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Genius HS-04U & HS-04V Headsets

Date: August 28, 2007
Author(s): Nate Marion

Gaming headsets are more popular than ever, so it’s no surprise to see such a wide selection available. Although there are some high-quality models available, we found out the hard way that the Genius HS-04U and HS-04V are not some of them.



Introduction, HS-04V

After spending some time with a couple of higher end headsets a few months ago, Genius-KYE was kind enough to send over a couple of lesser expensive headsets for us to have a look at. We received the HS-04U and HS-04V, both sold under the Genius brand name. We will be taking a look at both of them within this single review, but reviewing them separately from each other. Let’s see what they’re all about.

The main features of the HS-04V headset, as advertised by Genius, are the following:

The other feature is the price – a shopping-comparison search will show you any number of places where this headset can be had for $20 USD or less. Is it worth it?

The box is pretty simple. I wonder what the vibration thing is about…

Here I was wondering if this headset comes with it’s own battery powered amplifier for when you’re on the go. Nope…

It turns out that the batteries and usb plug are used to power the bass vibrators. Yes, the main feature of these headphones isn’t exceptionally powerful, vibrating bass; it’s just the vibrating part. There is actually a small vibrator on each ear cup that, when powered, shakes your ears to in order to make you feel like you are hearing powerful, throbbing bass. Sound weird? It is.

Here we see what comes in the box, you have the headset, 6.3mm jack adapter, and the usb cable and battery pack.

The inline remote allows you to control the speaker volume and the intensity of the bass vibration.

Here you can see the open-ear cup, notice that you can’t adjust the fit of this headset manually.

The mic boom, though a little too short, stays where you place it.

So what’s it like getting your ears vibrated? Does it make you smile like the woman on the box?

Performance and Comfort

To test these headphones I used a Creative X-fi XtremeMusic sound card. In the Creative Audio Console, headphones were set as the speaker type. For Music the mode was set to Entertainment Mode, and for games the mode was set to Game Mode.

I listened to a variety of music including both low-detail MP3s and MP4s and high detail CD tracks. I also spent some time playing a couple FPS games.

I sampled mp3s by Ben Lee, Incubus and Zwan, and listened to CD tracks by Interpol, Catch 22, AFI and Bob Marley.

The most noticeable thing about the sound of this headset is that the bass is weak. Listening to AFI’s “Miss Murder” is a perfect example of this. I tried another set of $40 ‘Titanium’ phones I got from Radio Shack a couple years ago, and the bass on this track was kicking my ears in. With the HS-04V, the bass is just… noticeable. It gets a little better with the vibration turned on, although on Max it got irritating. Since everything under ~300Hz was severely underrepresented, everything sounded tinny, especially Interpol’s “No I in Threesome”. The definition was also on the fuzzy side, although this wasn’t as noticeable on the reggae or ska tracks.

The vibrators are certainly an interesting feature. They basically give your ears a little kick whenever a drum beat or loud bass note plays. However, since the bass on this headset is so weak, it feels a little out of place. Turning the vibration on seems to amplify the bass slightly, and the ‘normal’ setting isn’t too distracting, however the ‘max’ setting makes it feel like there are two 6″ drivers strapped to my head thumping away – but I can’t hear them. Also, after listening to some faster tracks, it’s apparent that the vibrators have a maximum frequency and cannot always keep up with the music and so some thumps are lost. Other than that I have to say they feel kind of neat – it does make you feel like you’re hearing loud bass, but I think it’d be better if you actually were.

Gaming

I played some Quake 4, Counter-Strike: Source, and FEAR. There isn’t a need to get into too much detail here. The headphones worked just fine and sound location was good, but the bass was still weak. As dumb as it sounds, gunshots and explosions really do seem more intense when the headphones are vibrating – I can almost understand how this feature made it to market. Some may like it; other will probably find it annoying.

The microphone quality was good, I didn’t have any trouble understanding my own voice recordings and people on line said I sounded good.

As far as comfort goes, they aren’t bad, but they certainly aren’t that great either. The cups themselves are small and rest right on top of your earlobes. There is a comfortable amount of clamping force applied to your head, but there isn’t any way to manually adjust the headset, and it did tend to move if my head wasn’t level. The synthetic leather rim coverings aren’t the best either and will cause your ears to sweat after a bit, despite the fact that these are open-ear phones. I wouldn’t recommend wearing these for long periods. The build quality seems pretty solid – stepping on them is the only thing I’d try to avoid, but you could definitely fling them across a room without much consequence.

Final Thoughts

For $20, this isn’t a bad set of headphones. I haven’t seen many other headsets that include a decent mic and an inline remote. The sound is not that good but you shouldn’t expect it to be.

As for the vibration, I think a feature like this might have it’s place somewhere (no, I don’t mean there) – it definitely adds to the shock of explosions and gunshots, for instance. But without the actual sound to back it up, most of the time the vibrations are just annoying. Having your ears shake when it’s obvious that you aren’t actually hearing any bass is just… dumb. The ‘normal’ vibration setting was usually enjoyable because it boosted the bass output slightly yet wasn’t annoying.

So like I said, they’re pretty good for $20, but I’d recommend spending $40 and getting something more comfortable with better speakers… unless you really want the vibrators.



HS-04U, Final Thoughts

The next headset we have is the HS-04U, which is marketed as a gaming headset.

This box made me crack up – I mean is that guy having fun OR WHAT?! Nothing says ‘I’m posing for a picture!’ like one eye closed while playing a video game. I love marketing. Anyway…

Here we see the features of this headset.

And here we see the system requirements. The astute reader will note that neither XP 64 nor Vista is listed with the supported operating systems. I can personally verify that as of the day this review was written, XP 64 is not supported. The Genius website does offer driver downloads, but I had a hard time navigating to the appropriate page, and was not able to complete an XP driver download (24% was as far as I got). A comparison-shopping search shows this headset retailing between $30 and $40 USD. Let’s find out if it’s worth your money.

The box contains the headset, inline remote, and driver CD.

Here you can see the outside of the left ear cup.

The mic boom doesn’t feel very sturdy, but it gets the job done. The flexible part of the boom is pretty weak and doesn’t retain its position very well.

This inline remote has got to be one of the cheapest things I’ve ever held. The buttons feel very flimsy and I expect one to break every time I adjust the volume. There are LED underneath the two volume buttons, but they aren’t implemented in a reasonable manner – for instance, both the volume up and volume down buttons are lighted green when the mic is not muted, and both are lit red when the mic is muted. I would think that it would be more convenient for the two volume controls to be lit differently. Also, when audio is playing, the green lights blink constantly.

Another annoyance related to the remote is that until the drivers are installed, the remote doesn’t work, and the default volume on this headset is LOUD. So don’t try to use the headset until driver installation is complete.

Speaking of drivers…

Here we have the driver CD menu (can’t get enough of that guy!) where you must first plug in the headset and then install the ‘Xear 3D Software’.

After seeing this screen twice while running Windows XP Professional 64bit Edition, I decided to try using XP Pro 32bit. The installation completed successfully on the first try. I’m disappointed that XP 64 does not seem to be supported.

Installation went without a hitch on XP 32 though.

The main menu is where you can configure the way the virtual speakers are set up. Using virtual 7.1 speakers, you can adjust the gain on individual speakers, rotate the entire setup, and drag the speakers around any way you like. Dolby Digital 5.1 setup has 3 preset speaker configurations simulating different room sizes, and of course you can turn all this off and just use straight stereo.

One thing of note is that the manual for this software specifically states that it can be used with any USB audio device, although I have no way of testing that at this point in time.

The virtual sound provided by the drivers is surprisingly accurate.

This menu is basically just volume controls.

There are lots of environments to choose from in the ‘More Options’ menu – a few of them might be good for a chuckle, so have a look.

‘Psychotic’ just adds some echo effects and what sounds like a distant howling wind. ‘Drugged’ seems identical with a little less bass. Moving on.

I did manage to get the karaoke feature working, however it would’ve been nice if there were a way to turn off the microphone echo effect, and the delay between singing something and hearing it means that you’re perpetually off beat – not that there was much hope of me sounding good, but the problems with this feature make it useless, in my opinion.

Performance and Comfort

To test these headphones I listened to a variety of music including both low-detail MP3s and MP4s and high detail CD tracks. I also spent some time playing a couple FPS games. Since these are USB headphones, there is no need for a soundcard.

I sampled mp3s by Cake, Weezer, and Moby, and listened to CD tracks by Interpol, Catch 22, AFI and Bob Marley.

This headset also suffers from extremely weak bass. The bass line on Bob Marley’s “Positive Vibration” is almost non-existent, and all other tracks were nearly as bad. Increasing the bass using the equalizer tended to make the lower tones very fuzzy. Other than that the sound was pretty decent, the mids and highs were clear and more defined than the HS-04V headset. An astute shopper will be able to find a headset with better bass at this price point though.

Gaming

I played some Counter-Strike: Source and FEAR to test this headset out. It’s worth getting into some detail here.

CS:Source

Despite the weak bass, I was pleasantly surprised that the virtual surround sound was definitely working. I tried the game both using the Dolby virtual 5.1 as well as the virtual 7.1 speaker setup in the main HS-04U audio menu. While in game, I selected the appropriate speaker set-up in the audio options.

The virtual 7.1 sounded absolutely horrible; the sound was fuzzy and the location was bad. I would definitely not suggest using these settings under any circumstance in CS: S.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound was very helpful, allowing me to locate sound sources more accurately than standard stereo, and it sounded pretty good aside from the weak bass. I’d definitely recommend the Dolby Digital 5.1, it was a very noticeable advantage for me.

FEAR

With no specific audio settings available in this game, I simply tried it using both the Dolby virtual 5.1 and the virtual 7.1 from the HS-04U menu, and left EAX effects turned off in the game.

This time, the virtual 7.1 sounded slightly better than the Dolby 5.1. Although the Dolby 5.1 sounded fine, the sounds my own character made seemed a little too subdued. Both solutions were much better than stereo in terms of audio source placement, and offered an advantage.

The microphone got the job done, but there was a high-pitched whine in all my audio recordings, as well as in the audio test in CS: S. I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with anyone using this mic, which is unfortunate considering how well this headset works for games.

The headset design is similar to the HS-04V, open ear with synthetic leather cup covers and foam speaker covers. The ear cups are too small to avoid compressing your earlobes though, and the fake leather will make your ears sweat after a short while. I don’t find this headset to be particularly comfortable, but it’s better than a stick in the eye, and it is adjustable. The build quality of the headset seems sturdy enough to be kicked around a bit, but the mic boom and inline remote seem very breakable.

Final Thoughts

With a price between $30 and $40, you could definitely do worse for a headset. The many different audio features that come with this headset are extremely useful for games, and at least somewhat useful for audio playback. Unfortunately, the quality of the components is really holding this headset back – the bass levels are very low, the mic produces and annoying whine, the inline remote is very flimsy, and as of now there is no support for Windows XP 64-Bit. Genius’ website will have information on the most up to date drivers.

In the end, I would only recommend these headphones to FPS gamers on an extremely tight budget running Windows XP 32bit, most users would be better off spending $10 more for a headset with better speaker quality.

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