Inside the box
The box is a normal flip top one sealed with a easy-tear clear sticker. None of the "how the heck am I supposed to open this without ripping it" that plague some hardware items.
The contents come in two vacuum-formed trays. A white plastic one containing all the hardware itself, and the clear one that mainly serves as a protective cover from the prying fingers of those who've sussed the Velcro tabs on the main box. Neither of these have any securing mechanism between the two of them, making finally getting to your purchase a quick and simple process.
Our first look
As you can see it's a very compact arrangement. The headphones are a little tricky to remove as they aren't the simplest shapes for the vacuum-former to work around, but it's nothing greatly problematic. The microphone is held in securely and the Xonar U1 itself is covered with another small plastic cup to help protect the shiny aluminium finish.
All the cables are held using twist-ties apart from the Xonar U1 which has a permanently fixed ASUS branded double-sided Velcro cable tie. This has the fur on one side and the hooks on the other, ending the problem that some Velcro can have in that the hook and fur don't ever quite line up as tight or as loose as you require.
The main problem with the packaging and the reason I compared it unfavourably to some other ASUS efforts is in the manual and the driver/utilities disc. Neither of these have anywhere to be kept apart from down the back of the box behind the main hardware holder. For the CD this isn't much of a problem but the manual was slightly bent at the corners. Admittedly not a huge issue, but when something is new I like the only marks on it or bends to be a result of my own clumsiness and not a problem with the packaging.
Taking it all out and first impressions
Once out of the box three things become immediately apparent.
Firstly, that the headphones are nice and light. Many an evenings gaming has been ruined by headphones that are very uncomfortable for anything but the shortest session, so hopefully these will be better suited to the long hours I will be wearing them. The height adjustment mechanism is sturdy and whilst it doesn't have the range of many headphones I don't know many people who wear them whilst still in a top hat, so it has more than plenty for all but the Ascot faithful.
The microphone is amazingly light, and if anything slightly top heavy. It will be interesting to see if this is actually an issue once it is in place and being moved around a lot. The arm section has a lot of flexibility but still holds itself wherever it's put without a fuss.
Secondly, the base unit itself is hefty indeed. A very solid hunk of aluminium has been used and it's both pleasantly cool and definitely wont be accidentally moving around the desk. As it doubles as the volume control for the system and so will likely see a lot of use it's reassuring to know that it has been designed in the knowledge that it's not just going to sit in place.
Third and finally, ASUS certainly haven't been generous with the cabling. Because my desk and PC are in my lounge I always use the PC with headphones on. I appreciate that ASUS are aiming this as a solution to the mobile gamer, but it's certainly not something that you could slip into a pocket. Full-size headphones rarely are. So to discover that the USB lead (hard wired) for the Xonar U1 is a mere 16 inches long precludes it ever being used it the top USB ports of my case. In fact with a very large case you'll struggle to use it in some of the higher ones and still have the base in easy reach to adjust volumes or mute. The microphone has a 3.5mm hard-wired jack with only 19 inches of cable. Between the two that's probably the size of a reasonable desk and so it will need to hold up to its claims of noise-reduction and excellent sensitivity. Finally the headphones have 4 feet of cable on them. I normally use Hi-Fi style headphones that come with more cable than I could ever possibly need, so to suddenly find myself with such a short leash took some getting used to. Luckily I didn't get up without taking them off, but it's something I was always aware of.
Enough waffle, how does it perform. Read on