ASUS Orion Pro Gaming Headset Review
ASUS’ history in the audio category can be traced all the way back to their original –and popular- Xonar sound card lineup and much has changed since then. The Xonar series has morphed into one of the most highly regarded add in cards around and RoG-branded follow-ups like the Phoebus have been released to widespread acclaim. Gaming headphones meanwhile have also come into the limelight with the Vulcan series being the last iteration. Now, ASUS is introducing the Vulcan’s successor; called the Orion, it offers affordable gaming grade audio and promises high levels of comfort.
The Orion series is broken down into two different products: the Orion and Orion Pro. ASUS’ standard Orion is an $80 analog stereo headset while the $110 Orion Pro (which we’re reviewing here) ups the ante with a secondary USB dongle that adds a dedicated amp, a virtual 7.1 soundstage and various preset equalizer options.
At this point, there are plenty of headphones on the market which provide either analog stereo sound or virtual surround sound through a USB interface. The Orion Pro meanwhile literally offers the best of both worlds: it can operate in either analog stereo or USB 7.1 modes without sacrificing sound quality. ASUS offers this without tacked-on drivers, offering a true plug and play solution since the USB drivers are baked right into the hardware.
The black and silver with red pin striping of the Orion Pro is sure to be an attention getter but the earcups’ mesh is for appearances only. This headset actually uses the same closed design which seems to permeate the gaming niche.
Cosed designs tend to sacrifice sound quality but they also provide a noticeable reduction in ambient noise leakage past the headset and into your ears. It also ensures that you won’t be annoying anyone in the immediate vicinity since the noise reduction abilities extend to outgoing sounds as well.
Unlike many headsets which use an adjustable mic with fairly limited arm movement, Orion Pro’s microphone is flexible and fully retractable. This helps give it a very sleek appearance when voice interaction isn’t needed.
Though it may be very aggressive in appearance, the Orion Pro has been designed with long term comfort as a top priority. The fairly wide top headband with its moderate amount of padding coupled with a surprisingly lightweight design makes for an extremely comfortable headset, especially when it is used over extended periods of time.
Some of this enhanced comfort comes from the rather large earcups. Instead of sitting on your earlobes, this design is meant to encompass the entire ear. An added benefit to this circumaural approach is a further reduction of the ambient noise leakage which can occur with smaller earcup designs.
ASUS has designed the leather clad ear pads with an average amount of padding so anyone with slightly larger ears may feel some discomfort. However, there’s more than enough space to bypass prescription glasses.
Rather than using one large, restrictive strip of metal for the upper band, the Orion Pro uses a dual band design, making it extremely flexible. This ensures a snug fit on all head sizes without applying too much pressure on gamers with overly large noggins. Even after an 8 hour gaming marathon, we found the Orion Pro was still comfortable, albeit slightly hot due to the ‘leather’ cladding.
While closed designs have their limitations, ASUS’ use of rather large 50mm neodymium drivers negates some inherent issues. With all other things being equal, a single high quality 50mm driver will produce better sound fidelity with less distortion at higher volumes than a single 40mm driver.
Of course, the Orion’s single 50mm driver design means it will have to rely on virtual speakers to create its surround soundstage. This could put it at a distinct disadvantage compared to other headsets like the Cooler Master Storm Sirus which uses multiple drivers to create a true surround soundstage.
In order to create a virtual surround soundstage and provide other functions, the Orion Pro uses its Spitfire USB Audio Processor, which can be attached as needed. This unit provides the hardware and processing capabilities which allow ASUS to bypass an OS-oriented software stack and offer the Orion as a plug and play solution. Unfortunately, building every bit of functionality into a hardware-oriented solution also means the advanced features typically included within gaming headphone software are missing in action.
The only configuration options available are three modes which consist of “FPS” “Surround” and “Amp” modes. FPS mode pushes certain frequencies to the “front” and acts much like a simplified equalizer. The Surround option turns on or off the 7.1 surround soundstage option and the AMP simply improves tone, timbre detail, and dynamic range extension. These can be used concurrently, which can broadly expand the audio experience within games and other forms of media.
If a game doesn’t support 7.1, or if you simply prefer 5.1, the lack of individual speaker adjustment options can become annoying. Having to rely upon the default virtual speaker profile is the cost of buying into such a lightweight, ultra portable design.
ASUS has also included an inline volume level and microphone mute controller, allowing for adjustments without having to Alt+Tab to the desktop or in-game menu. It will work with both USB and analog connections and provides a functional, stylish approach to control but there are some idiosyncrasies. The volume wheel is very small and located alongside the unit, making it difficult to locate without looking downwards. Conversely, it was quite easy to accidentally adjust the volume by bumping the wheel during extended gaming sessions.
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