ASUS ROG Strix Fusion 500 Headset Review
Published: 30th January 2018 | Source: ASUS | Price: |
We've had dozens of headsets come through the OC3D offices from the extremely affordable to the - for PCs at least - highly priced models. Many have successfully covered some of the important elements of a headset but very few have managed to combine most of the things we look for.
The first ASUS Strix headset leant heavily upon the owl design ethos which meant that they were enormous and not massively comfortable for long sessions. The sound quality was good, but again nothing mind-blowing. It's been a long time (3 1/2 years) since that headset and the Strix brand has established itself as one of the market leaders in the intervening years. With the release of the Fusion 500 that wait was definitely worth it. These are really very good indeed.
First impressions count for a lot. We've all experienced bookmarking endless pages, hunting through every piece of information we can find, eventually deciding on a product and then sitting eagerly awaiting its delivery only to open the box and discover that reality didn't match our expectations. It's disappointing. With the Strix Fusion 500 you have no such worries. The packaging is tremendous with the box art being gorgeous to behold and the diagonal split lending a sense of theatre to the opening. Once it's freed from its cardboard confines it's even more jaw-dropping than the original impressions of the box. In your hands it feels like a robust item. The textures work beautifully together with the smoothness of the chromed panels contrasting nicely with the high quality plastics. It isn't just in the feel that the robustness comes across either, and the metal headband bracing has almost no flex at all and isn't just a token effort at making the Fusion 500 look bombproof, but actually helps reinforce things. Equally the hinges feel fantastic and rotate smoothly to keep the ear pieces comfortably mounted around your ears, without tending towards the loose and floppy feeling that you can get from some lesser headsets. Lastly the lighting is some of the best we've experienced, able to deliver everything from punchy saturated hues to the more subtle shades. Perfect when you're trying to find a unique team identity.
Of course all of that is pretty meaningless if the audio quality isn't up to snuff, but, and we're as incredulous as you, the audio quality is even better than the build quality.
With the ASUS Essence 50mm driver either providing 20Hz-40kHz or 20Hz-20kHz frequency response depending upon which part of the ASUS product specs you believe, we'd put money on it either being the former, or the very best version of the latter we've experienced. The ESS 9601 Amplifier and ESS 9018 DAC combine to give spectacular audio quality. There is a sense of space that belies the closed back nature of the design, whilst individual frequencies are easily identifiable. Even complex music that saturates the sound spectrum remains clear in all elements, and you can ramp the bass right up without it ever turning woolly and indistinct. Pounding bass, clear vocals, glassy highs, there is nothing not to like about the audio you obtain from the Fusion 500. It isn't just the music that appears in your ears which sound good either, as the microphone is clear and provides good ambient noise cancelling. Certainly I was heard by my teammates as clearly as the best of other headsets I've tested. The included DAC really scores highly here, although you are paying a pretty steep price for it.
Negatives? The 7.1 button is a little too easy to catch when taking them off. Virtual surround always sucks away a little bit of the bass frequency which you can bring back with equalisation, and whilst the Fusion 500 is better than most it can still be a surprise to put them back on without knowing you've caught it and wondering why you're either extra bassy or suddenly thin. You definitely wouldn't want to use the Virtual 7.1 for films or music, but it can have benefits in those games that require precise audio location such as Player Unknown and the like. The inclusion of the DAC does bring glorious audio when everything is just so, but without any proprietary software to control the equalisation you're reliant upon the program you're using or even third party apps to balance the sound. Not good enough at this price point. The power needs of it mean that you can't run 3.5mm jacks unlike the Fusion 300, which further limits compatibility, curious for such a premium model. Equally both of us in the office took a while when we first opened the headset to hunt out the wireless dongle. No there isn't one. No these aren't wireless. But they look like they are and, again, at this price we'd expect them to be. Even more confusing is that there is a Bluetooth receiver in the headset to allow you to control the lighting with your phone, but you can't use it to send audio. So it has the expense of a receiver with none of the benefits. Okay the sound and build quality is fantastic, but at £170ish we want wireless and software control beyond simple light changes.
All in all there is an awful lot of greatness about the Fusion 500, and a few decisions that leave us scratching our heads. You get premium build quality, some clever design touches, the love it/hate it control panel and fabulous sound quality when in stereo mode. On the flip side at this price we want software to control the soundscapes and wireless connectivity or at minimum 3.5mm jacks. If you don't want to plug it into an XBOX, if you can easily learn where controls you can't feel are, and your media player/game of choice has quality sound manipulation options then the sound quality and build quality are enough to earn the Strix Fusion 500 our OC3D Performance Award. We think the addition of the DAC and connectivity options limit the headset more than we want at this price, without quite matching up to some Beyerdynamics or similar audiophile headsets in raw sound quality. Within a specific set of circumstances (stereo mode, on a PC) it's brilliant. It's just not as flexible as the price might lead you to hope.