Zowie Hammer USB Headset Page: 1
 
Zowie Hammer Headset
 
Introduction
 
Zowie Headset
It's fair to say that the readers are currently split. For every person who is shaking their head and wondering who the heck Zowie are, there will be one who is nodding knowingly. Unlike a lot of the companies that spring readily to mind, Zowie are one of the few that are known amongst a select group of hardcore, but not to the more casual hardware follower.
 
Zowie, for those who don't know, are a California based company that are very focused upon providing high-quality products at reasonable prices for the gaming community. With a strict development and production process they expect to meet the high demands of professional gamers everywhere.
 
Today we're going to take a look at their Hammer headset. This is available in two different flavours. There is the standard Hammer, which is the headset you see in the picture to the right, and the Hammer USB which, in addition to the headset, provides a USB soundcard.
 
Zowie state that the Hammer is specifically designed for "e-Sports", and with sound fidelity proving hugely important in all forms of professional gaming we look forward to seeing the quality of the sound that the Hammer provides. Hopefully being a specifically designed gaming headset, Zowie haven't had to compromise elsewhere.
 
Specifications
 
Taken from the Zowie website :
 

Headphone:
* Frequency response : 15 ~ 25,000 Hz
* Speaker dimension : 40 mm
* Impedance : 32 ohms
* Sensitivity : 98 dB +/- 4dB
* Cable length : 1.2m + 1.8m = 3.0m
* Connectors : 3.5mm Gold-plated

Microphone:
* Frequency range : 60 ~ 10,000 Hz
* Directivity : Uni-directional
* Impedance : Low
* Sensitivity : -57dB +/- 4dB

USB sound card ( HAMMER headset USB ):
* USB2.0
* Jack : 2 x 3.5mm 
 
 
So far, so good. At least on paper it all looks good.
 


Zowie Hammer USB Headset Page: 2
 
Packaging
 
The Hammer comes in a fairly simple black package with a nice sized window showing a nice close-up of the headset itself. Extraneous details and logos are kept to a minimum lending an air of class to the front of the packaging.
 
The side quickly dispenses with this approach, showing an e-sports "star" who was involved in the program and their thoughts about the Hammer. I'm not totally sure who this is aimed at. We follow the industry closely but neither of the people used are the kind of names that trip off the tongue like some others. Sadly e-sports is still quite a niche event. Someone somewhere must be impressed by these names.
 
Hammer Box  Box auth
 
Taking the headphones out of the box two things become quickly apparent. Firstly, there is no manual and no drivers. This is a good thing in some ways because how difficult can a headset be. But in other ways it's disappointing that something that comes with a USB soundcard doesn't have software control. Secondly, the simple vacuum formed packaging shows where some of the costs have been cut to try and keep the price down. Don't know many of us who'd rather great packaging and a budget product than vice versa. Let's hope this proves to be the case here.
 
Box Side  Out the box
 
Let's get in close.
 


Zowie Hammer USB Headset Page: 3
 
Closer Look
 
If first impressions are anything to go by, then the money saved on packaging definitely has gone towards the headset itself. Sturdy doesn't begin to cover it. Thankfully this high build quality hasn't come at a hugely weighty cost. The headset is fabulously light which is fantastic, especially for those long sessions. Nothing worse than finding your ears have died or your neck is aching just at the important part. I'm not too convinced about the large logo. Doesn't seem in keeping with the simple nature of the rest of the headset.
 
Headphones  Phones 2
 
The microphone is definitely a serious piece of kit. If you ever wanted to play at being an Air-Traffic Controller, or pretend it's the early 90s and you're a Superstar DJ, then this is definitely the headset to do it with. The LAN-Party design shines strongly here and I'm in no doubt you could stand on them, run your chair over them, whatever, and they'd easily take the abuse.
 
Mic  Mic other side
 
On the left is the USB adaptor for this particular variant of the Zowie Hammer headset. By putting the soundcard side in such a portable format it helps those who have rubbish on-board sound, and also ensures that you get a consistent sound quality no matter where you take them. On the right is the in-line volume and microphone control that is available with both the standard and USB versions. A definite boon by ensuring that you can quickly adjust the volume, or mute your microphone for those moments when real-life intervenes.
 
Inline cable  Volume close
 
Zowie provide two extras in the box, and both of them are welcome additions. The first is a 2m extension cable and this is an excellent piece of thinking. If you have front audio ports then there is nothing worse than having tons of cable you don't need cluttering up the place. Alternatively, if your PC is a reasonable distance from your monitor, then it's great to be able to use the main ports on your PC and still have plenty of cable to make sure you can game as comfortably as possible.
 
Secondly Zowie provide two choices of ear covers. A leather pair that are currently fitted in our shots, and the sponge type we're all familiar with. Both of these are supremely comfortable, although whilst Zowie recommend the leather ones for movie and music use and the sponge for gaming, neither make a marked difference in quality as you'll see on the next page.
 
Cable and covers
 
Time to plug these puppies in and see how they perform.
  


Zowie Hammer USB Headset Page: 4
 
Testing
 
Testing of headsets is one of the more fun testing duties we have to undertake, because although we need to cover all the possible uses, there is a fair amount of freedom in what we use to test with.
 
Gaming
 
With the primary design of the Zowie Hammer being a gaming headset, naturally this is where we headed first.
 
If there is one game that should cover pretty much everything a game could demand of a headset it's Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. With a combination of quiet sections, very hectic parts, vehicles, foot, different guns and cut-scenes, this truly will define if the Zowies will shine through the rest of our tests. Initial impressions were good. The tutorial/demonstration of gunplay and grenades showed good directional sound and the spoken instructions were mind-blowingly clear. Unfortunately as the game moved into the first real set-piece the flaws became apparent. The Zowie Hammer is almost wholly devoid of a real punch in the bass department. Smaller weapons have a satisfying click, but the really heavy weaponry feels limp, explosions are meh, and generally it's not the full sonic experience that a gaming headset would imply. But be in no doubt that the midrange abilities are about as good as anything we've yet heard.
 
In case it was an issue solely with the complex aural soundscape that Modern Warfare 2 delivers, next on the agenda was Crysis Warhead which should provide a very similar type of audio, without having hundreds of things going on at once so it should be easier to tell where the problem lies. Again no matter how much adjustment was done, or  whether the headset was plugged in to the USB soundcard or the onboard sound, still the bass was lacking a real punch. Explosions really aren't the same if you don't get the deep boom that should accompany them, but the midrange and high-end frequencies were delivered with real clarity and a total lack of distortion regardless of the volume.
 
As first person games didn't seem to quite bring the best out of the Zowie Hammer, it was time to pull the Nomex on and try our two favourite racing games, GRiD and NFS Shift. GRiD, being the older of the two titles, has a much less complex and deep sound system and the Hammer actually works really well giving lots of feedback regarding the positioning of your rivals and how much grip you have left. 
 
NFS Shift has probably the best mechanical noises of any racing game yet on any system and is a true treat for petrol heads. The Hammer really emphasises the extra effects like the transmission whine and the turbo spooling up. The tyre squeal is particularly good. However at really high-revs the noise can grate, because the Hammer responds so easily to high frequencies, and the real boom you get from the V8s and high-torque machines is disappointingly weakened by that bass issue. However they certainly highlighted what an amazing job was done by the Shift team in replicating the clanks and whines of a race-car at full-chat.
 
Movie Playback
 
Having had such an average experience with gaming, we weren't sure that such a focused gaming headset would be any good at movie playback. Sure enough it wasn't particularly impressive. As you'd expect from something that is truly brilliant at the midrange frequencies, the speech parts were excellent. For the movies that aren't what I call 'boom and bang' ones the playback is very good. But the moment there is some action you really notice those missing low frequencies. Anyone who has experienced the THX intro as it should be heard will certainly spot the difference instantly, but if you prefer a more cerebral cinematic experience the Hammer Headset isn't bad at all.
 
Music and Miscellaneous
 
It will surprise nobody to learn that music playback however was particularly lacking. Unfortunately even the most calm and quiet symphonies rely upon the full range of the sonic spectrum and the Hammers are just unable to deliver the real hit of bass that pretty much all music requires.
 
Of particular note though, the microphone is truly excellent. VOIP conversations were clear on both sides with my conversational partner reporting a vast improvement in the usual quality they experience with my current set up. Multiplayer partners too reported that orders and responses were crystal clear.
 
Let's see if we can wrap this up.
 


Zowie Hammer USB Headset Page: 5
 
 
Conclusion
 
Compromise can be both a good thing and a bad thing. If something is made with a specific task in mind, in a 'no compromise' way, then it truly can rise above and become something fantastic. Alternatively if something has to be compromised to fit into budget or time constraints then the wheels can quickly come off.
 
The Zowie Hammer USB is definitely a no compromise gaming headset. It doesn't make concessions to movie fans, music lovers or, well anyone, in its quest to be the clearest communication headset available.
 
What it does excel at it certainly does. If you need a headset that is purely for games, and have other headsets or speakers for movie/music use, then this is very good. If all you need is something for VOIP then this is fantastic. Should you be the type of person who finds Motown music to be too bassy and longs for fantastic mids and the kind of high's that make dogs cover their ears, then these are also for you. There is enough bass for my liking certainly, but others who've passed through the OC3D bunker reported they'd have liked to see a vast improvement in the low-end.
 
Unfortunately games tend to be like movies. Lots of thumping bass in explosions, tyre screeches, cut scenes. Generally everything you'd expect in most media types. While a lot of modern music hasn't got the same catchy nature as the classics from our youth, nonetheless music is an integral part of a gaming experience and the Zowie Hammer is found wanting because of the lack of bass that is quite noticeable in exactly the type of team games that such a headset as this excels at.
 
Zowie have certainly designed these without compromise. They are brilliant in the midrange, fantastic at voice clarity and although enough bass for some people, if you really like a lot of punch you'll be quite disappointed. It's a true "gaming headset" and whilst it's easy to recommend for that purpose it's definitely not something to replace your entire audio output with if you use your PC for multimedia as well as gaming.
 
One of the most important factors is comfort. Here they are almost without equal. They are so light, and so comfortable, that even after a marathon all-day session at no point did the need arise to take them off and give my ears a bit of freedom. If we reviewed solely based upon comfort, these would be 10/10 without question.
 
But we don't review solely based upon comfort. The Zowie Hammer is great for the market it's aimed at. Comfortable, able to hit huge volumes without distortion and some of the clearest midrange we've heard. More oomph in the low-end and a little less of the high-frequencies and these would be epic. As it is they're merely good.
 
Pros
Amazingly comfortable
Crystal clear mid-range
Great Microphone clarity
Robust
 
Mediocre
Highs are a little harsh
Bass is quite weak
Microphone arm is a little too inflexible 
 
Cons
Nothing
 
 
 
Many thanks to the fine folks at Zowie for giving us these to review. Discuss this in our forums.