A lot of audio aficionados, me included, tend to be a bit skeptical about wireless audio devices. I for one tend to feel that wireless devices do not have the power to adequately push the drivers for the low frequencies (i.e. bass) and the mid frequencies (where the rich depth comes in). I will fully admit that I have heard some wireless devices provide some crystal clear highs that rival some of the better home audio devices that are readily available (read: affordable). When you are as big of a fan of audio as I am you tend to spend quite a bit of time picking apart different devices and playing with equalizers to get just the right sound out of the speakers. I find that, regardless of the device, I am able to tweak the EQ to just the right setting that all audio is good and as I sit back and ponder, I cannot think of a single audio device (speaker, headset, microphone) that I have plugged into a computer that I have been unhappy with. When I landed the chance to review the Afterglow AGU.1S wireless headset by PDP I was both eager and skeptical; after all, I personally have not had any experience with their audio devices not to mention, it was wireless. Like any good audio geek, I immediately checked out the specs, paying particular close to their drivers to see if I could take a guess at how it would sound. Now that I have had the headset for some time, does it push the drivers as I expected it to?
Before I get into the guts of the Afterglow headset, I want to make a point or two about the physical makeup from the cups to the frame. The headset is lightweight, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. A lightweight chassis means that the unit will generally sit comfortably, often disappearing completely from your awareness as you are neck deep in a brutal game (like Dark Souls II) and that is a very good thing. The other side of that though, is that a device that is lightweight is using plastics (plastics are not the most acoustically gifted materials) and has a very lightweight magnetic driver. Lighter drivers generally mean cleaner highs but come with a rather severe drop in performance for the mids and lows. Occasionally you will have a speaker that is both lightweight and can provide a decent mid-range frequency, such as the Mirage MX 5.1 speaker system (great highs, solid mids, fairly abysmal lows but they had a fast-acting subwoofer that made up for it) while still retaining a small form factor. When you move into the headset / headphones market, manufacturers need to pull off some technical wizardry to pack as much quality into a package that, at times, has less surface area than a baseball (regarding the speaker cups in a circumaural headset).
Some manufacturers, like GX Gaming (check out my review of the Zabius here) scale back on the construction materials for the frame (which deceptively hides some amazing performing drivers) only to reinvest into some very high-quality rare earth magnets or neodymium drivers. PDP, with the Afterglow AGU.1s manages what I think is relatively impossible; that put together a headset that is lightweight but does not feel 'cheap' while including a fairly massive 50mm neodymium driver that can scream with the best of them. When I pulled the headset out of the box I was instantly impressed; while the Afterglow headset is large and may at times make you feel like the illegitimate love-child of Dark Helmut of SpaceBalls and Quorra from Tron: Legacy, the headset feels solid but light. The cups are squishy and have large cavities that ears of all sizes will fit well in and while they are spectacular at blocking out the noise despite not being noise-canceling, they tend to keep your ears nice and roasty-toasty warm and tend to not breathe well after seven or eight hours of gaming ... For short stints of gaming goodness, in my case two or three hours, I felt no discomfort. In fact, I did not feel a thing while playing with them on.
Now, as I have mentioned, lightweight can also be a bit bad; generally denoting a lack of weight to the magnet (which in turn, when driven by the power source, create bass), lightweight speakers tend to have no capability to produce the deep lows that explosions or vehicles crunching up against one another may need to really drive the effect home. With the Afterglow AGU.1s stereo headset I found that the reproduction of the mid- and high-frequency ranges to be quite clean, clear and to the point, however, the lows did leave quite a bit to be desired. It is not that they are non-existent as they are in some headsets (looking at you, mono headset provided by Microsoft in every Xbox One bundle...), but rather the lows are subtle, hard to detect. It took a while and numerous games to really pick up on the lows, which is fairly rare for me as I have a good ear for audio, but when I did detect them, I was a bit dismayed. What sounded like a low mid-range frequency turned out to be the drivers' reproduction of a low; the magnets are not deep enough and there is not enough power to drive them, to reproduce exemplary bass. However, this does not mean that it is bad bass, not at all, just a set of drivers that could do with a little improvement; by sacrificing a little weigh for heavier magnets, PDP could turn this headset into a killer device. As it stands the highs and mids are great and the lows are so-so and leave a bit to be desired.
While the lows are a bit tacky and could use some work, the PDP Afterglow AGU.1s has some great mids and highs, is lightweight but above all it is super easy to hook up to the PC, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360. In the box you have a detailed quick start guide with helpful images showing the different connections with easy-to-understand printed images of the handful of adapters that come in the box. While it was easy to connect it, I did run into something of a problem; every single device in my house is running on my wi-fi network. When I first connected the headset to the Xbox 360 I would lose audio every 2 to 3 minutes. I then connected it to the laptop and I experienced the same issue. So I turned off the 360, turned off the wireless connections on my mobile devices, and turned off the Xbox One to ensure that there were only two devices wirelessly connected. My computer and the headset. It was not until I was running in this bare bones setup that I was able to retain a good solid connection between the receiver and the headset.
I then slowly reconnected devices and after the Mac was booted (the first device I tried), I experienced the exact same issue. Fortunately I have one of those fancy routers that have multiple ranges that they can broadcast (900 mHz, 2.6 gHz, 5.2 gHz) and I was able to dedicate a single channel by signing the devices into the different connections; once I did that it was smooth sailing. Not everyone will have that capability though, so be cautious; if you have more than a handful of devices on wireless (or are in a densely populated building that has multiple wireless networks) you may experience some dropouts. The easiest solution for those of you in that situation would be to simply use the handy cable that plugs the headset right into the computer. It may defeat the purpose of a wireless headset while you are at home or the office, but when you use the headset in a more mobile environment, I found that it worked perfectly; in truth I do not know if it a fault in the system or if it is a fault in my specific unit. Once I know more I will certainly update you.
Overall I was a bit skittish around using a wireless headset, as I mentioned previously, certain aspects need to be toned down or scrapped altogether in order to ensure comfort while maintaining mobility, ease of use, and quality of output. For the most part the Afterglow AGU.1s by PDP scores high marks in most areas as they use materials of obvious quality; from the construction of the frame to the quality of the cups, the Afterglow AGU.1s is a great by for the price (available on their website for around $90 USD) and will provide you with good quality audio in a mobile package that is lightweight and comfortable. A little more refinement in the drivers' range and capabilities, and I am absolutely confident that the PDP line will become a mainstay in gaming households. If PDP's E3 2014 presence was any indication of things to come, I for one am extremely excited for what is coming in 2014.
Review by Robert