Thank you Audeze for sending us this headset to review!
Note: Audeze is currently offering a promotional bundle with a free copy of Resident Evil Village on Steam when you purchase the Audeze Mobius from Audeze's store. Click here to purchase!
For those who know me well, they know that I'm an audiophile nutjob. While I certainly hate overspending, I am willing to invest in good sound when required, and both my PC gaming desk and basement home theater is evidence of that. I'm the crazy kind that desires to hear every breath and pluck of the musicians, and with my games, I hope to hear everything that the designers intended. Of course, gaming performance matters too - if I can locate the bad guys easily, all the better! So when I was given the opportunity to review the Audeze Mobius, well... I was excited far more than I should be at my age!
Before I get into what makes the Mobius unique, I'll start off with what it is. Audeze is well known for their planar magnetic driver technology, and their entire line of headphones uses it. A typical speaker driver, often called a dynamic driver, is a magnet-driven circular cone where a material, called a diaphragm, is draped across the outside frame, where it then joins with a voice coil in the center, which is made up of circular magnetic wire. This coil is then wrapped around a cylindrical pole piece. When electrical current is applied to the voice coil, it moves the attached cone in and out, creating sound waves that we can all hear. There are many advantages to this design; they can get very loud in a small space, and do a great job of recreating low frequencies. But they are also not as 'tight' as other designs - the distortion profiles of common dynamic drivers might not be as good as some other technologies.
Enter the planar magnetic driver. Rather than a diaphragm being suspended over a solid surface, planar magnetic drivers are a thin, flat film (also called a diaphragm) with embedded wires that are suspended between permanent magnets. When the electrical current is applied to the diaphragm, they vibrate forwards and backwards, generating sound waves. The implementation of this technology means that generally, the distortion is much lower, and the electric current more directly impacts what is heard; cone drivers can 'flab' as the cone vibrates to a stop more than the electric signal does, while planars stop much more quickly. On the flip side, a much larger driver is needed to generate bass - but this only applies to speakers; it's not a significant restriction on headphones. Another benefit of planar magnetic drivers is that they are incredibly coherent; all sound arrives at the same time, so planars can be really hard to beat on coherence and are very competitive on distortion and resolution (some technologies may be arguably superior, but as a single driver these are quite remarkable).
I have spent the last couple of weeks with this headset, and used it for everything from podcasts to work calls to music and games, and I have a pretty good idea on how well these sound. There is a lot to say, and I will, but to quickly summarize: they are excellent. They're closed back, which is to say that sound doesn't leak out (much) - and these sound like they are closed. What I mean is that the soundstage and 'air' in recordings is not the same as open backs have, but also don't disturb your neighbors, which can be important.
I actually have a couple of other planar magnetic headphones, as well as others that use other very high fidelity technologies. So when I first put them on, I could immediately tell that these sounded like planars. Believe me, that's a good thing; they bring to the listener a very coherent soundstage, where you can hear every sound and instrument with incredible clarity, but also a unique, powerful bass - the best way to describe planar bass is that they hit hard and deep, but don't 'shake' like dynamic drivers do. What that means is that the after rumble of a bass hit cleans up sooner, which can be not as fun for certain kinds of music, but the benefit is that you can hear everything and not have it all get lost in the bass.
This is actually especially useful for gaming, believe it or not. The reason is that when bombs/explosions/shots happen, they are often filled with a lot of bass. With planar drivers, you hear the powerful bass of the hit - but because it cleans up so much more quickly, those ever-important directional cues, which are usually higher in the frequency band, are still clearly discernible, despite the bass-heavy blast. This extra depth and clarity is greatly appreciated for all content - gaming, music, movies, and more.
So with Audeze's award-winning planar magnetic drivers in hand, they sought to make sure that their Mobius headset would not only sound incredible, but also be as high-tech as possible, offering gamers something truly unique. And these things sure are that! I've never seen tech like this in a headphone before.
To start with, they offer a very solid built-in amplifier that every audio input uses. While I love being able to get the most out of many of my headphones by trying different amps, there is also something to be said about having an excellent amp built in. Over USB and Bluetooth, the headphone has a very usable volume range, and gets quite loud without ever sounding strained. There is also a 3.5mm jack; it works mostly well enough, but they do warn users not to use input sources that are too loud - you can do permanent damage to the headset if you do. On the flipside, some really quiet sources, like the notorious Nintendo 3DS, puts out just enough volume, but most other sources I've tested work quite well with it. From an audiophile purist perspective, it's important to note that the 3.5mm aux port has an analog to digital process, which is then reconverted to analog once again. I also noted a small amount of hiss, as well as less bass, on the 3.5mm jack than the other inputs.
The electronics, outside of just the various inputs (as well as the amps that power the planar drivers) are also great - with some caveats. I love that there are tons of built-in EQ modes, but there isn't one that makes the sound noticeably brighter than the 'Default' or 'Flat' presets. That said, those sound quite good and certainly good enough for the vast majority of listeners. I do wish we could upload a custom EQ to the headset, though. Its other features are quite advanced - I've never seen a headset with anything close to a list of functions quite like this one.
Many high-end gaming headsets from various manufacturers offer some kind of simulated 3D surround technology, as these can vastly improve the gaming experience in some titles. Being able to exactly pinpoint where your opponent is can really make a difference. I have had the pleasure to test several from various manufacturers, and what is on offer here not only works well, but offers something I've never seen before: head-tracking.
Many gaming headsets offer a simulated 3D audio mode, which implements various forms of reverb to enhance spatial separation. This offers that by turning on 3D mode, and it works pretty well; left-right separation is definitely improved, but you'll want to turn it off for anything with a lot of spoken words (like podcasts - yes you can enable 3D with any input) or you may experience a bit of an echo.
Beyond the stereo 3D emulation, there is a virtual 7.1 surround sound mode. What this does is place virtual speakers around your head, arranged similarly to a typical home theater. It also exposes itself to your PC (this is primarily a PC feature) as a seven channel sound card, with each position being properly placed around you. It uses the HRTF (head-related transfer function) to make that 3D sound field be quite convincing. It works really well for games that support a proper multi-channel surround sound system. I was pleased with its performance, but other headsets have done this before.
What is totally unique is that previously mentioned head tracking. Imagine for a moment that you were sitting in your living room, looking at your stereo system, right between the two speakers, which offer you a great stereo image. What the musician played out of the left speaker, comes out of the left, and the right, comes out of the right. Now, what happens when you turn your head to look to your left or right? The stereo image you once had shifts - what was once in front of you now sounds like it's shifted, and what was on your left (or right) is now directly ahead of you.
How does that differ from the headphones experience? Well, no matter where you move your head, the music/movies/game follows - on normal headphones, the position you find yourself in has no bearing on what you hear. But with the Mobius, it can. And it's wild.
There are two different 3D modes: 3D Manual and 3D Auto. They work for both stereo mode (the headset accepts 2-channel sources) or 7 channel surround mode (where the headset accepts a 7 channel source). 3D Manual has the strongest effect; you recenter your 'center' viewpoint whenever you press the 3D button on the headset, and as you turn your head, the moves - and stays moved - as you look at anything other than right in front of you. With 3D Auto, the center will slowly shift as your gaze does. What this means is if you hold your head in a new position long enough, that will become the new 'center' as it slowly drifts into place. Both effects are neat, and with the right setup, can be a really convincing illusion of speakers surrounding you. And since this head tracking feature updates your position one thousand times per second, it's incredibly accurate. It really does improve the illusion of 3D, and if you have an ultrawide curved monitor, I bet you'll love it for certain games.
Outside of the crazy head tracking feature, they crammed just about everything you could think of, and some things you didn't into this headset. A high-quality microphone? Yup. A dedicated mute switch? Yup - and it's easy to tell if it's muted or not, which isn't always a given. Would you like a key combination to change headset modes? Sure! How about EQ modes? Gotcha covered. What about switching inputs? Yup, that too. How about play/pause/previous/next track? Easy. How about disabling battery charging so that you can stop draining whatever you plugged your headset into? Yeah, they thought of that, and yes, it works. The headset comes with a double-sides cheat sheet of functions, and you definitely need it at first until you start to slowly memorize it all.
One thing to note: this also happens to be one of the best Bluetooth headsets I've ever owned - and not just because of the planar drivers. This device supports LDAC, which is an optional Bluetooth codec that only some Android devices support, that allows you to stream 96k/24-bit lossless audio over Bluetooth. Thankfully my phone supports it, and it sounds fantastic. I was surprised that I had no connection or distance issues with it either - it just streamed and sounded as good as possible for a wireless connection. Like all Bluetooth connections, they aren't recommended for gaming because of audio latency, but they do work that way in a pinch. One feature that I didn't realize at first that's really neat is that if you are connected to your PC via USB, and you get a phone call via Bluetooth, if you answer the call, your PC output will drop down in volume, and you'll be in the game and talking on the phone at the same time! That's extremely useful.
There is also a hi-res mode for the wired USB connection that forces the connecting device to use a 96k/24-bit audio mode to communicate. (3D emulation is disabled in this mode.) It sounds great, but I was a bit disappointed that Windows' WASAPI output mode is largely incompatible - your device needs to support all formats played through it in WASAPI mode, and in this case, the device doesn't upsample or downsample for you - Windows needs to do this, so you need to continue to use DirectSound. This isn't relevant for 99% of music listeners; only the most neurotic of audiophiles even know what I just wrote, much less would know why it's a bit of a bummer. Past that, it sounds great in all normal uses I found myself doing.
And finally we get to comfort. I would say that it's overall a very comfortable headset, but I feel like the headband and ear cups could be just a tad softer to the touch. With that said, I have used them for many hours in a row without major problems. They do put a small amount of pressure on your ears while wearing them, which keeps them in place, but can get tiring after a while. The build quality is overall quite good, though they use a lot of hard plastics that I could see breaking if given enough abuse. But they are definitely sturdy, and will likely last quite a while, if not given undue stress. One thing to note: do not press in on the earcups, forcing the drivers closer to your ear. The air pressure can actually do damage to the flat planar drivers.
The Audeze Mobius is one crazy headset unlike pretty much anything I've tried before. They sound quite fantastic, even for a discerning audiophile with those planar drivers, though I do wish they offered an audio preset that was a tad brighter. Despite this, they respond to EQ quite well, so if your source or player has it, you can customize it however you like. The feature list available is almost comical in how much it can do. The head tracking is unlike anything I've ever heard before, and the Bluetooth sound quality is simply unmatched. As for nitpicks, I wish that the USB cable wasn't always touching my shoulder, but there's not much that can be done there, other than perhaps a softer cable, as the one included is quite stiff. I found the battery life to be more than sufficient for my needs; I use Bluetooth most of the day, and USB in the evening while gaming.
In the not too distant future, I will be moving houses. As we all know, when moving, you have to pare down to the bare minimum because everything else needs to go into a box, so that you can bring them out again later once you arrive. This means that I probably won't have access to many of my lovely audiophile headphones (much less gaming headsets) during the move, and have to pick one or at most two to keep out, so that the rest can be shipped safely. Other than perhaps an IEM (in-ear monitor), I've already decided that these - the Audeze Mobius - will likely be my go-to pair of headphones while I pack the rest away. Why? They work with virtually anything via the 3.5mm input, they work wonderfully on PC where I do most of my gaming, and the Bluetooth mode is simply excellent. That, and they sound fantastic. They check off more boxes than anything else I have; even if I prefer the sound of open-back headphones when I'm alone, given the many compromises we all have to deal with while moving, this set will be the one I live with until I'm cozy in my new digs. And if that isn't a strong recommendation, I don't know what is. These things are pricey - but if you want the best sound, sometimes you get what you pay for.
Something to note: if the emulated 3D surround sound isn't important to you, also consider looking at their sister product, the Audeze Penrose. They cost less, and even offer a wireless connection - but none of that crazy 3D head tracking is in the package.