Thank you Gamdias for sending us this headset for review!
*Advertising disclosure* - Gamdias was a former advertising partner with us, and is currently not as of this review. This review is not influenced by this relationship.
Other than gaming, I also have a rather active audio hobby. I have rebuilt quite a few speakers, set up several surround sound systems, and it's just something that I really enjoy – when I can tweak out that last bit of performance to get things sounding just right, it's very rewarding to me. So, that is why I really enjoy reviewing headphones and other audio products – as someone with discerning tastes, I wish to pass along that knowledge and look for good value wherever possible.
In my experience with both movies and games, sound is often at least half of the experience. (Probably moreso with movies than games.) If your audio quality is poor, it really detracts from the experience. Conversely, with excellent audio quality, a great game or movie can be elevated even more. If you could see my CD collection, you would find quite a few game soundtracks there, and they are some of the most played music in my house.
Gamdias has been rather kind to us, in allowing us to review several of their headsets over the years: their Eros Elite, the Hephaestus II, and this Hebe M1 RGB. I might as well just get this out of the way now: this one is the best of the bunch, by far. No contest.
For those who have not yet looked at the spec sheet, this is a USB (only – no 3.5mm jack to be found) headset that plugs directly into your computer. It has a nice inline control about 2ft from the top of the 2M cable, with volume controls, microphone muting, vibration, and lighting controls. The lighting is in a color rotating pattern, and a conversation piece, but is for all practical purposes invisible to the user (which is how it should be) and can be disabled with the press of a button if drawing undue attention to itself.
I hate to draw too much attention to the inline controls – these things are typically there to serve a purpose then promptly forget about them – but after reviewing the Hephaestus II, I feel I need to say something here. That older headset's inline controls were little short of a train wreck, but this new one resolves those issues in pretty much every way. The volume buttons are easy to find and press, and the vibration, light and mute buttons all have clear, easy to see LEDs broadcasting the state of their respective features. It's a great inline control, so thank you for resolving this issue for the new models!
The build quality of this unit is also a massive step up from both previous models. Rather than the more typical plastic head straps you saw before, we now have two large metal overbands, with sturdily attached plastic mounts that hold the elastically suspended headband, and very nice hard plastic earcups, which are attached to very soft and honestly fantastic leather (or leather-like) ear pads. I prefer fabric pads, and this set does not change that, but these are some very nice leather pads. They look and feel very high quality to the touch, and have a really nice looking mesh on the inside that looks very premium. This is one of the few cases where, because of the pads, they actually look better in person than the renders on their website suggest.
If that wasn't enough, we also have an excellent cable. Yes, I know, it's just a cable. But it's a very nice and thick fully woven cable, with a clear plastic/rubber sheath ran over it. It feels really very premium – not just rubber, or just woven, but both! It looks fantastic, and feels that way also. All of the plug joints are also thick, well made, and seem strongly resistant to damage. On top of all of that, they also include a small bit of attached velcro to make cable management even easier. Whoever designed these, especially after the massive compromises of their previous models, should get a raise and a good pat on the back: Good Job.
The vibration is a much better effect than I anticipated. Based on playing with the EQ, I suspect that it operates at around 200Hz and under, and adds a very subtle bass boost, and a fun amount of head vibration. It's not usually distracting, and I find I like it on much of the time. The fact that it's not a massive obnoxious bass boost is really great – subtle is almost always better when any kind of enhancement is involved. You can tell it's on, but not to the detriment of what you are listening to. And turning it on or off is simply one button press away.
The first time you plug these into a Windows machine, or indeed any Linux or Mac computer, they function quite well out of the box. But to really get the most out of these (on Windows), you should download the very simple Hera software. What I love most about Hera is that it's completely portable: you just extract the zip file, and you are ready to roll. It is so refreshingly simple compared to the more typical installers most devices need these days. When you plug in the headset with Hera running, it asks you to install the drivers, and you are on your way.
These drivers seem simple, but they are deceptively nice. For one thing, they support up to 24 bit output formats, as well as a 96KHz sample rate. Most USB headphones are stuck at 48Khz/16bit. But the real winner here is how they handle the virtual 7.1 surround sound. Rather than the typical audio shaping stereo enhancement, they actually install a new output device where you can choose how many speakers to emulate, from 2 to 7.1, using Windows' built-in channels feature. And when you choose to test the output, the results are very convincing. I was impressed to hear this much locality out of headphones. Also, Hera's equalizer features, as well as some of the other special effects, are all hidden from Windows, so you can basically set and forget them, which is very nice.
Like many recent headphone designs, these feature a 50mm driver. These have become quite popular for many reasons, one of which is good bass. Some designs have tended to sacrifice the rest of the frequency range as a result, but thankfully this is not the case at all here. While they are a bit darker than I prefer, they sound vastly (a pattern is emerging here) superior to the Hephaestus II, and much closer out of the box to my preferences. I got them much closer to my liking by a very simple equalizer change that's simple enough that I can easily share it here: open up Hera's Equalizer tab, and boost 500Hz by one, 1K by two, 2K by three, and so on – following that pattern of adding one more than the last to each, up through 16K. With that subtle adjustment, they still lack some of the air of my favorite headphones, but still have a rather natural presentation, with (still) laid back highs. And they have enough low end oomph to not defeat the vibration feature.
For those who may have read my other headphone reviews, this is one case where swapping out earpads is actually not recommended. Not only are these much more balanced out of the box, not to mention those really nice feeling pads I pointed out earlier, but swapping them out killed the low end in a rather unpleasant way. If you want to adjust the sound here, stick with the equalizer. I did have to rotate them a bit more forward than I expected in order to get a good seal around my ears, though.
As I already stated, they sound really quite good out of the box. They have only one minor flaw, which I attribute to a lack of damping or perhaps early reflections (but I could be wrong on this): some music (and I do mean some – not all is affected) at times has a bit of a 'mushy' or undamped sound to it. Typically a small amount of strategically placed felt or fiberglass/cotton/etc. can fix this, but sometimes these changes can also be detrimental in other ways, so I haven't done this yet. Turning off the vibration does help, but not totally eliminate this. Other than my preference for a slightly brighter out of the box presentation, this is my only other complaint with these headphones.
The Gamdias Hebe M1 RGB Virtual 7.1 Surround Sound Gaming Headset is one of the best gaming headsets to come past my desk. Like many leather bound headphones, they do get warm, and may cause ear pressure fatigue after a few hours. But outside of this, they sound so much better than the previous models I have heard, and are honestly really quite good right out of the box. (My Hi-Fi headphones still sound better, but these are much, much closer than previous models.) The spatial localization is very good, the build quality is excellent, and the sound is vastly improved over previous models. There is still room for improvement – there always is – but if you are looking for a good, well built gaming headset, this is absolutely a great choice.