When you play video games as much as I do, you come to the realization that you need good audio. With the caliber of games coming out now, hearing in racing games, or in first person shooters is just as important as seeing with a proper HD monitor. Since I’m also into streaming, having a microphone on the headset is a nice addition. I picked up a Plantronics GameCom 788 at my local big box retail store, and plugged it in and had a go. Let’s have a look at some of Plantronics’ history.
Plantronics The Company
Over 50 years ago, two pilots got together in a garage to design a better in flight communication solution. Shortly after coming up with a product the FAA commissioned Pacific Plantronics (the original name of the company) to provide headsets to air traffic controllers. By 1967, Plantronics had 100,000 headsets in use, with sales approaching $5.5 million.
As an example of their scope, a Pacific Plantronics headset was used to utter the words, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” By 1973, they had shipped one million headsets. Popular at the time was the StarSet, an over the ear headset with a unique clear voice tube, much different than the Bell Telephone design of the time. In 1986, they acquired Walker Equipment Corporation and shipped their 5 millionth headset.
Plantronics Specials Division releases ruggedized versions of their products in 1999, one specifically being headsets for landing officers on aircraft carriers. In 2009, for the Voyager PRO Bluetooth Headset, they were awarded the Technology Marketing Corporation Unified Communications Product of the Year. It was a breakthrough product in the mobile market at the time.
They continue to innovate in the mobile space as well as provide businesses, corporations and consumers with quality communications products.
Plantronics GameCom 788
Of course there are a lot of audio products nowadays, and gaming headsets are no exception. The brand names in this battle are generally only differentiated by colors or the brand’s logo on the device itself. This is where I feel the GameCom 788 shines. They don’t have flashy snakes or tribal bands on the box, or internet speak plastered all over it. It’s a carbon black box with an orange stripe down the middle. It has information about what the device is capable of, and what drivers and software is necessary to make the 7.1 Dolby® Surround, function. It slides out of the cardboard easily, and is contained within a molded plastic insert. The USB cord is twist tied in the bottom of the plastic insert, and just a quick twist between your thumb and forefinger and you can plug the headset right in.
Before that however, you need to install a driver to allow the 7.1 to work with this headset. I actually read the directions properly (since I knew I wanted to review the device), but I know from experience, if you don’t install a driver first, sometimes it can be a nightmare to ever get the device working afterwards. So, if you do pick this headset up, be wary of that.
After getting the software installed, I fired up the first game I wanted to test; Assetto Corsa. Now you know I love this game, and while it’s nice to have the speakers blasting at your desk (I do have an older 5.1 Creative system), the difference in what you can hear is startling. I found that working my way around the track, I was sometimes a half to a full second faster around the track, just because of the headphone’s ability to transfer vital sounds directly to my ear. It definitely felt like I was one with the car, rather than just a whole lot of blasting engine noise around me.
The next day, I decided I wanted to try out Diablo 3 again, as I hadn’t played since they released “Loot 2.0” a few months ago. This again was a brutal discovery. I was able to hear enemies off screen, especially the elusive treasure troll. I would venture to say it was a more enjoyable experience, both the game, and the audio.
Since discovering Twitch via my brother last year, I’ve finally gotten the intestinal fortitude to start live streaming games myself. This was an excellent test of the microphone on this headset. Compared to the Logitech desktop mic I used previous, I was curious the difference in my live streaming performance. Immediate realization was ” why didn’t I do this sooner?” While the desktop mic wasn’t bad, the GameCom 788 provided a studio recording like sound. The desktop mic sounds like I’m yelling down a hallway in comparison. I still don’t like the sound of my voice, but it was accurately reproduced in the live stream, and the quality was similar to the live streams I’ve watched of “professional” streamers. The microphone was, bar none, the best part of this headset.
The mic switch on the device gives me assurance the mic is actually off. The volume controls on the left earpiece are a little sloppy feeling, but work well and haven’t failed me yet. The button that controls the 7.1 effect, really should be switched on at all times, as, with it off, the sound reproduction is quite sad, if I’m honest. The twisting feature of the headset is nice, but if you want to twist the earpieces to hang the headset around your neck, you have to take it off and turn it around. This was poorly designed, as if I want to switch between these “modes” this is extremely inconvenient. If the twist function was properly implemented, I would be able to switch modes while heading down the back straight at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. However, as it stands, I would have to pause my game to perform the necessary reconstruction.
I don’t think the durability of these headphones comes into question at any time. The external wiring assures that it won’t get twisted up while you are twisting the headset into position, as some have the wiring “neatly” inside the device. Additionally, since we have a cat, things are prone to falling off my desk at any time. The headband to earpiece construction is reminiscent of airline communications equipment, and that certainly takes a beating. The ear pads can get warm, especially as it is the end of summer here in Massachusetts, where the humidity is brutal.
I have a large dome, but no hair up there. The cloth padding is nice on the headpiece and doesn’t bother me as much as leather would I’d imagine. However, figuring out the adjustment of the earpieces was a chore, and the most comfortable fit for me would be considered tight by other folks. Probably because I have no hair. However, I can’t demote the headset because my genes don’t include a “normal” head covering.
The audio is good, I wouldn’t say amazing by any stretch, but the microphone more than makes up for that. Although, sometimes the audio does crackle a fair amount depending on the game settings and whether it has 7.1 capability. If I listen to music in the browser, there isn’t a hint of it, so I’m going to attribute that to poor driver compatibility; this sits firmly on the shoulders of Plantronics.
GameCom 788 Conclusion
If it weren’t for the awkward headset “twist” feature, this might have scored higher. The microphone is impressive, the audio is good, and the comfort and durability is excellent. In its price range, I’d venture to say that you might not find another headset with the audio input (mic) quality of this headset. The cloth pads and headrest were comfortable, albeit a tad warm in the hotter days, and the earpiece adjustments, although difficult to figure out at first, were solid feeling and were met with a positive “click.”
I have enjoyed using these headphones immensely for playing games, audio and video chatting with friends and family as well. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to someone looking for a good mid range gaming headset with a good quality microphone.
Product: Plantronics GameCom 788