Given how my two main hobbies are playing games and listening to music, I do like a quality headset. My go-to is an Arctis Pro, and the SteelSeries range has been in fine form for some time. In fact, the Artis line is represented across a variety of price points and, as far as I'm concerned at least, it's the one to beat if you're looking to make a splash in the PC headset space. That being the case, the question is whether or not the new Roccat ELO 7.1 Air is able to compete. My answer: yes.
Of course, Roccat was snapped up by Turtle Beach last year, so the 50mm drivers that power the auditory experience are as balanced as you might expect. In fact, let me get it out of the way right now: The ELO 7.1 Air sounds great, both in-game and mid-tune, and it creates an intricate and detailed soundscape that makes it perfect for listening to music and for playing games. Via the Swarm app, you can adjust a number of settings as well as switch between standard stereo and full 7.1 when gaming (although I found the standard 2.0 setup made for a warm and engaging experience when listening to music).
The 7.1 surround sound works well and having audio coming at you from all angles certainly boosts the feeling of immersion that one feels while playing... well, pretty much anything. The Turtle Beach-powered Superhuman Hearing feature, while coming across as fairly gimmicky, does add something to the experience, even if it's not a total game-changer. The soundscape while racing around in F1 2020 was nothing short of impressive and the familiar audio effects in Star Wars: Squadrons sounded great during some intense dogfights. I was interested in trying Hunt: Showdown as that's a game that puts audio at the heart of the experience, and I could hear the moans and growls of the undead all around me as I trekked through the bayou. I also wanted to try out a more modern shooter and keeping with the Crytek theme, Crysis Remastered also demonstrated the benefit of being able to hear the direction your attackers are coming from. The headset does a convincing job of tricking the brain that sound effects are coming from all over and you can hear just how tightly controlled the auditory experience is.
The self-adjusting frame keeps the headset clamped to your head, which no doubt helps the 7.1 experience, as the audio engineers know exactly how close the speakers are to your eardrums. The earcups are comfortable, even if you're wearing a pair of glasses (as I do), although the tension in the frame means it's also quite refreshing to take them off - your enjoyment of the headset will likely be determined by how snug you like one to fit. Speaking of the frame, it's a solid build, with firm but not quite luxurious plastic, rotatable hinges above the earcups, and a two-part self-adjustable headband. The top is metal, and underneath there's a softer band that rests on the top of your noggin - the underside is cushioned and the top is fake leather. The cushioned band also houses the braided cable that connects the two earcups, and while I normally get nervous about exposed wires on a headset, the build quality here is sufficiently high that it never once concerned me.
The earcups themselves are, as mentioned, quite comfortable. They're coated in memory foam and that, coupled with the self-adjusting frame, does a good job of keeping out external noise and maintains immersion. All the action takes place on the left cup, which houses the mic port, the power switch, a mute button, and volume dials for your mic and headset. Last but not least, there's the USB-C port, which provides a charge that lasts up to 24 hours. Now, I'm notoriously bad at keeping track of how long I've used a headset for before the battery goes so I can't verify that claim, but I can report that I used the headset on and off for pretty much a whole working week before it needed more juice, and that was long enough for me.
The mic is an interesting one, as when I tested it out on a couple of colleagues, they commented that the audio quality was better on the desktop mic that I normally use. Fair enough, but I also did a side-by-side comparison, on the desktop mic and on the detachable mic on the ELO Air, and I thought there wasn't much difference in terms of quality, although the desktop mic was clearer and offered a more rounded sound on playback. Still, it's not bad for a detachable mic, although I don't usually like that setup as it's just one more thing for me to lose... Time will tell how I get on with this one.
The Swarm software also needs a mention, as it's there that you can tinker with the settings and balance the sound to your tastes. There's actually a really impressive selection of options, with various preset mixes designed to highlight certain types of games. There's an adjustable equaliser if you want total control, and you can adjust your mic settings there, too. It's also where you can tinker with the RGB lighting, such as it is. I synced it up to my mouse via the AIMO Illumination tech, and that was a nice touch even if you can't actually see the light show happening on either side of your head.
While my experience with the ELO 7.1 Air was mostly good, maybe even great, there were one or two issues. First, it should be easier to find out what the battery life is, beyond a couple of blips as the power begins to run dangerously low. You can get a notification via a tray icon and the battery life is displayed in-app, but you don't get the same number, so who knows which one is correct.
More annoying, however, were the connectivity issues that I encountered a handful of times. The signal from the dongle to the headset was very strong and I didn't notice any interference or signal drops. However, at times, I had trouble getting a signal to the actual headset. It happened once after I walked out and then back into range of the wireless adaptor, another time when I quit out of a game rather unceremoniously, and another time it happened quite out of nowhere; I just lost my connection to the PC and I couldn't reestablish it via the usual means. The solution seemed to be either removing the USB dongle and switching the headset off or even restarting the whole system, and it took one of these two solutions to get the headset and the computer talking again. What's more, it was never clear what the problem was.
For the most part, however, I liked the Roccat ELO 7.1 Air. I've always enjoyed the company's peripherals and this headset is no different. It's a bit heavy on the head after extended sessions, but it's a well-built headset and the audio quality is certainly very convincing, especially at this price point.
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