Plantronics GameCom 780 7.1 surround sound gaming headset hands-on

Leaked slideshows don't lie -- Plantronics is stepping up its PC gaming headset offerings. In addition to the GameCom 780, the Dolby 7.1 virtual surround sound cans we saw yesterday, the outfit is also marching out the GameCom 380 -- a lower end twin that lacks the 780's Dolby chops. Plantronics is bringing both headsets to CES, but gave us a shot at trying on a pair of 780s a few days early -- read on to see how they fit.

The 780 is a rugged looking piece of kit with a high-end retro style. The headset's cans invoke the design of classic aviation muffs, exposing cables and wires that lead into its headband. A button on the left cup's front toggles the set's Dolby enhancements, while a microphone mute switch and a volume rocker occupy the cup's rear. The rig is well built, too -- we comfortably stretched, pulled and bent the headset every which way, and didn't hear so much as a single stress creak. At the end of the headset's 6.5 foot (2 meter) wire you'll find a USB plug, offering 7.1 virtual surround sound on PCs, and standard stereo on Macs.

Despite its bulky looking design, the headset is deceptively lightweight, saving us oodles in chiropractor bills -- they didn't squeeze our oversized noggin either. The cups' wide cushions completely enveloped our ears, comfortably covering our cartilage with a breathable plush barrier. The ear-covers didn't muffle outside sound much, but they also didn't irritate our earlobes.

The GameCom 780 sounds almost as good as it feels -- Dolby Headphone and Pro Logic IIx make the most out of the set's twin 40mm drivers, handily mimicking 7.1 surround sound. We were able to blindly find a waterfall while wandering the hills of Skyrim, guided only by our ears. Explosions, gunfire and screams of death were directionally viable in Team Fortress 2, as well -- effects and voice chat came through with pleasing clarity. We weren't surprised to find the headset packing a crystal clear microphone, either -- as expected, Plantronics made us sound great. In general, the 780 pumps out full, well balanced sound -- although the key word is "balanced." Yes, the GameCom sounds good, but fans of earth-shaking bass might find it a little too even to rock their world. The trade off, however, is a joyous lack of ear-splitting highs and ugly, blown-out lows. We can live with that.

Plantronics told us the GameCom 780 will hit prime time on January 10th, and will set you back $80; its stereo-only sibling can be had for $30 less. The outfit didn't have a pair of the GameCom 380s on hand for us to test out, but we're told that it'll offer a very similar, albeit more analog experience. The line's new low-end cans trade out the 780's USB connectivity for a standard 3.5mm audio jack, and skips out on its brother's Dolby technologies. Plantronics told us we could scope out the low-end stereo cans at CES -- we'll let you know if they're as comfortable their companion when we get there.