At the lower end of the Austrian audio headset range, the PG16 is marketed as a ‘professional gaming headset’. It comes in at $135 / £129 which is a decent amount of dosh that would translate that amount into some pretty special quality compared to the ones on our best gaming headsets (opens in new tab) list. And while it comes with some neat features like cross-platform compatibility and good portability – it even hits the right notes in terms of basic quality – there are a few things that make it hard to recommend for everyday use.
There’s a lot to be said for the clarity of the PG16’s sound. It can be a bit tinny on its own, but once you’re in the Spatial Soundcard L (opens in new tab) software, improves sound quality exponentially. The software is a bit on the lean side as there are only a few options to play with. These include a few surround sound settings (up to 7.1, which didn’t blow me away) and EQ presets optimized for different headsets, as well as a few that emphasize or mute highs or lows. Unfortunately, there is no EQ slider to play with.
However, there is a strange ‘location’ setting with Dubai, Paris and New York all as options, which seems to alter the soundscape somewhat, although it doesn’t explain exactly what it does. Some made audio sound far away and seemed to increase reverberation, while others brought sounds closer. Anyway, it would be nice to have some sort of description of what these actually are.
Another setting I haven’t seen with other audio software is the option to change the ‘latency target’ so you can balance high quality audio with CPU performance. Lowering it should help gamers like us free up our CPU resources if we’re not desperate for top audio performance. This feature is believed to decrease the amount of processing the software applies to your audio to reduce any latency that may be added to the feed. The app reports that a latency of 5.3ms is possible with the ‘professional use’ setting and a professional PCIe audio DAC.
I haven’t been able to test this as I don’t have one, but what struck me was the high CPU usage in this setting. Even if you switch the latency back to 10.7 ms in the ‘FPS-Enthusiast’ setting, the CPU usage can go up to about 5%. It’s supposed to give you “less than one frame of audio latency at 60 fps”, but low latency audio won’t mean much if my PC crashes mid-game due to an overloaded CPU. Metro: Exodus will be off the table then.
The lowest latency is for ‘movies and music’ and aims to ‘deliver latency low enough to keep movies in perfect lip sync, while maximizing battery life’. The CPU usage comes in at around 3.5% which will certainly help with battery life compared to that, although there is a significant increase in bass distortion as you lower the setting.
At 12Hz to 24kHz, the PG16’s frequency response isn’t terrible, considering a lot of top-out at 20kHz, but the 44mm drivers aren’t the most powerful out there.
Other than the software’s hungry CPU usage in lower latency modes, I don’t have any major issues with the sound quality. It’s usually other design choices that make me question the price, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
It comes in a strangely unique box, one that closes using a Velcro strap. I’ve already lost the strap so it will never close properly. More importantly, the headset frame has an impressive emulation of that HyperX Cloud (opens in new tab) look with the deep red metallic trim on black. Instead of a matte finish on the plastic, the PG16 opts for a nice glossy finish that provides a satisfying exfoliation (opens in new tab)† Overall, it pulls the gamer aesthetic well, especially against my red and black Arozzi Arena gaming desk, and it’s a pretty understated design, all things considered.
The headset is durable and has a good amount of stretch, which is appreciated. Although the microphone is not detachable, it is less portable. At least it flips out of the way and muffles when you do.
Although my biggest complaint is that the headband is just not comfortable for long periods of time. I couldn’t wear them for more than a few hours before my crown started to hurt.
Until I hit that point, it’s nice and snug and there’s no pressure in weird places around my face, unlike something like the Roccat Elo (opens in new tab)† The ear cups swivel, which is a nice touch, and while those are actually comfortable, they don’t block out ambient noise. The site says the headset “insulates against external noise,” but it’s not great at that. What it literally translates is “this headset has no passive noise isolation.” Don’t expect to be able to forget the rest of the world unless you have the volume turned up pretty high.
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The headset is light enough that it didn’t shift too much as I moved, not that I could move much as the cable is a bit short. It’s just long enough to get up and switch the lights on my Vertagear SL5000 (opens in new tab) gaming chair when wearing, but only 1.4m cable can cause problems. It also connects to the right side of the headset, so holding your PC on the left side is unlikely to reach and cross your body.
The cable extends about 6 inches (15cm) when you attach the splitter, which I must admit is a thoughtful addition to the standard package. You also get a small carrying case and the frame comes with metal hinges to fold the earcups in when you need to take them with you.
Only thing is I’m not sure if I would need that. There is quite a niche audience for portable headsets with a 3.5mm jack as most phones don’t bother to include such a port anymore. And if you are one of those people who preach the supremacy of the audio jack over USB, you are probably going to buy some of the best headphones for audiophiles (opens in new tab) list instead.
All these minor oversights, such as the CPU usage issues and discomfort after extended use, are disappointing. The Austrian Audio PG16 started out with a strong look and some useful features, but there’s not much appeal for me to spend $135 / £129 on a headset that I have to keep using all the time. Especially one with a lanky microphone and whose software is corroding my CPU usage.
When you can get something like the Razer BlackShark V2 (opens in new tab) wired headset for £100 these days – with its 55mm drivers, wider frequency response, detachable microphone and great comfort – why pay the extra £30?