Skullcandy PLYR2 wireless gaming headset review: needs more cables

[Originally posted to my PC gaming column at Examiner.com]

The Skullcandy PLYR2 is a cross-platform, wireless gaming headset for Xbox 360, PS3, and the PC. Overall it sports a novel design and great sound characteristics, although it could be a little ‘friendlier’ to us PC gamers.

And by friendlier I mean this: the PLYR2 comes with all the necessary cables for every other platform (Xbox360/PS3) that it’s compatible with—but not the simple 3.5mm audio cable it requires to connect to your PC. Moreover, the box doesn’t even warn you of this—you only find out when you open the package and start connecting the PLYR2’s small receiver to your PC. If you actually bother to look at the largely unnecessary instructions, you’ll find a tiny ‘sold separately’ next to the picture of the 3.5mm audio cable.

Granted most of us probably have a octopus of extra cables living in a plastic bin somewhere from which we can wrest a 3.5mm audio cable. That doesn’t make it any less annoying and it’s a highly unnecessary oversight.

Now, with that bitter point off my chest let’s get to the good stuff.

The PLYR2’s modest wireless control module connects to your PC with a 3.5mm audio cable (after you find one) and a USB cable. Another USB cable connects from the control module to the headset in order to charge it—but when you’re ready to play, the wires come off and it’s all wireless freedom from there on out.

Comfort

  • Material Construction: Plastic adjustable headband in a plastic sheath. ¼” foam padding.
  • Ear cups: ¾” soft cloth-covered memory form.

The PLYR2 wireless headset clamps onto your noggin securely but comfortably, and provides fairly good comfort overall. The adjustable headband is made out of plastic, as is the exterior sheath. It’s sturdy enough but you definitely wouldn’t want to roll an office chair over it, give it to an angry Rottweiler, or smack a zombie with it.

The ear cups are nicely cushioned but a little on the small side compared to other gaming headsets. They also don’t swivel or rotate in the slightest (well, unless you’d like that to be accompanied by the sharp crack of snapping plastic).

Design

  • Controls: Ear cup mounted controls for volume, power, and EQ presets
  • Inputs: 3.5mm Audio, USB
  • Control Module Functions: N/A
  • Cable (braided fiber, vinyl sheath, etc.): N/A

The PLYR2 sports an innovative and generally good design, using well-placed ear-cup controls that aren’t the best I’ve seen but still better than most inline controllers and many competitors.

Volume control and chat/game balance functions are handled by a simple ear cup mounted thumbstick on the right ear cup. I don’t like it quite as much as the control design for the Logitech G930 (still the best in my book) or the Astro Gaming A50, but I’ll take it over software controls, inline controllers, or hard to find/identify buttons.

The PLYR2 includes 3 equalizer presets (1 for games, 1 for movies, and 1 for music) which you can change between via a small switch on the back of the right ear cup. This switch is large and somewhat pointy, which makes it easy to find—it’s bigger brother the Astro Gaming A50 could benefit from this design. (If you didn’t know, Astro Gaming is now owned by Skullcandy).

The power button sits near the thumbstick controller. The PLYR2’s microphone is a straightforward swivel up/down microphone that mutes automatically when it’s up and activates when it’s down. (This is a design feature I think virtually all gaming headsets should have.)

Software

The PLYR2 doesn’t require any software drivers. This makes it fairly easy to set up and use right away, although it does deprive it of a richer feature set and other advantages good driver software can provide.

Sound and performance

  • Number of Drivers: 2
  • Size of Drivers:   40mm
  • Type of Drivers: Neodymium
  • Support Sound: 7.1 Dolby surround sound

The PLYR2 generally sounds quite good. I didn’t detect any distortion when cranked to very high volume levels, although when I really pushed them (to levels no one could likely use) I made them cry a little.

The PLYR2 also delivers decent but not outstanding bass. I like cranking up Evanescence’s Bring Me to Life along with a selection of other bass-heavy, loud, and raucous tunes, including Guns N’ Roses Welcome to the Jungle as a form of ‘stress test’. Overall, the PLYR 2 doesn’t  have quite as much bass ‘oomph’ as like. They’re better than pure lightweights like the Razer Carcharias, but not as good as the comparably priced, wired Mad Catz F.R.E.Q. 7.

For most general media playback the PLYR2 gets the job done well enough. They don’t seal out external audio much, but they get more than loud enough to compensate. I wouldn’t put the PLYR2 in the same class as the more expensive Astro A50 or Turtle Beach XP Seven (both of which are in my Top 10 gaming headset list), but it’s more than respectable.

Range is another plus. I tested the PLYR2 at work, and in an open-air environment (i.e. a sea of cubicles) I easily walked more than 30 feet away from my desk before losing connection, and I’d ballpark the overall range at around 50 feet. This was more than enough to let me walk to the printer and grab a print out without losing my tunes.

Battery life is similarly excellent; the PLYR2 easily went more than 10 hours on a single charge, and possibly nearly 20 (I started to lose track after around 15 in all honesty).  The microphone performed well enough in a series of Skype calls; at the very least no one complained about audio issues coming from my end. Skype tests returned similarly adequate to good overall quality.

For my subjective surround sound test in Left 4 Dead 2, the PLYR2 performed adequately if unexceptionally. You can only do so much with twin 40mm drivers and virtual surround sound in a headset. The PLYR2 performed well enough to help keep the zombies off my back (and face, neck, and entire body) in Left 4 Dead 2, but arguably any good stereo headset could do just about as well. Regardless, this is largely true of many or most surround sound gaming headsets.

Overall

The PLYR2 is well-designed, comfortable, and sounds good. As a multi-platform headset it’s a solid choice and definitely worth a look.

But as a PC gaming (only) headset it falls a little short because it carries a hefty $129 price tag (at least for now). Any headset that costs $129 should at least include all the required cables. In addition, you can get PC-only headsets that sound as good and have richer feature sets for a lower price—case in point, the Logitech G930 wireless, which you can get for around $100-$110.

Skullcandy PLYR2 wireless gaming headset technical specifications

  • Compatible with Xbox360, PS3, PC
  • Impedance: 29 Ohms
  • Sound Pressure Levels: 104dB (+ or – 5dB) 20hZ to 20khz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.1%
  • Driver Size: 40mm
  • Magnet: Neodymium

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