Date: June 3, 2013
Author(s): J.D. Kane
Surround sound… done well and properly, it’s a treat to the ears. Done poorly, it’s an affront. Logitech’s new G430 promises to deliver 7.1 Dolby Headphone surround to satisfy your gaming and entertainment audio needs. How well does it come to hitting the mark? Read on and find out!
I have to confess something right off the bat.
I have a bias against surround sound headsets. I’m a stereo guy, through and through.
The reason for the prejudice has everything to do with the fact that I’ve yet to find a surround sound headset/headphone solution that’s satisfied me. You see, I use headsets not just for gaming and watching movies, which is what surround sound technology really is for. Music, on the other hand, just doesn’t sound quite right (to me) when it’s delivered to anything more than just the left and right channel (OK, adding a sub-woofer is fine).
I’m sure that there is at least one surround sound set of cans that would fit the bill. My guess, though, is that such a thing would be beyond my budget’s reach.
Logitech, though, sent Techgage one of its new G430 headsets to see if perhaps I could open my heart, mind, and ears to its latest attempt at offering an enjoyable surround sound experience.
First impressions, as they say, are everything, and the G430’s were a bit stunning. I saw it in its packaging, and immediately I thought that it was an interesting piece of kit. I mean, just have a look at it!
It’s very refreshing to see such a colorful product. These days, black is the new beige. Almost everything in the computer hardware industry is in a shade of black or dark grey. Often, products are colored black with a dark shade of grey as a visual contrast.
But look at the G430. Sure, it’s still predominantly black, but you’ve got to love that G Series bright blue! What an eye-catching visual counterpoint! Bright blue trim, bright blue ear cups, bright blue cable sleeve… It’s safe to say that if the G430 is to rely on looks alone, it’s a winner right out of the box.
Of course, a color scheme, no matter how attractive it is, probably isn’t the primary reason why anyone would choose one headset over another. More important are the feature set and specs that the product is endowed with.
Accordingly, let’s have a look at the G430’s most salient features.
When you take the G430 out of its box, you’ll find the headset itself, a USB dongle, and a rudimentary Quick Start guide.
The headset itself features a pair of 40mm drivers. The ear cups are shod with breathable cloth and foam, which ensure the end user’s comfort during marathon gaming sessions (or movie-watching / music-listening).
Being a headset, it includes a boom mic fixed on the left speaker. It pivots up and down and is flexible, which means you can fine-tune its positioning for optimal performance. Not only that, but the mic itself is noise-canceling and can be muted completely via a sliding switch on the inline control box.
Speaking of which, the on-cable control box not only mutes and activates the mic, but it also controls the headset’s volume levels with impressive granularity. The backside of the control box has a clip as well, in case you want to fix it in position on your collar, sleeve, or anywhere else on your shirt.
Approximately five inches from the end of the cable, it branches off into two 3.5mm connectors. Per standard protocol, the pink connector is for microphone in; the lime green connector, for headphone out.
The G430 has a USB dongle which functions as a de facto sound card. This component is the secret ingredient that processes audio out signals into a 7.1 surround sound experience. It works with Logitech’s LGS to create that Dolby surround sound.
Now that we’ve had a good close look at the G430, let’s revisit a familiar piece of software.
If you’ve been a regular visitor to Techgage (if you’re not, you’re really missing out), the Logitech Gaming Software (LGS) should be very familiar to you by now. We’ve seen it in action recently with our reviews of the G100s and G500s gaming mice.
To take full advantage of the G430’s Dolby Surround Sound capabilities, LGS has to be installed on the host machine and the headset has to be plugged into the supplied USB dongle. If you elect to just simply plug the G430 into the correct ports on your motherboard’s onboard audio or a sound card, the headset functions perfectly fine, albeit as just a stereo pair.
I was astonished, to be perfectly honest, to see that the LGS auto-detected the G430 when I plugged it into a free USB port. As you can see in the photo above, the LGS can now configure both the G430 as well as another G Series device (in this case, the G500s mouse).
Clicking over to the sound board icon to the right of the Home icon gives you access to the Levels control screen. Here you can control the microphone’s input sensitivity and the headset’s volume output levels. You can also tweak the Bass and Treble settings, if you wish.
Just beneath the Bass and Treble level adjustments is an arrow icon. Clicking this gives you access to the Advanced Equalizer, where you can further fine-tune various output frequencies according to your taste. Just remember to click the Advanced Equalizer’s power button to the on position to activate this feature. Also, if your manual changes to the equalizer settings aren’t to your liking, it’s very easy to reset the equalizer: Just press that reset button to the left of the equalizer’s On button.
Clicking the Dolby Headphone icon activates the Surround Sound Mixer, which is where you turn on the Dolby Surround feature. This is also where end users can tweak the surround sound settings, specifically adjusting each of the eight separate sonic channels’ volume levels.
The big gear icon opens up the Settings window. As far as the G430 is concerned, this is where you can see the firmware version. Funnily, though, Logitech reminds you that it’s impossible to update the G430’s firmware. Better that you know that than you don’t, I suppose.
Finally, clicking the “?” icon accesses the Help section of the software. It’s filled with basic help information about your devices as well as how to best get what you want out of them.
Let’s finish this review up with some concluding thoughts.
I confessed at the outset that I have a strong bias against surround sound headsets.
The G430 has come some way to change my thoughts about them. As I told Rob a couple of evenings ago, this is the first surround sound headset that I’ve ever had on my melon that I didn’t want to smash against the wall.
There’s plenty to like about the G430. First, I really love the ergonomically-conscious design. The cloth coverings on the ear cups are super-comfortable, for one thing. Cloth is a smart choice of material since it allows your ears to breathe and not accumulate perspiration as much as, say, leather would. The padding, which has an appropriate degree of firmness, also goes a long way towards ensuring a comfortable fit.
And the lightness isn’t an indication of a compromise on build quality. The ear pieces are quite solid, for one thing. I love the cable and the sleeving: It’s quite long and is very flexible, exhibiting no tendency for kinking whatsoever.
Returning to ergonomics, the G430’s metal headband adjusts superbly and ensures that the headset will fit almost any head size. I like how the headband doesn’t squeeze your head and ears too tightly, even out of the box. The foam padding on the inner surface of the headband is an additional aid to keeping the G430 on your head as well as making sure the fit is comfortable. Normal fore and aft head movements won’t dislodge it, although really violent headbanging probably would send these flying. I therefore would curtail the urge to emulate classic James Hetfield stage antics while wearing your G430.
Moving on, let’s talk about the G430’s performance as a headset. The microphone functions really well. I tested it out on Skype. My conversation partners heard me with perfect clarity. Adjusting the sensitivity levels in the LGS works superbly as well, with my conversation partners reporting progressive changes to volume of what they heard as I moved the mic sensitivity slider up and down.
In terms of sound quality, there are two sides to the G430. As a surround sound headset, it needs tweaks in the LGS to get the most out of it. This means spending time in the Advanced Equalizer section as well as the Surround Sound Mixer to eliminate the cold, synthetic, and somewhat unconvincing surround sound effect straight out of the box. You see, in the G430, the surround sound effects are created not by physical speakers but through software emulation. This is why you need to plug the headset into its USB dongle.
Fortunately, the LGS is so amazingly user-friendly that it’s fairly easy (if time-consuming, if you really care about getting the best possible sound quality – yeah, I’m one of those guys) to come up with an effective surround sound set-up. The Advanced Equalizer also does a fairly good job decreasing the coldness of the sound. To my ears, out of the box the mid-range seems to be a little lacking in substance and punch, and all sounds across the range sound a bit thin. If you love good sound, I’d say you have to spend time in the LGS to get anything close to what your ears are looking for.
I tested the G430 without the USB dongle, plugging it directly into my ASUS Xonar Essence STX. This “relegates” the G430 to a stereo headset. I was astonished, actually, to hear the headset sounding so great. I used it on my iPod Classic as well, and again sound quality was fairly good. As a stereo headset, a lot of the punch and substance that were missing when it was plugged into the USB dongle were restored. It was actually pleasurable to listen to music with the G430 now, as well, with the coldness of the sound all but gone. I’m not saying it’s an audiophile’s set of cans now, but the G430 “naked” sure worked better for music.
I think this points out the biggest weakness in the G430 package (that is, the headset plus the USB sound card dongle): The dongle probably needs more raw amplification to drive the headset. I’m not an audiophile nor an audio engineer, but I do know that the Xonar Essence STX has a dedicated headset amplifier. Though the output is just stereo, the quality of the sound is far superior to what the USB sound card can muster, even after a ton of tweaks and testing. The iPod has a lower-powered headphone amp than the Xonar Essence STX, but it still drove the G430 in stereo a lot better than the sound card dongle could.
So what do we make of the G430? It’s got a lot more pluses than minuses in the grand scheme of things. Ergonomically, it’s nothing short of superb. No complaints whatsoever. It’s comfortable, and you can keep this on your ears for hours at a time very easily. The LGS is another strong positive: It’s a supremely capable piece of software that can tune G Series headsets as well as G Series mice. The user-friendly interface allows an end user to fine-tune the G430’s sound output with enough granularity to get close to what you perceive is the perfect sound. The noise-canceling microphone is also a boon, handling its task with aplomb and perfect clarity. Even in terms of aesthetics, I really like the black-and-bright blue color scheme, as well as the headset’s clean, modern looks. It’s priced quite fairly, too: Logitech has set its SRP at $79.99.
Indeed, my only real complaint about the G430 is the apparent inadequate power delivery of the USB sound card dongle. While it is the essential part of the G430 package insofar as generating that Dolby Surround Sound experience, it trips up when it comes to driving the headset unit itself. Out of the box, the sound quality is harsh and cold and lacking in power, even in the mid-range frequencies. It takes some work to dial in some quality into the sound output as well as the surround sound effects.
It’s highly unlikely that the target market for this product would care so much about sound quality. Gamers, by and large, would probably care most about the surround sound feature. In this reviewer’s opinion, though, even the surround sound performance out of the box needed tweaks in order to get a satisfactory set-up. I can’t speak for other users, but perhaps I expected more from the G430 than what it actually does deliver straight out of the box.
Then again, I can only speak for my own experience and perceptions. Other end users may not have any issues with the G430.
Fortunately, the LGS makes it easy to work on the sound quality’s shortcomings. You won’t get a perfectly satisfying result, but you can come close.
And that’s what the Logitech G430 does, ultimately. It’s not perfect, but it can come close, if you put the work and the time in to do so.
The Logitech G430 is available for purchase from Amazon.
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