There's nothing quite as magical as listening to your favorite music through a set of good headphones. When you find that perfect set that sounds so good that you can then nitpick the quality of the mastering on the other end of the chain, there's really nothing quite like it. For a long time, I've dreaded the existence of headphones like these, that come with a microphone built in and a low price. Usually, it means some cost cutting is going on. Either I'm worried about them not sounding good, not being comfortable to wear, or both.
Now, before we get really into these things I want to warn you - as much of a stickler as I am about my speakers sounding good, I'm even more picky about headphones. See, headphones are easier to get sounding right than speakers. With speakers, every room you put them into colors the sound. That's the way acoustics works. But headphones, especially closed models like these? The drivers are always in one place a certain distance from your ears in the same environment every time. That's hard to get wrong. And yet, so many headphone manufacturers do screw it up. Too much bass. Not enough midbass. Too much midbass, way too much treble. But when they get it right, headphone designs can become timeless. That's why Koss has been selling the PortaPro model for thirty freaking years now... if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
God... I remember first reading about the PortaPro back in the 80s when I got my Stereo Review subscription with my paper boy money. I used to wonder when I'd get fancy headphones like that. I bought my set over twenty years later as a portable companion to my big closed back Koss models, and I love them.
But gaming audio is a slightly different thing than just straight audio. Not only do you need good sound, you need a microphone so you can verbally nuke the guy who got you fragged just now. Cougar wants to be your solution, there, so let me just see how well they do it.
The box certainly makes a butt load of promises. High quality stereo sound? We'll see. Neo magnet driver? Yeah, you and everybody else. Neo magnets save weight, and consequently a whole lot of companies use them in headphones. But neodymium is also expensive, because China has a stranglehold on the market. Given the relatively low price of the Cougar set, I wonder if this means sound quality is going to suffer.
Extra large earpads. Comfort. Easy words to say, but closed models like these tend to heat up your ears after a while, and some of them don't leave enough space for those with larger ears. I'll evaluate comfort by and by.
Retractable microphone? Ok, Cougar, I have to admit I like where you went with that one. You should be able to stow the mic when you don't want to use it. But noise cancellation technology? Nope. You don't get Bose like active cancellation in a fifty dollar set of cans. Likely this is another one of those "features by convenience," and they are simply referring to the mic being directional plus the nature of the closed back headphones.
Yes, the box is all about marketing on these. My head's going to explode if I look at any more of this, so let's unpack.
Well, now - an actual user guide with our set of headphones. These things now have one up on the Panzer Max. Let me get the specs out of the manual for you.
Ok, there's a red flag in there I want to mention. See the frequency response spec? See what's not there? Right - there's no decibel range. For all we know, these could be down 20dB at 20Hz, which means you won't hear that frequency without a lot of volume. Meantime, it would be up 20dB at, like, 1KHz and you would think it's too loud. I call this "anything but flat."
And folks, I'm a man who really wants his headphones as flat as possible. They should go away when you listen to them, because you want to hear the music, not some blasted 3KHz spike amplified all out of proportion. Some people like a little more bass or treble to their headphones, and that's ok. Flat isn't for everyone. But that's why you have signal processing on your source. It is far easier to compensate for your jackhammer induced 10KHz hearing loss through an equalizer than have to huck your headphones at the nearest garbage can because kick drums always sound like a toddler whacking the side of a refrigerator shipping carton and you don't have enough equalizer cut to deal with it.
I've listened to so many headphones like that over the years it's not funny. Usually they're cheap throw-ins that came with something else. And I will not indulge those cans when I find them. If I hate them, they're gone. If I even think I'm going to hate them, they're gone. My smartphone included earbuds have never even been listened to, because I know they're afterthoughts.
But enough about that for now. Don't worry about the mic specs. Condenser mics like the ones found here are dirt cheap and only fit for basic communication of the human voice. Fortunately, that's all we need from this one. And it's not "noise cancelling," it's simply directional.
Impedance? Sensitivity? Those specs are basically worthless to me, like headphone frequency response. Impedance has a 30% tolerance, sensitivity has no power rating. I'll let you know how well my gear drives these cans in comparison to the stuff I already own.
Cougar did something pretty cool, here. You've got a four conductor TRRS (tip, ring, ring, sleeve) mini phone plug if your device supports it, and an adapter that splits the mic and headphones into separate stereo mini phone plugs if it doesn't. You'd think the case I'm reviewing would then have that four conductor jack to support it, but it does not.
Here's the control pod. Not a good sign - the volume control was full of static right out of the gate. Nice to have it, but please make sure the quality is there first, Cougar. You can switch off the microphone here, too.
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