Skullcandy PLYR2 Headset Review
The gaming PC headset market is starting to get crowded really quickly, withtraditional peripheral manufacturers (Logitech), long-time headset makers (Plantronics), and new gaming-specific companies like Astro all now competing for your hard-earned dollar. There are a lot of considerations for a company to make when putting together a headset, and it's impossible to make everyone happy with a huge feature list while keeping price down, so every company seems now to be trying to find the niches where they do best. Skullcandy is trying to come in with a flashy but reasonably-priced wireless headset for gamers with the new PLYR2 model, which I'll be reviewing today.
PLYR2 offers play-and-charge functionality, wireless audio on the 2.4GHz band, and basic compatibility with PC, Mac, Xbox 360, and PS3, as well as a bunch of devices that take a headphone plug. Some competitors' headsets support a wider range of devices, others are cheaper, and still others have more convenient support for specific consoles, but Skullcandy is coming in with most of the features in the high-end headsets (like the wireless-only Astro A50, which costs $300) at a more reasonable price tag of $130 MSRP. Did Skullcandy have to scale a back a few things to hit that price point? Surely, but this headset still offers a good compromise between features and price.
The headset itself works entirely wirelessly on PC, Mac, and PS3, and on 360, the included cable goes from the headset to the controller. (Other headsets have included truly wireless use on 360 without even a cord between the headset and controller, but this one does not.) There's a little "joystick" on the right side of the headset that moves in four directions and allows you to control the master volume as well as the balance between game and chat volume, although it should be pointed out that the chat/game volume balance only works on consoles, as the PLYR2 works as a standard USB headset on PC and Mac and therefore does not split the game and chat audio into two separate streams for independent adjustment.
On the left you've got your microphone which is bendable and adjustable, and it will automatically mute itself when you flip it up to the top position, and it's designed to softly "click" into the muted position so that you know it's muted for sure. That's important if you're using always-on voice chat software like Skype and need to have a private conversation away from the people you're talking to online. The microphone is of the pretty standard noise-canceling variety so it's specialized for gaming and voice chat - just don't expect it to perform any miracles for your YouTube video commentaries or any potential participation on podcasts you're doing, as I find the noise canceling feature to make for uneven sound if you're talking constantly.
Other than that, the headset itself is made of lightweight plastic and has an internal battery that's not user-replaceable, nor have I found any specific policy from Skullcandy on sending the headset back to them specifically for a battery replacement. I understand that this is a major consideration for some gamers who plan to use a peripheral for years, but I think that should only be a serious issue for someone who takes immaculate care of their hardware anyway; in a normal house with pets or children breaking stuff, most of today's headsets, cheap or expensive, don't seem to last long enough for the battery's lifetime to really be an issue. The headset has a one-year warranty, which will likely run out before the battery dies its final death on you, and I don't really think that the build quality will stand up well to really rough use. If you're the kind of gamer that does a lot of percussive raging, get a stress ball or a Model M keyboard or something, because I seriously doubt the PLYR2 will stand up to much abuse.
There are other nice features on the PLYR2 headset, including a power button that's tough to hit accidentally and a small switch that toggles between three equalizer modes. There's normal, bass boost, and what seems to be a high-end boost mode, but honestly, they're very subtle changes and I didn't find there to be much difference between the settings. On top of that, the PLYR2's basic sound has a rather low mid-range in comparison to the boosted ends, and none of the three equalizer settings balance that out. My feeling is that if you're going to go through the effort of putting equalizer adjustments right onto the headset, have a fuller range of settings or include some kind of PC software to customize the equalizer settings to the user's preferences. Otherwise, save the customer some money and leave that feature out.
Skullcandy's got a reputation online of making cheap, mediocre-sounding earbuds with skater-friendly designs, but they're getting away from that reputation with the PLYR2. (Admittedly, I've never used the SLYR or PLYR1 models, so I don't know if they're any better or worse for this.) The visual design on the headset itself keeps up the theme that Skullcandy is (in?)famous for, the sound quality is within the realm of what you'd get out of a decent $50-ish set of wired headphones. Now, that might make it sound like I'm trashing them since this is a $130 headset, but at this point, I don't know of any manufacturer making a wireless gaming headset at this price with significantly better sound. The PLYR2 is pretty bass-heavy, but that seems to be the standard for gaming headsets: boost the low and high end while leaving the mid-range alone.
You'll get a good several-hour block of usage out of the PLYR2 headset before needing to charge it, but if you play in marathon sessions or you're just forgetful about plugging in the included mini-USB cable to charge it when you're done playing, you're probably going to need to plug it in while playing. Luckily, the PLYR2 still works while it's charging and the position that the mini-USB port is placed at won't interfere with your gaming, but I should point out that the included cables aren't exactly long. You'll be lucky to get a total of five feet out of both the cable to plug the PLYR2's little wireless receiver into your PC as well as the one to go from that to the headset, but luckily, these are standard mini-USB cables that can be replaced with longer versions cheaply. If you've got an elaborate gaming setup without your desktop case close by, extending your cables is probably a good idea.
Oh, and speaking of the wireless receiver, I should point out that it's a fairly no-frills device. USB goes to the PC to power the thing and light up the Skullcandy logo on top, and another USB cable goes up to the headset whenever you need to charge it (although if you just need to charge the headset, you can also plug that cable into any USB port with power and the headset will still work as long as the receiver's running), and there's little else. While the Astro A50 has a larger receiver with more connection options like optical audio and it comes with a mildly-convenient little plastic stand to sit its receiver into and rest its headset on, the PLYR2 has none of that. You'll be forced to just store your headset by just laying it down onto your desk like some kind of lowly peasant, unless you run off and buy (or make) your own headset stand separately.
As far as the all-important requirement to be able to keep talking to your buddies when you're rooting around for a snack in the kitchen, as long as you're using always-on voice chat like Skype or Twitch.tv streaming rather than push-to-talk, it'll work. The wireless signal will go about 40-50 feet (in general, you should knock off about 5 feet in total range for each wall the signal has to travel through), which is better than every other wireless headset I've tested - including, yes, the $300 Astro A50s. I suspect that unlike the A50s which transmit on the less-crowded 5.8GHz band, dense urban environments might be a bigger challenge for the PLYR2, as it uses the same 2.4GHz signal that WiFi networks use, but on the other hand, that usually means that in those areas, spaces are smaller and a headset doesn't have to throw a signal quite as far. I live in quiet suburbia so I couldn't do any real testing on urban interference, but if you think this could be a problem for you, you might have to find an alternative.
The look of the PLYR2 headset is generally pretty slick in my opinion and the design on it makes it look a bit flashy, so keep in mind that you're inevitably going to be wearing these things when company you've invited over jokingly inquire when the next beer pong tournament's running or how good your rail-grinding skills are. Just be aware of that if you're trying to keep up a certain appearance while using these things. Skullcandy sent me the black-and-yellow version for review, which in my opinion is by far the ugliest unless you happen to really enjoy bumblebee themes, but thankfully the white and teal/navy variants, which cost the same to you, are much better-looking.
Until this point, the only other headset I've reviewed here on AtomicGamer is the $300 Astro A50s which is pretty much the Ferrari 458 of gamer headsets. I knew that if I did any more wireless gaming headset reviews, I was going to have to temper my expectations and really keep the price in mind as I looked at what inevitably had to be mostly inferior features, sound, comfort, and battery life. And frankly, yes, Skullcandy's PLYR2 headset is at least a little bit worse on pretty much all of those accounts, but it's also got a pretty fancy design whereas the A50 is a little more spartan. And with a price that's less than half of what Astro is charging, Skullcandy is certainly coming in with a really good balance between features and price. I've still got the Astro A50s and I'm paranoid about not breaking them since they're so expensive, but I'm a lot more casual with the PLYR2 since I could conceivably replace them without making a huge dent in my monthly cash flow. That alone almost makes Skullcandy's offering more appealing to me for normal daily use. Almost.
Good, if gamer-oriented sound profile
Competitive price considering the features
Truly wireless usage on PC and PS3
Great wireless range
Like most gamer-oriented audio gear, this is not for audiophiles
Xbox 360 users still need a wire to the controller
Charging cable could be longer, but it can easily be replaced
Battery life could be better
Battery is not user-replaceable
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail product provided to us by Skullcandy.