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.
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.
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.