[section_title title=A05 Headset]
Last but not least we have the A05 headset. Lets start off by taking a look at the packaging.
The front of the packaging is fairly simple, with the Rock Series badge at the top, a cutout to see the product in the middle and a confirmation of what type of product we are looking at. The ‘Special Trimming Acoustics’ I believe refers to the noise isolation properties of the headset, but more on that in the performance section.
On the side of the box we have some information about the features of the headset, such as its 40mm drivers, more on the noise isolation, talk of the dual jacks, the presence of a microphone and a hint of the flexibility we will see shortly.
The rear of the packaging shows us a picture of the cable options, with the 3.5mm source cable and the 2-1 splitter cable to connect to your PC (more on those later). It talks about how all cables are detachable from the headset which again we will see shortly. The box also describes features which we have already covered, specifications which are in the introduction to the review and finally a package contents towards the bottom. Finally below that we see a wealth of certifications, which is nice to see as it shows i-Rocks have faith in the quality of the product.
Sliding the plastic insert out the box we get our first look at the product. This is very good packaging for an entry level device, no blister packing in sight, and no twist ties to release it. In the base of the plastic molding you can see a black box which is what contains the A05’s cables.
Here are the above mentioned cables, from left to right we have a 2-1 splitter cable with mic and audio jacks and a 3.5mm to 3.5mm source cable with in-line volume adjuster. Also here we have our detachable microphone. All of the connectors are gold plated and the cables feel of a good quality for an entry level headset.
Overall I’m impressed by the packaging, it was no hassle to get the product out and the graphics are nice and clean. Lets move on to take a closer look at the headset itself.
Moving in for a closer look, lets start at the top and work our way down.
As you can see, the headband is all black with the exception of the i-Rocks name. This is nice and clean in my opinion and again is a nice aesthetic for something of this price. The major downside here, of course, is the glossy finish. The headband very quickly gets covered in finger prints when you pick it up to put it on, which you obviously would be doing quite a lot.
With the help of the box, here we can see the side of the headset. The first thing you will notice is the Rock series logo on the ear cups, its not offensively large and its beginning to become clear that this is not just intended as a stay at home gaming headset. You will also see that the adjuster looks like metal; because it is, which on a headset of this price is a nice touch indeed. In fact, the metal runs all the way through the headband which leads to a very solid feeling bit of kit. Just like the K10, the A05 punches well above its price when it comes to quality.
There are two main things of note here, the first thing you will notice is the amount of padding on the ear cups, it is very generous for an entry level headset and the pleather is nice and soft. The headband is more thinly padded but it is adequate, and is also finished in pleather. There are no felt replacements for the ear cup pads available, which I can excuse as they are often detestable itchy things and you can excuse for the price.
It’s nice to see that i-Rocks have gone with a green stripe here unlike the red on the keyboard, as nice as red and black is, its equally good to have some variety.
You can also see each ear cup has its own 3.5mm jack, allowing you to plug the audio cable and detachable microphone into each, which ever way around you prefer. Again, quite a good feature for an entry level headset and another indicator that it is not purely intended for gaming.
Rounding up our closer look lets get a better look at the cables. On the left we have the source cable, as I have been saying I don’t think this is purely intended as a gaming headset, seeing as you can remove the mic all together and then use just the source cable to connect to a 3.5mm audio source of your choice, such as your phone.
This means you could go to and from work on the bus/train listening to your music on the headset, then get home and plug it into the 2-1 splitter (pictured middle) and be away gaming on your PC, which is a pretty good value proposition for those who are looking for a set of headphones to do everything.
Also pictured we have our microphone which is nice and long for those of you with strange heads and can contort into just about any angle I could imagine to be useful so no complaints there in terms of design. Finally, we can see all our 3.5mm connectors are gold plated, and though I’m beginning to sound like broken record in this test, it is a nice touch for something of this price.
So, the A05 hasn’t let its siblings down in the design department, but how does it perform?
There are two things I would like to preface this section with. The first is that I use an Asus Xonar DX sound card with UniXonar drivers, so in terms of source quality I am giving the headset about as good as it should expect to receive from anyone looking to buy a headset in this price range. The second is that any criticism should be taken with the pinch of salt that is the price of the headset.
Anyway, without any more waffling lets talk about the performance of the headset, starting with the audio.
Like most stereo headsets the A05 has 40mm drivers so there are no massive surprises when it comes to the sound it produces. i-Rocks make a fairly big fuss about the bass response in the blurb, saying it is a product of using ‘Top Class’ drivers. Certainly, when it comes to bass reproduction and, by association, volume; the A05 performs fairly well. The bass is enough to rumble your ears a bit, and it certainly does justice to most of your favourite in-game explosions, it also fairs well in electronic music with a heavy beat; I listened to a mix of House and Hardstyle and I certainly didn’t want for any more bass.
Another good point here is that the noise isolation i-Rocks spoke of on the packaging worked very well, with the headset blocking out a fair amount of background noise, so if you need a noise isolating headset that’s another plus point for the A05.
Where the A05 falls down, though, is in the same place as most entry level headsets; muffled mids and highs. The slightly muddy nature of the mids leads to dialogue in games or movies not being as clear as you would like and the highs can be a bit jagged at louder volumes. With extensive experimentation with the EQ in my Xonar panel I got the headset to the point where I would call the clarity of sound adequate, whilst retaining most of the signature bass of the headset.
As I said at the start of this section though, for a pair of headphones costing £29 to be built this well, and to sound remotely decent is a great achievement. So what gives?
Well, what gives is the microphone unfortunately. When I first hooked the headset up to my PC and tested the mic output I was greeting by an intolerable buzzing noise. I spent a few minutes looking through my Windows settings and it was microphone boost that was to blame. Disabling microphone boost removed the buzzing but it also left the microphone at quite a low volume. To check if, for whatever reason, my sound card was to blame I plugged the microphone jack into the back of my motherboard instead. However, this produced the same intolerable buzzing with microphone boost enabled only at a lower bitrate.
So, I decided to simply disable microphone boost and see how it performed without. Upon entering a mumble server to arrange some video games I was told I was very quiet, which was to be expected. Adjusting the microphone to the point where I might ingest it if I inhaled too vigorously, I was told the volume was serviceable. When it comes to the microphone, I would say it would be fine if you are in the occasional Skype call, or if you don’t use voice much in games. However if like me you are always in a group of people talking on mumble the mic doesn’t fair well and you may have to look into alternatives there.
Finally, I wanted to address comfort as part of performance, due to the fact that I headset can be as good as you like but if it’s uncomfortable to wear its not much good. When I took the headset out the box I was disappointed to see it was an on the ear type. I’m really not a fan of having things press on my ears, being someone who wears glasses it doesn’t usually take long for on the ear headphones to cause my ears to ache from my glasses digging into them.
I will say though that this is one of the more comfortable sets of on ear headphones I have worn, and it took about two hours for me to really want them off for a break. I think I might not have much issue with them at all if it weren’t for the fact they have a fairly tight clamp pressure which lets down the well padded cups after a while.
In terms of comfort I would say if you don’t wear glasses you shouldn’t have much of an issue, and if you do you might just need to take a break every couple of hours. Overall I’ve no major complaints about comfort, but I would greatly prefer them to be over the ear.
So, a mixed bag but overall not a bad showing from the A05, time to wrap things up with a conclusion…