If ‘Just buy it already’ were gaming headphones, these would be it

 

9.5/10

DROP + EPOS PC38X Gaming Headset

Spectacular

$169 at Drop
Pros
  • Better directional game sound than $1,600 headphones
  • Audio profile prioritizes game sound while still being generally excellent
  • Included accessories offer huge additional value
Cons
  • Initial clamping force is a little tight for larger heads
  • Headset-side connector limits aftermarket cable options
  • Mic could have benefitted from an external windscreen

There’s long been a debate among gamers about what offers the best gaming audio. One side claims gaming headsets are junk; you’d be better off buying decent headphones. The other side argues the built-in mics and game-tuned audio still make gaming headsets the best option.

There’s no end in sight for this war of words, but there’s one product that members of both sides almost always give their nod of approval to, even if it is a begrudging one: the Drop + EPOS PC38X gaming headset.

Why? It’s all about history. EPOS is a company that began as the gaming division of legendary audio equipment maker Sennheiser. It owes its pedigree to legendary Sennheiser equipment like the $50,000 Orpheus headphones, and the actually attainable HD 500 through HD 800 series. This provides the audiophile clout that Razer or Logitech might lack.

Meanwhile, EPOS’ consistent ability to produce hardware precisely tuned for the most competitive gamers, at reasonable prices, gives it more accessibility than premium companies like Beyerdynamic or Audeze.

I’ve wanted to try out this headset since hearing someone claim it nearly matches the legendary soundstage (the ability to produce accurate directional sound, essentially) of the $1,600-plus HD 800 family. I’ve heard that claim again and again, always maintaining a healthy skepticism that such a thing was possible for under $200. Welp…it is.

Specifications

Form factor Open-backed, over-ear headset
Drivers Dynamic, open
Frequency response 10Hz – 30,000Hz
Impedance 28-ohm
Connectors Interchangeable 2.5 m PC cable with 3.5 mm microphone and headphone connectors and 1.5 m console cable with 1 x 3.5 mm TRRS connector
Microphone type Noise-cancelling, bi-directional electret condenser
Mic frequency response 50-16,000 Hz
Included extras 2 replaceable cables (mentioned above), drawstring carry bag, extra pair of velour ear pads
Weight 10.2 oz (290.5 g)

Build and fit

Before you even hear a peep out of a new headset, the first thing you notice is whether or not it’s comfortable. No matter how grand the sound is, you won’t use it for long if it gives you a headache due to bad padding or poor design. SteelSeries’ older Arctis Pro headset exemplified this for me. It sounded excellent, and the swappable batteries were genius, but I returned it because the ski-band design was agonizing for my larger head. Thankfully, SteelSeries has since seen the light, but the example of bad comfort ruining excellent sound still stands.

My aforementioned large dome meant the clamping force of the PC38X headset was a little strong initially. Thankfully, this lessened after a few days of use, leaving behind a pillowy fit. Both the default earpads, which use an athletic wear-type material, and the included replacement velour pads offered ample cushioning and accommodated my eyeglasses with no unwanted pressure. The headband padding was equally excellent, with the split in the middle cleverly preventing the pressure some sets can induce right at the crown.

Features and accessories

The Drop + EPOS PC38X headset falls onto the minimalist side of gaming peripherals. There’s no RGB lighting, flashy coloration (though there is a second colorway with some yellow accents), or futuristic design aesthetics. This is a device designed to practically vanish while doing its job well.

As for how well it does that job, it includes one of the best built-in mics I’ve used on a gaming headset. I’ve demonstrated the audio quality for you below by using the headset’s mic to quickly go over its features and my impressions.

Put simply, it sounds excellent for a built-in mic. The only way I’d expect to get superior sound would be by using a discrete microphone, which adds more cost and complexity to your setup. This microphone is more than clear enough for even highly competitive in-game chat. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily start a podcast with it.

It also has the always-sensible built-in mute function that disables any sound when it’s flipped up. Unlike many headsets with this feature, the PC38X provides a tactile click when the mic engages or disengages.

On the opposite earcup you’ll find the included volume dial. Since this is an analog headset, it only controls the sound output of the headset itself, not your system volume. It also maintains the same audio quality at all volume levels, a rare feat.

On the bottom of the headset you’ll find the inset connection point for its two included cables. I found the deep, sturdy inset nearly eliminated annoying cable vibration noise from the wiring rubbing against things, but it does limit replacement options somewhat.

Thankfully, the included cables are both lightweight and sturdy-feeling, with tight fabric wrapping and ample strain reliefs. I’d expect them to last years, even with relatively careless treatment. If you do manage to wear them out, replacement cables are available for less than $20.

Similarly, if you wear through the default earpads, or if you just prefer a softer feel, you can also swap in the included velour earpads.

Sound quality

Now we get to what makes the PC38X headset so special, its sound. I’ve reviewed many headsets for ZDNET, and I’ve praised the directional sound of models like Razer’s Blackshark V2 Pro wireless headset. I’ve even noted that some do provide a basic level of vertical awareness to them. But, all of those previous models are still consistently surpassed by what the PC38X offers.

Not only is the directionality of the sound, across vertical and horizontal axes, a step beyond what I’ve experienced wearing other headphones and headsets, but the depth of that sound adds a new dimension to your situational awareness. You won’t just hear the direction your enemies are coming from, even through walls — you’ll know exactly how far away they are. I can’t explain how vital this additional info became to my gameplay. In games like Overwatch 2 and Halo Infinite, I could aim at a corner and fire at the precise instant I knew someone would be coming around it. At times, it almost felt like cheating.

The quality of the sound was also clearly precision-tuned for competitive gaming. The deep bass was solid and clean, but it was never the focus of the PC38X’s audio. Instead, it focuses on the mids and highs that provide the true texture and awareness you want in a serious game. Beautiful orchestral scores can still shine on this headset, but it’s only when you’re crouched behind a wall, depending on audio cues to make sure you’re the one who fires first, that you’ll truly appreciate its aptitude for reproducing sound.

Even with this game-focused tuning, I still found the headset quite pleasurable to use for music as well. That less-emphasized bass extension was more of a drawback for music, but the excellent soundstage and near-perfect vocal and instrument separation made up for it on most tracks. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying the PC38X exclusively for music.

Drop + EPOS PC38X Gaming Headset

$169 at Drop

Bottom line

I could honestly just write “Just buy it already” here and it would be my complete, honest opinion. But, if you were hoping for a bit more depth… I’d recommend the Drop + EPOS PC38X to anyone who wants a wired gaming headset. The added convenience of wireless connectivity is the only thing that might make it logical for anyone to choose another high-end headset while this one exists at this price.

Maybe one day I’ll own a pair of the over-$1,600 headphones I’ve been blown away by in high-end showrooms, the same headphones this model comes so very close to matching. Until then, the PC38X gaming headset from Drop and EPOS is what I’ll be wearing when you see me in-game.

Alternatives to consider

Razer Blackshark V2 Pro

$119.99 at Amazon

 

If you do want a wireless headset, Razer’s Blackshark V2 Pro is still my go-to for wireless gaming audio. Its directional sound is excellent and it’s both lightweight and comfortable.

Logitech G Pro X

$71.78 at Amazon Marketplace

 

If you want a wired gaming headset that’s a bit cheaper while still offering great sound and a solid microphone, Logitech has its own long-lived entry that’s still among the best.

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 1

$59.99 at Best Buy

 

SteelSeries’ latest entry-level model includes those comfort improvements I mentioned earlier, and offers solid sound for gamers on tight budgets.

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