Enabling the expander does nothing discernible for chat-related sounds, but opens up the stereo field if you're processing game-channel audio. It essentially makes "left" and "right" panned sounds more definitively so, pulling them out of the middle. It helps you detect subtler sound cues that might otherwise get lost or washed in midfield. While it's hardly surround sound, it does secure a kind of high-end budget middle area between an entry-level $40-$50 generic stereo headset, and something pro-tailored, like the wireless 7.1 surround Ear Force X41, which lists for $199.95.
Over the Ears
Where the Z1's earpieces were round circles, about two inches in diameter, that pressed against your ears with basic foam padding, the PX 21 cups around them with oversized fabric-mesh cushions. The oval-shaped padding is half an inch thick and perfectly comfortable for extended play sessions, though if you have larger ears like mine, they won't fit as snugly within the recessed area to seal out external sounds as they do in something like the larger, more amply padded Astro Gaming A40. When you slide the headset off your ears and around your neck, the earpieces fold in and rest comfortably mesh-side down on your collarbone.
Do you wear glasses? The PX 21 probably isn't for you, though that's sadly true of most headsets. The PX 21 falls in the "narrow" crosspiece (over the head) camp, where the tension's just enough to irritate the skin and bone behind your ears after more than an hour or so of continuous use (the tension causes the temple arms of my metal-frame glasses to press uncomfortably against my head).
The microphone arm descends from the left earpiece like one of those bendable drinking straws but without the annoying clicking sounds when you're repositioning it. Optional mic monitoring feeds whatever you're saying back through the earpieces, a feature that ostensibly helps you better gauge the ebb and flow of a conversation as well as how you sound in the channel. While the audio quality is exceptional, with zero lag, the usual caveats apply. You have to keep the mic fairly close to your lips (within just a few inches) to get good monitoring, but this in turn leads to jarring pops and crackles when using words with sibilant consonants.
High-End Budget? Or Low-End Pro?
Take your pick, it's pretty much where you're standing. If you want something higher-grade than the blizzard of mediocre headsets in the $40-$50 tier but aren't ready (yet) to pay those $150-$200 graduation fees for true 5.1/7.1 sound, the PX 21 should do nicely. If you want to update to 5.1/7.1 down the road but don't want to buy a new headset, you can pair the PX 21 with the Ear Force DSS for $89.95 and spend considerably less than the X41 (though you'll give up wireless and slightly larger speaker size).
PCW Score: 4 out of 5 stars
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