Thermaltake is a name that should immediately conjure up images of badass chasis, sturdy power supplies and edible-looking memory chips, if you have ever been an overclocker or computer nerd, that is. I am big fan of their chasis in particular; I still use one of their old full-tower which is holding up quite well from the years of abuse and mysteriously solid chunks of dust.
But that’s quite well known. What is not, however, is their dedicated gaming peripheral section called ‘Tt eSports’. Although quite commonly brought to battle in the ‘pro’ circuit, the brand doesn’t always get the same importance that the likes of Razer and Roccat enjoy among the common gamer.
But they should – they have made some pretty kickass gear so far, and our review product, the Shock Spin HD headset is made from the same forge, as well. Off the box, the headset promises some impressive features – 50mm neodymium magnet speakers, velvet cushion, and a USB sound card that adds 7.1 virtual surround sound to the mix. Does it fare up? Let’s take a look.
Design & Comfort:
You know what the Shock Spin reminds me of…
Yeah, a lollipop. So there goes all the stylizing out the window for me. But jokes apart, the Shock Spin has the most basic look among the headsets I have used so far. And that isn’t exactly a negative – it’s great to see a company that hasn’t gone overboard with looks and has kept their focus on comfort and design.
And it’s a good mix, that. The 50mm’s are enclosed in soft velvet cushion that devours the ears completely, while the head adjustment is spring-based, so there’s no fuss over finding that perfect balance between pain and suffering, and the feeling of having a crab attached to your skull.
This, along with the encasing plastic, makes the headset extremely light on the ear. However, during long runs, the headset starts to build up heat around the edges and gets itchy as a result. Plus, the huge 50mm drivers almost touches your cheeks, which not only starts to hurt a bit after an hour, but makes eating while wearing them…erm, odd. They get a little too bouncy.
Moving on, the headset comes bundled with two extensions. One, that extends the headset’s short, iPod-friendly 3.5mm cable to a longer one; and second, the USB sound card, which adds virtual 7.1 surround sound to the speakers. The latter cannot be used with consoles, of course, since it needs drivers and other installations to work.
The Shock Spin also comes with a mic, but it is an entirely separate unit from the headset. We are not sure if it’s an ideal solution, especially to a product that is mainly aimed at online gamers. Communication here is off utmost importance; a separate mic unit, with its own cables and attached management issues only create hindrance to the experience.
Performance – USB vs 3.5mm
The (pricey) difference between the normal Shock Spin and Shock Spin HD is this little USB sound card that claims to add the pleasures of 7.1 surround sound, albeit a virtually stimulated one.
However, and unfortunately against all my hopes, the USB sound card did not make any noticeable difference compared to using the headset in its stereo mode. It felt that it added more volume and better sound panning, however once the placebo effect worn off, I found it harder and harder to distinguish the difference with the sound card attached.
To make sure that I was not mistaken, I tasked myself to manically switch between 3.5mm and USB in ‘real-time’, and rewind and forward at specific points in movies and music to help me notice any difference. However, the difference was very negligible to warrant any attention.
The USB sound card comes bundled with its own software, which apart from being confusing and unintuitive adds absolutely nothing into the mix except those crappy ‘3D environmental’ settings that we toyed and grew tired off from our Creative sound cards.
Music, Movies, & Games
I decided to keep using the USB sound card regardless of failing to notice any difference with it. This helped me keep my regular pair of cans free in case the Thermaltake did a poor job with my media.
Fortunately, that never came to be. The Shock Spin is a very, very
capable stereo headset that joyfully and enthusiastically performed everything I threw at it. Music in particular, unlike many gaming headset, emerged as its biggest strength, doing a much better job than when used for movies and gaming. Being a Bollywood nut, I paced the headset with a variety of tracks ranging from light rock, jazz, full-on Punjabi bhangras and a lot of Hindi masala-pop singles that only a die-hard movie buff would dare to bare through. The sound was full, rich and extremely detailed, and actually made me keep on listening which I rarely ever do on my home PC.
For movies and games, I laid out a test bed which comprised of Avatar, Thor, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rage and Crysis 2. While the sound quality was excellent, what I noticed was that there was an absence of some good doses of ‘oomph’. The bass levels were largely underplayed, which is surprisingly because I never noticed it while listening to music. As a result, everything sounded underwhelming.
Sound positioning was another area where the headset failed to impress. Having my haircut done in the Virtual Barbershop, the experience was just passable. For lack of better words, the sound seemed
to be coming from the intended position, but it was never convincing. It lacked sharpness, and preciseness. And this is with and without the USB sound card.
The experience was similar in games as well. While Rage and Deus Ex were aptly brought to life with its rich sound and tuned environmental effects, in Crysis 2, the headset were just not good enough to distinguish between the channels. What resulted in was a very good stereo headset doing what it could do best, but if you are putting it up against the likes of Roccat Kave, yeah it just doesn’t hold up well enough.
Tt eSports Shock Spin HD is a fine piece of hardware, just don’t expect too much from the USB sound card. It’s light and comfortable, plays music amazingly well, and can be a great companion in your movies and gaming escapades. It’s just that it could have done things a bit better – the separate mic unit is just baffling, for one.
Priced at $99, the Tt eSportsShock Spin HD is a good balance between budget and premium. Compared to other similar priced competitors, the Shock Spin HD stands ahead with its superior comfort and sound quality.