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ASUS Orion Pro Gaming Headset Review

AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
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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AkG

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Sound and Tonal Properties

Sound and Tonal Properties


For this round of testing we used a combination lossless flac, 320kb/s mp3 and even some lower quality recordings in a variety of genres for a total of over 24 hours of audio tracks. A wide variety of genres was used in order to ensure that we encompassed most people’s listening choices.



AUS’ Orion Pro includes both analog and USB options and the performance of each is quite ditterent. From a music perspective, the USB output results in audio which is noticeably veiled, less crisp and ever so slightly muddy. In gaming scenarios the difference is all but unnoticeable, but when it comes to high quality music tracks, this issue does make itself known almost instantly. The “amp” option may help power high Ohm headsets but the only real difference between having this option enabled or not seems to be an increase in volume levels. The other two options are equally less than optimal for music scenarios.

On the positive side, the difference between the analog and USB options is actually quite minor and will simply be ignored by most non-audiophiles. If you are unable – or at least unwilling – to invest in quality soundcards for every system you intended to use the Orion Pro on, the Spitfire accessory will offer you an enjoyable and consistent listening experience in every case.

As for the overall sonic signature of the Orion Pro, expect a soundstage that is quite warm with fairly accurate frequency response and pleasant mid tones. Most gamers and everyday users will gravitate towards this emphasis on mid frequency tonal properties with rich overlays. However, an expanded, slightly more accurate soundstage will require some minor tweaking via third party software equalizers.

While overly warm, the largest disappointment was the bass. The Orion Pro uses large 50mm drivers so the potential for accurate low frequency response is certainly there but the bass is overly aggressive with very little accuracy. Considering the acoustical properties of most action movies and music genres, this by itself wouldn’t be an issue but the over-emphasis causes some tracks to lose accuracy and become muddy at times.

If your listening tastes run towards classical or other rich and multi-layered music, the Orion Pro may disappoint you in its default configuration. This is a very common issue with “gaming” headsets but we nevertheless were a touch disappointed. On the positive side, by scaling back the bass via our music player’s built in equalizer we did walk away more than satisfied. The Orion Pro’s bass may still lack clarity and detail but it will no longer over-power the mids and highs.


Higher frequencies are one of the Orion Pro’s highlights, provided the bass doesn’t walk all over them. This headset –even in Analog mode – certainly won’t be considered audiophile grade but for a sub-$120 product, it was impressive. There were times when multiple high register instruments were playing at the same time – such as during classical music – that the individual instruments did have a tendency to blur together, but the Orion Pro’s response was still well above average for a gaming headset.

This brings us to this headset’s main priority: play up the mid tones and emphasize vocals. ASUS put a lot of time and effort into this all-important area for gamers and it really does pay dividends. Vocals are very crisp and clear. If your music tastes run toward spoken word or high intensity gaming, the Orion will likely be pure nirvana. Similarly, choir music or any musical allow this headset to really stretch its legs.
 
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AkG

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Gaming Results

Gaming Results


For these games we use the Sennheiser 595 and Cooler Master Storm Sirus headsets for comparison purposes along with the ASUS Orion Pro headset.

Games Used:
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Battlefield 3
BioShock 1 & 2
Borderlands 1 & 2
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 1, 2 & 3
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Just Cause 2
Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
Saints Row 3


A Quick Note bout Comfort

For long term comfort during marathon gaming sessions Sennheiser’s excellent 595s are hard to beat but the new Orion Pro is still very comfortable. The large, all-encompassing cups won’t pinch your ears and the lightweight design seriously enhances long term comfort.

Unfortunately, Orion’s cushions are about half an inch too thin which can cause the inner ear to press up against each cup’s inner chamber. The pressure isn’t all that great and won’t be painful but it will become an annoyance for some. However, unlike most headset which use faux leather wrapped padding for the ear pieces, the Orion Pro actually seems to breathe, causing much less sweat buildup than similarly constructed products.


Analog Results


With gamers being the primary market for ASUS’ Republic of Gamers brand, the Orion Pro certainly has some big shoes to fill and that’s exactly what it does. This headset offers a depth of clarity which is truly impressive and doesn’t require ear-splitting volume levels to hear nearly every single in-game sound.

If you do like to have the volume set high, the Orion Pro is more than game and doesn’t start to bloom until the volume is cranked all the way to its maximum level. This really is one of the first gaming headsets we’ve reviewed which boasts an ability to remain neutral and well behaved through every volume setting. The closed earpiece design also enhances this perception by effectively blocking a lot of outside noise and restricting sound from disturbing those around you.

The mic is also above average in its abilities. As long as its gain isn’t set overly high, it won’t allow much – if any – ambient noise to leak through onto a channel. The fully retractable nature of the mic also allows it to be stored safely away during those non-sociable moments and the flexible boom is exceedingly well designed.

Overall, when it comes to gaming in analog mode there is no area the Orion Pro really needs to be improved upon. It may not provide a virtual surround soundstage without the Spirfire plugged in, but the clarity it affords users will more than make up for this. If anything, ASUS deserves some credit for designing headphones that offer the stereo sound fidelity which gamers want without sacrificing the possibility of 7.1 playback should someone require it.


USB Results w/ Spitfire

The USB gaming abilities of ASUS’ Orion Pro may not have come off as well rounded as the analog aspects but there are some redeeming qualities. On the one hand these headphones are perfectly capable of providing a reasonably good virtual soundstage with gaming-centric capabilities. The crack of guns or the blast of an exploding grenade or other positional aspects have been given a good amount of directionality despite the fact that there’s only a single driver for each ear. However, these abilities are usually no better than what most inexpensive USB headsets are capable of offering. As mentioned in the music section, using the included USB Spitfire attachment does tend to result in a slightly more veiled soundstage and some sound fidelity can be lost. Unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the somewhat limited USB interface subbing in as a high bandwidth audio processing medium.

Losing the capability to tweak the virtual soundstage for personalized configuration can be quite limiting when compared against other headsets which allow nearly limitless customization. No two people are alike in how they hear virtual surround from stereo speakers, but the Orion Pro’s strict reliance upon its default configuration sans software does handicap it compared to similar options from manufactures such as Cooler Master and Corsair. The Cooler Master’s Storm Sirius also offers dual Analog/USB abilities but incorporates a much more advanced USB controller with easy to use fine-tuning abilities, albeit at a slightly higher price. Thankfully, the Orion Pro’s out of box configuration presets are very good, quite adaptable and the loss of tweaking options should not be noticed very often.

Helping to make up for these deficiencies is the simplicity this headset offers. Not having to worry about any software installation – besides the automatic standard Windows OS driver installation – makes for a great plug and play experience. No matter what system you use the Orion Pro on you can be assured it will work and provide the exact same user experience. This can come in handy for hot-seat LAN events, when visiting a friend or simply when switching from one computer to another.
 
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AkG

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5,274
Conclusion

Conclusion


The Orion Pro may not be Asus’ first foray into the headset arena but it is easily their best effort to date. With it, they have let gaming enthusiasts know the Vulcan wasn’t just a onetime deal and there’s a new long-term player in the wearable audio market. Just as importantly, it may be part of the elite Republic of Gamers brand but the highly affordable Orion takes aim at pretty much everyone from the average PC enthusiast to hardcore gamers.

Make no mistake about it, this is a product meant primarily for serious PC gaming, but it can handle nearly any task or scenario a typical user will encounter with deftness and excellence. Gamers and everyday users alike will also appreciate the convertible USB and analog options since they both offer a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses.

Usually virtual surround sound headsets fall into one of two extremes. Most are great for surround sound environments but less than optimal for everything else, while others try to provide everything to everyone and end up just being mediocre at everything. The Orion Pro falls into neither extreme; it combines the positional audio abilities of USB virtual 7.1 headsets with the audio abilities of an analog only stereo headset designs.

Regardless of your needs or your current soundcard the Orion Pro should have you covered. Sure the bass is a touch too forward and the highs are a bit too reserved, but anyone this side of an audiophile will find its stereo abilities very pleasing. Combine this with a comfortable design that is neither too heavy, nor too flimsy and the end result is one enticing package. The freedom to instantly transition from analog stereo to USB virtual surround sound without worrying about drivers or software installation issues is just icing on the cake.

There however a few issues with the Orion Pro which are actually byproduct of its extremely easy to use, highly configurable design. In Analog mode the Orion Pro can provide crystal clear sound but it doesn’t allow for any virtual surround sound options. To ensure a truly enveloping experience vial positional audio, a gamer will have to resort to the USB connection.

In USB mode the Orion Pro can provide a virtual 7.1 environment via the Spitfire, but this included accessory is extremely basic and doesn’t offer any ‘speaker’ configuration abilities. Sound reproduction and clarity can suffer when using the USB connection as well but that’s to be expected. However, when compared against true surround capable headsets such as the premier Cooler Master Storm Sirius, the Orion Pro’s virtual sound stage is noticeably inferior. This too is a direct result of a lightweight, easy to use design philosophy and don’t forget, ASUS’ option is a good $40 cheaper than Cooler Master’s alternative. Money talks and in this case, it looks like the Orion Pro is a great deal for a headset boasting a wide range of capabilities.

With the Orion Pro, ASUS has proven that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get adaptability, surround sound capabilities and high quality sound fidelity via an analog connection. It is tailor made for consumers who need a simple, easy to use headset which can be used on a wide array of computer systems. If you can afford the $110 asking price, this ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ headset will provide years of music and gaming enjoyment.

 
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