So what thoughts and conclusion can we draw from all this?
Testing the ASUS HP-100U Dolby Headphone Set has led me to have quite a conflicting opinion upon it. There is no doubt that initial impressions are good. The packaging is excellent being both sturdy, clean to look at thanks to the excellent Velcro door system, and containing all the information someone planning to purchase could ask for.
Each of the three items are packaged well within it, and certainly look the part. Build quality is excellent, the design appears to be very good and the connections are simple. Because ASUS haven't gone the route of "install the drivers before plugging in the hardware" that can catch out the impatient, even the most manual-phobic person could be up and running in a very short period of time.
However it would be a good thing if you were one of those people who only reads the manual when all other avenues fail. The manual that comes in the box is slim at best. In fact it's barely sufficient to be called a quick start guide. The driver/utility CD does come with a more comprehensive PDF manual, but why go to the effort of printing one manual and then expect people to sit in front of their computers reading the real one? PDF manuals are a pet-hate of mine. There is nothing to compare to having a hard copy of it all in front of you.
Once installed again that was a difficult first impression. Despite the many claims of the manual and repeated attempts to reinstall the software, the including control software refused to do almost anything it promised. The four DSP buttons for Music, Gaming, Films and Hi-Fi mode certainly change the button that lights up, but I couldn't find any obvious changes in the sound quality between the setting. Luckily the Hi-Fi mode that it defaults to is excellent, and so this is a small issue. The volume control in the software not being "attached" to either the volume within Windows, or the volume control built in to the Xonar U1 is also a huge oversight. To have one of them reading zero, but still have the volume working as expected is not impressive. Maybe there are some early bugs in the software or early compatibility problems with Windows 7 64 and the problems will be ironed out. But still, as this is a retail package, it's unimpressive to say the least.Fortunately once I just ignored the ASUS utility and purely treated it as a headphone, microphone and volume package it shone.
The sound quality of the microphone is incredible. The short amount of cable that initially presented a problem actually doesn't matter because the combination of the noise-reduction built in to the microphone, and it's exceptional ability to detect voices at natural volumes means it can be left it one place and not moved as and when you need it. The base is still far too light for my liking and a even a small amount of extra heft would aid the stability, and the users peace of mind, greatly.
The Xonar U1 provides good quality sound and is certainly built like a tank. The volume control has a tiny notchy quality to it, think of a good scroll wheel, which doesn't interfere with it's usage. Although I'd love to have the capability to change how much each turn increases or reduces the volume because sometimes that extra four percent changed something quiet into something very loud indeed. And my word does this do loud. On half volume I could barely tolerate it, so if you're a bit deaf or wish to become so this is absolutely the product for you. Assuming you don't want to put it too far away from your computer, thanks to ASUS giving you so little cable to work with.
Finally the headphones themselves are the star of the package. Large comfortable ear pieces coupled to a light frame meant that even after a solid eight hours in them I wasn't desperate to remove them unlike most other headphones. The sound quality is fantastic with surprising amounts of definition between loud and quiet things, and the ability to differentiate multiple sounds and their source from each other was quite an eye opener. Or an ear opener if you will.