove, while the volume knob and boom mic remain closely fastened and contoured to the frame. The foam-padded cushions snugly ensconce the ears and seal out a fair share of sound waves. (But fair warning: they don’t seal many in. Laptop game mid-flight at your own risk.) At a feathery 1.75 lbs the frame – though durable – is plenty flexible and never weighs, pun intended, upon the overall listening experience.
Despite its inconsistencies, the PLYR 2 is a formidable surround-sound wireless headset worth any gamer’s consideration – as much on behalf of its moderate price point as its delectable decibel quality, polished construction and efficacious operation. The model would benefit from a more robust suite of customization options and some more intuitive transmitter wiring. But as part of a newly incepted product line it’s hardly a bad start: Skullcandy’s acquisition of Astro is an auspicious one indeed.
The Skullcandy PLYR 2 wireless gaming headset is compatible with the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It retails for $129.95.
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