Installation is extremely easy. The ports on the main unit are clearly labelled with the left one for the microphone and the right, naturally, for the headphones. Plug the USB cable into any free port and insert the driver and utilities disc. The drivers themselves are light, with a small resident application to adjust for the graphic equaliser and choosing one of the four DSP settings. Then you are all set and ready to make your ears bleed!
Our test setup for today is as follows :
CPU : AMD X4 620 @ 3.2 GHz.
Motherboard : Gigabyte MA785GT-UD3H (On-board audio disabled)
RAM : 2GB Corsair XMS3 DDR3 @ 1333MHz
GPU : ASUS EAH4850 TOP
OS : Windows 7 Home Premium 64
Sound : ASUS HP-100U Dolby Headphone set.
Because it comes as a package I'll be using it all for any tests. However, each element has little things I want to mention, and it's a great excuse for a closer look at each part.
The Xonar U1 Soundcard/Control element.
The Xonar U1 provides the main thrust of the package, and also has turned out to be the weakest part in elements. That is not to say that it is by any means bad, just to me it's got a lot of niggles.
Firstly the software and specifically the ASUS Xonar control panel that is provided with the HP-100U. Upon first installation the software didn't really function as the PDF manual indicated it would. The manual showed the headphones identified as Dolby ones and various little boxes and buttons. No amount of fresh installs or similar things made a difference. Secondly the volume nob in the software, whilst certainly acting like a volume nob, isn't linked in any way to volume on the Xonar U1. Turning it all the way down, as in the screenshot, and then turning the volume back up via the U1 you can hear music clearly, but the software hasn't changed. It definitely needs to be linked. The DSP settings, visible in the bottom right, don't appear to make any noticeable difference to the sound at all. Not even minor increases in bass or middle.Least of all any alleged "hall" like effect. Luckily I don't enjoy being entertained by pretending I'm in a tiled room, but it's still a concern.
I'd go so far as the say the software is barely beta. Loads of buttons don't do anything. Drop down boxes contain nothing. Settings do nothing. Generally it's not good at all. Luckily for ASUS it's far and away the worst part of the deal and can be patched.
My other niggle is, comparatively, slight. However I dislike my music or movies to truly blare my eardrums out. The Volume control built in to the Xonar U1, the top part of the base, with the LED, rotates as a large volume control, adjusts the volume in 4% intervals. If anyone else has great hearing, then they'll know as I do that 4% can be the difference between too quiet and ear-splittingly loud. And if there is one thing this setup can do with aplomb it is ear-splittingly loud. Barely 40% volume on most things was enough to make my headache, whereas my own headphones are in the 90% bracket. I appreciate however that most people like their stuff loud, so that certainly wont be an issue with them. As I say, slight niggles, and truly woeful software, initially spoil the party.
2 Channel Noise Reducing Microphone
Quite simply this was a revelation in sound quality and not so much in the design stage. Let's get the bad out of the way first. The base is far too light. Way too light. It falls over in the merest hint of a breeze. In some ways this can be compensated for by leaving the microphone standing up straight to keep the centre of balance over the middle and alleviate the tipping problem.
The microphone works equally brilliantly regardless of orientation, so if it doesn't need adjusting because it's abilities are so good it can hear perfectly well in the vertical position, why give us a flexible "neck". If they have given us a flexible neck then, like myself, buyers will think of it like every other desk-microphone and bend it toward them, Whereupon it falls over.
It is aching for a little junk in the trunk which would make the neck useful, reassure consumers and, with such a tiny amount of cable available, stop it falling over as soon as you move it. A 10g weight in the bottom would eliminate this whole problem.
But the sound quality. WOW. I ran it through both Skype, and Audacity to test how well it drowned out background noise and how well it picked up voice from distance. I ended up three feet away, talking in my normal quiet voice, whilst the microphone was on the top of my tower with the fans doing their thing. Without adjusting the neck in any way from the vertical it easily picked up what I was saying, and upon playback had drowned out most of the din coming from my 12v fans. My Skype partner for the test reported a vast improvement upon the standard headset I normally use in both clarity of my speech and the reduction in noise from the general vicinity.
A brief word about the headphones
Because the audio performance on the headphones is the main area under review in the next page I thought I'd just cover the comfort of the headphones themselves. As I mentioned earlier they are very light indeed and certainly anyone who finds headphones either push too hard on their ears, or are generally too hefty to wear for long stretches, will be delighted to know how comfortable these are. The amount of adjustment available is excellent. Large amounts of padding on the ears, as you can see from the photograph on the right.
The hole for your ear to sit in is large enough to accommodate all but the most enormous human aural interfaces and has some soft foam padding to again alleviate pressure and increase comfort.
Finally with a closed back the volume can be set quite high indeed, lucky because these are some loud puppies, before you get the look from across the other room.
I utilised a few test pieces of noise to see how accurate the claimed frequency response was. I got as low as the rated 20Hz before I could no longer hear it so kudos indeed to ASUS for accurate specs.