Now the preamble is out of the way here is the part you've all been waiting for. How good do they sound? Firstly I must point out that I am more of a mid-range man. I like clarity and would prefer a softer bass rather than the ear-bleeding, ornament shaking kind.
What would be the point of Dolby Headphones if I didn't dig out some favourite old movies to really test the comparison between a film I know well through headphones I know well, and the differences with the ASUS Dolby ones. For this test I set the mode in the Xonar utility to Movie and settled in.
To this end I grabbed a couple of recent films, a couple of favourites and a couple that should provide a good test. The films chosen were Igor, The Watchmen, The Fifth Element, Blade Runner Final Cut, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Dark Knight. If anything can make Christian Bales husky whisper audible then these should be the fellows.
Performance all around was outstanding. Whatever reservations I might have about the quality of the software that comes supplied with it or the tiny cable lengths were quickly forgotten. Dialogue was clear and easy to understand, yes even in The Dark Knight, whilst background noises and things I'd never heard before bombarded my senses. Whether it was the gentle quiet romance of Eternal Sunshine, or the firefights in Watchmen it was all handled without fuss and without losing any clarity at all.
Two moments really stood out, and both of them auger well for the music test, and that is a moment in The Fifth Element when a operatic Diva is singing. That sounded better than I have ever heard before and it's a film I have seen countless times. In a similar vein, Blade Runner Final Cut showed the Vangelis score in a way I'd not quite appreciated. Dramatic when it needed to be and yet subtle and quite at times too. If you only use your home computer for movies you can stop reading right now and go and buy a pair. Incredible.
Music is, like so many things in life, subjective. The expression "one mans meat is another's poison" has never held truer than if you enter into a musical discussion with someone. With the Xonar Utility in "music" mode I chose a variety of tunes and genres, some I know very well, some provide the bass or quiet needed to get a feel for the full abilities of the headphones. To this end up chose quite an eclectic set of music. I started, like I do with anything musical, with the Dresden Dolls. As a two piece it's important for the piano and drums to sing out equally. For the bass-heads amongst you I chose one of the few heavy bass songs I could bring myself to listen to, Sven-R-G - Going Crazy. Finally a couple from different genres to test all ranges, starting light with Beethoven's Fifth, and finishing with the new Rammstein album.
Such a wide variety of music should surely trip these headphones up. The HP-100U handled them easily. Sven-R-Gs bass was thumping but not distorted. Crystal clear would be too strong but you a good feel for the driving bass without knocking down pots and things. When it transition to the breaks with heavy synthesisers they retained their clarity. Rammstein again sounded clear and, despite them singing industrial metal in German, they sounded better than ever before. Staying with Germanic artists for a moment, the incredibly famous Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was up next. I won't profess to be a classical music aficionado, but the HP-100U made the orchestra almost come alive. There was a wonderful feeling of space and lightness that allowed every instrument room to breath whilst still coming together and interplaying in a way that surely makes Beethoven smile.
I left the Dresden Dolls until last, because they are my favourite band and if previous results stand up I couldn't wait to hear many things I hadn't heard. Sure enough what was previously a little bit of a sonic car crash in places suddenly made sense. Glassy pianos rose above the drums.
Unlike even music or movies, which have to retain some semblance of reality, games are the one area that can quickly put audio hardware to the test with anything from obscure bleeps to the crackle of your teammate requesting assistance on the radio. Having been a complete gaming addict since the days of Tempest and Moon Cresta, I really wanted to put the HP-100U through its paces on a fair selection of games.
To reward those who have read this far rather than skipped to the conclusion, I started with Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Wards latest in the Call Of Duty franchise. Once again the headphones shone. MW2 is outstanding at recreating both the uneasy silence and sheer chaos of warfare, and the HP-100Us delivered such highly defined sounds that you really could play through the quiet sections without straining every sinew trying to catch a footstep, and in a heavy firefight the noise from your weapon, and the direction finding of others weapons, were easily distinguishable even with headset noise.
Need For Speed : Shift was next. Providing some of the best race-car noises heard in game thus far it became a lot easier to keep track of your competitors without having half an eye on your mirrors. Works tuned cars really did whine, spit and create the kind of hellish din a pure racecar would without the sound ever becoming muddy. The various external noises of tyre squeal, wind, your crew chief etc all found space within the soundscape to drag you deeper within the fantasy of barrelling round in a hypercar.
The final modern game to be put to the test was the ever faithful Company of Heroes. For this I used the Tales of Valor add-on. The bouts of silence interspersed by a comment from an annoyed Pioneer gave the whole experience the immersive quality that CoH is renowned for. And when the first sound of a incoming artillery shell were detected the large response range of the headphones gave me a tiny bit of earlier warning that I had previously enjoyed, and when it landed I nearly ducked under the desk.
Lastly I ran through some of my classics. Just to see how they sounded on some proven excellent headphones. Naturally there is a lot less going on it something like Super Mario World or Twinkle Star Sprites, but the sounds there are were faithfully recreated. I kept reaching in my pocket for another 10p.
Phew. Let's move on and draw all this together into a conclusion.