So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Sennheiser PC 363D gaming headphones
Excellent detail, great stereo sound, and a great microphone
- Excellent stereo separation
- Comfortable open-back design
- Excellent detail from boom microphone
- Slightly inferior build to previous model
Sennheiser's latest gaming headphones are undoubtedly its best. The PC 363D headset is extremely comfortable, seems well built and has all the bells and whistles a PC gamer could need.
We’re unabashed fans of Sennheiser’s PC 360 G4ME headset from 2010 — it combined notoriously high quality headphone drivers from the audiophile-grade HD 595 with a clear, versatile noise-cancelling boom microphone.
That headset has been around for ages and has enjoyed a great reputation, but it has now been superseded by the new PC 363D, with some small but important changes.
Sennheiser PC 363D: Design, construction and features
The PC 360 G4ME design largely continues in the PC 363D: they’re over-the-ear headphones, with super-soft velvet ear-pads and a sturdy plastic body. The headband telescopes over a wide range, so the headphones should fit small and large heads alike.
The left ear-cup is where the PC 363D’s 3.2m fabric-wrapped cable terminates; it’s also got the swing-down, auto-muting, noise cancelling boom microphone that turns this from a pair of headphones into a headset. The right ear-cup has a circular volume control dial, with a 270-degree range of motion that means it’s easy to make small adjustments to how loud the headphones are.
You can’t twist the ear-cups to store the PC 363D headphones flat, but there is a small amount of vertical adjustment in the hinges, so they’ll conform to the sides of your head well. Combined with the soft ear-cups, this makes the PC 363D comfortable to wear for extended periods. We’ve had them on for three or four hours straight in the office without complaint.
Being an all-plastic (and foam and velvet) headphone, the PC 363D does feel slightly less impressively built than its predecessor. Our main concern is how these headphones will last over years of marathon gaming — our PC 360s have performed excellently, and we hope the 363D is similar.
The boom microphone built into the PC 363D's ear-cup is among the best we've used on a gaming headset. It's clear, with good ambient noise cancellation, and blows cheaper models out of the water when it comes to the range of frequencies it can pick up — the usual failing of microphones built into headsets.
Sennheiser PC 363D: Sound quality
After burning the PC 363D in with around 50 hours of moderate volume music in a variety of genres, we gave them a critical listen with that same wide variety of music, as well as a few games on PC: Battlefield 3, BioShock, The Walking Dead, and Super Hexagon.
Since they’re apparently made for pro gaming, we thought we’d give PC gaming the majority of our attention. With the appropriate 5.1- or 7.1-channel surround sound options set in each game and the matching Dolby surround sound option on the bundled 3D G4ME1 USB sound card (more on that later), we tried out the PC 363D headphones with each title.
Battlefield 3 is a game with frankly excellent sound effects — whizzing bullets, clinking bullet casings, rattling tank treads, and so on. In non-Dolby mode, the PC 363D headphone have already excellent stereo separation — it’s a breeze to tell where gunfire is coming from in a 360-degree arc. Switching on the Dolby Headphone mode emphasises this: sound becomes hyper-real, very slightly exaggerated but still very detailed and effective.
BioShock has excellent environmental sound as its killer feature, with dripping and rushing water and the sound of rising bubbles an ever-present part of the player’s journey through Rapture. It doesn’t take combat to show off the PC 363D’s detail, and we were more than happy to just stand still and listen to the sounds of the world reverberating. Again, turning on the surround sound emphasises positional audio effects without making them comically overblown.
The Walking Dead is an interactive-movie-esque adventure title that’s a great blend of sound effects and ambient music, and we really appreciated the increased soundstage of the Dolby Headphone surround mode during our play-through. It’s not necessary for any kind of quick-reflex gameplay — that’s not what TWD is about, anyway — but it lends an increased sense of realism to an already-eerie world. There’s one particular scene involving an arm and a hacksaw that sticks in our memory...
Super Hexagon is an arcade game through-and-through. Catchy chiptune techno music and an ever-present, smooth female voice sound great in the standard stereo mode, but switching on the faux-surround sound legitimately immerses you further in this addictive twitch-fest.
Each one of these games already sounded great in the standard stereo mode, but we really have no complaints about the additional aural boost that the surround effects bring.
Music is another story — we generally preferred listening with the spatialisation effects disabled. Vocals can get a bit too echoey and airy, especially if they’re already quite separated in the stereo channels. Lana Del Rey’s Paradise EP sounds wonderfully detailed with great mid-range response and plenty of detail in higher treble notes, and Frank Ocean’s Orange has smooth bass that feels strong without reverberating.
The Sennheiser PC 363D is very detailed and open for a set of gaming headphones, which can often sound more claustrophobic than their equivalent open-backed hi-fi counterparts. The PC 363D is essentially an upgrade of the open-back PC 360 G4ME, so we’re extremely happy that there’s been no loss of the expansive sound that we liked in the previous model.
Sennheiser PC 363D: 3D G4ME1 USB surround sound
One big selling feature of the Sennheiser PC 363D is its bundled 3D G4ME1 USB sound card. It’s a Dolby Headphone adapter, with selectable Dolby modes for faux-surround stereo, 4-channel quadraphonic, 5.1-channel surround, and 7.1-channel surround sound.
Like any USB headphone adapter worth its salt, it’s got headphone and microphone jacks, and an onboard switch to enable or disable the Dolby Headphone processing. With the Dolby processing disabled, it’s got more than enough power to amply supply the relatively low-impedance PC 363D headphones, although it’d likely be trumped by a high-end discrete PC sound card like the Asus Xonar Essence STX.
Where the 3D G4ME1 comes into its own is when the Dolby mode is enabled. These are best used in conjunction with a game that’s already got good positional audio. We booted up Bioshock and Battlefield 3 for most of our testing, since these titles have excellent sound.
The Sennheiser PC 363D’s 3D G4ME1 card doesn’t disappoint. For the majority of our listening, we found that the 5.1-channel mode in cojunction with 5.1-channel audio output from Bioshock and Battlefield 3 gave the best aural representation of in-game sounds — as an example,h gunshot and explosion positions in BF3 were far more obvious and emphasised through the PC 363D headphones in this mode compared to non-Dolby stereo.
Music sounds good through the 3D G4ME1’s amplifier, too — we generally preferred to have the Dolby mode disabled, although live recordings do get a bit of a soundstage boost from the 2-channel stereo Dolby Headphone interpolation.
One note - using the 3D G4ME1 USB sound card required downloading and installing software on our test PC, with Windows drivers not automatically installing — this may change with retail versions of the headphones, but at the moment it’s an extra step necessary to get the selectable surround sound modes working.
Sennheiser PC 363D: Conclusion
High-end gaming headphones are few and far between, and ones with good surround sound modes are even rarer. We’re pleased to report that the PC 363D exceeded our expectations, and if they prove to be sturdy enough to stand up to continued day-to-day wear, we’ll have no complaints at all.
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