My New Favorite Headphones & Mic

I’ve been tentatively in the market for a new headset for a year now. I’ve had the same Sennheiser  PC 320 headset since about 2012 The sound quality was pretty good, and the mic quality was superb — unmatched by anything I could find. I needed to replace them because I have very sensitive ears, and they sit to far over my ears just enough that they would push on this little bump of cartilage and cause me significant pain after about 2 hours of wear.

I thought I might want to look at these “gaming headsets” out there. All I could find were overpriced heavy pieces of plastic. Everything in my price range was horribly reviewed, and I wasn’t about to drop $300+ on decent ones.

Going completely off the reservation, I decided to try something new: Headphones. Not a headset. Headphones. I’m glad I did, because I found the best pair of headphones I’ve ever worn.

Sennheiser HD 598SE

The Sennheiser HD 598 Special Edition over the ear headphones are simply magnificent. I feel like I’m wearing clouds on my ears. When I take them off, I still brace for the pain my previous headset brought, but it doesn’t come. I wore these for 6 hours straight and when I took them off my ears felt normal.The headband is padded leatherette, and the ear pads are an extra-padded velour.

Sennheiser HD 598SE

 

No pain. Not sweat. Nothing. Just normal. That’s definitely new for me.

The audio quality is also phenomenal. I’ve used Sennheiser for the past 10 years, and I feel like my previous headset had good audio, but the audio here is superb. I’m not quite an audiophile where I will critique certain levels of bass or anything, but I’m an average user who can confidently say, “The audio sounds great!”

The 598SE features a removable cable from the headphones. You can see it there in the picture above. The cable can swap between a 3.5mm and a 6.3mm (2 cables, but an adapter is included anyway).

These are over the ears and “open back” which means they do not block out any sound. I have a HUGE peeve with headphones that block out sound. I hate that sense of hearing myself in my head. I hate the closed in feel. I want to hear what’s going on around me, and I always feel like the noise canceling ones are too tight and make my ears sweat.

My one critique is that the audio is LOUD. My previous headset had windows volume at 100 and I turned people on in Discord. The 598SE makes me turn Windows down to 15 and I still turn people and games down. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Just be warned!

The Sennheiser HD 598SE will cost you about $148 on Amazon. I give these 5/5 stars and can’t say enough good things.

The Problem: Now I Needed a Mic

Looking for mic options, I felt even more overwhelmed. There are all sorts of options out there from desk mics like the Yeti to clip ons to various boom mic options. Nothing looked great. I didn’t want a desk mic because those really only work when you push them right up against your face. I prefer something attached to me, closer to my mouth and out of my way.

I picked up a Zalman ZM-Mic1 for $6 on Amazon and it was ‘okay’ but far from the quality I was used to. People said I sounded hollow, and quiet. I returned to the hunt. Then I found one of the best ideas ever…

ModMic

ModMic from Antlion Audio

ModMic Magnetic ClaspThe ModMic is an attachable boom mic! It connects to pretty much anything a 3m adhesive pad can stick to. At first glance, it sounds a little janky. I thought to myself, “You mean I have to stick this thing to my new headset?” You don’t even realize it’s connected that way once you have it on, and the sleek design blends right in.

The mic is even detachable via a patented magnet clasp. You simply attach the little base (pictured right) to your headphones, and then the magnet snaps into place. What’s cool about the design is that you can ‘rotate’ the microphone up and down because of the interlocking teeth.

Cable management became my next concern, but  the ModMic comes with little clips. I simply routed my cables together with the clips, and it’s almost as though there weren’t two cables.

modmicPerhaps the most important question: How’s it sound?

I think it sounds perfect. Just like the mic on my old Sennheiser headset that I thought had perfect clarity. I have no complaints about the audio, and my friends on Discord say that I sound great.

There are two options for your mic with a ModMic: Omni-directional and Uni-directional. The ModMic 5 (just  came out 2 days ago) comes with both options. Omni gives you a richer sound, but should be used on a decently quiet environment. An office or normal house space should be just fine. The Uni-directional version is noise-cancelling, but creates a somewhat less ‘full’ sound.

If you want the ModMic 5, it’s currently available on Antlion’s site for $69.95. Here’s my biggest critique: That’s just too much. That’s why I actually went with the ModMic 4, and chose to buy the Omni-directional version (without a mute switch) on Amazon for $49. I tweeted Antlion and they responded that there is no quality difference in the Omni-directional mic on the 4.0 compared to the 5.0. Saving $20+ (and having free one day shipping) was worth it to me, as I felt no need to have a mute switch or a Uni-directional option.

Although pricey, I give the ModMic 5/5 stars. It does what it’s intended to do, and it does it well. The design is innovative and solves the problem of having a great sounding mic on a perfectly comfortable pair of headphones.

Important: Use a USB Soundcard!

Sabrent Sound CardNever, ever, ever, ever ^10 just plug your headphones or mic into your motherboard. It simply can’t provide the amps, and there’s all sorts of interference and issues when you do. Your mic — even a good one — will sound like crap. Your audio quality will suffer too.

I use the Sabrent USB Sound Adapter. It’s $7 on Amazon, and it’ll change your life if you’ve never used one. There are plenty of options out there. You can just search Amazon or google for “USB Sound Card“.

The sound will not only come in clearer to your headphones, but your mic will sound better because this little guy will send like 3-4 amps to the mic to give it a better quality sound.

Finally I’m Happy with my Audio

So, after a year of hunting, I can finally say I am completely satisfied. My ears don’t hurt, my games sound great, and my mic is nice and clear for making videos and talking to friends while I game.

My total, all-in setup here ran me about $186. Feel free to share your setups with others who may be on the hunt for new headphones or microphone solutions.

Gears of War 4 Review

Gears of War Campaign Review

Gears of War 4 came out last month, and naturally it’s taken Graev and I a little bit of time to finish up the campaign. I’m going to review the story campaign of GoW 4, but not the competitive versus modes on the multiplayer side.

Overall Story

If you haven’t played the original Gears trilogy, stop and go pick it up on Amazon for $30. It’s the original game with remastered graphics + backwards compatible versions of GoW 1, 2, 3, and judgement. You can play on PC or Xbox One depending on the version you buy.

Gears 4 is the first in what will become a new Gears trilogy. GoW4 picks up 25 years after the events of the third game when the characters are all much older and mostly grey.

You play as Marcus’ son, J.D., who abandoned the controlling and martial law enforcing COG to join the Outsiders who refuse to live under COG rule inside walled-off cities. Teh game starts off with J.D. and crew fighting back against the oppressive COG by stealing their power systems and supplies.

While trying to be a rebel and mess with the COG’s plans, J.D. and his friends make a discovery: The Locust are back!

The Locust have evolved and are now looking to capture humans to evolve. Along the way we meet up with a few familiar faces to help take down the baddies.

I’ll leave the story spoilers there.

There’s an interesting revelation at the end that I think is a little bit of a reach, but overall the story is at least more interesting than the confusing story from the first trilogy.

Gameplay

For the most part, we’re looking at a continuation of the same gameplay from previous gears games. There’s lots of cover mechanics, grenades into emergence holes, and shooting.

The game takes place mostly above-ground in the wilds and ruins of Sera, with only a few missions taking place in warehouses or mine tunnels.

A few new guns introduce a few extra things to watch for, but this is still 100% GoW at heart.

Play Anywhere

I purchased the digital copy of Gears of War 4, so that means I can play it on Xbox One AND/OR PC! In fact, I can play on PC and Graev on Xbox One, and we can play TOGETHER. We played the entire campaign with Graev hosting our game on Xbox One. Windows 10’s Xbox experience is phenomenal.

Since it works so well, I wish Microsoft would expand this beyond just first-party titles.

Conclusion

Gears of War 4 is great. Graev and I both enjoyed the campaign, and enjoyed playing it co-op together cross-platform.

I’m excited to see where the trilogy goes.

Hands-On with Witanlore

I was first introduced to Witanlore by a long-time reader of our blog who works on the dev team at Druid Gameworks. Witanlore was successfully Kickstarted and Greenlit on Steam.

Witanlore is an open-world RPG with the goal of cutting the fluffy fat found in modern RPGs, and hoping to deliver a pure gameplay experience where every minute is spent on immersion. I like their pitch so far.

You assume the role of a young Ursine warrior seeking to determine your destiny. All we know thus far is that something nefarious happens, as it always does. The concept of Witanlore is intriguing. What I like most about the setting and lore is that I don’t have to be another human, or viking, or dwarf, or Elder Scrolls-esque race. I’m a Bear-guy, or Ursine, and that’s cool!

Witanlore Conversation Tree

I was given the opportunity to jump in and explore the demo. I’ll be upfront and honest here and say that it’s more of a proof of concept than a demo of much gameplay. I was able to run around an obstacle course, talk to an NPC to go through some story dialog, kill a pig, and scavenger hunt for some items. Conveniently, these each showed a glimpse of different game systems that will be used throughout Witanlore.

Witanlore graphics

The world is quite pretty. Unreal 4 is put to good use here, and the art assets shine (sometimes quite literally with sun rays).

Witanlore isn’t optimized yet — at least I hope not! There’s definitely slowdown for me when the settings are on turned up, but the slowdown isn’t in the form of being skippy. When I crank my settings anywhere above medium, I get a sense of moving through something thick. Almost like molasses. 

The voice acting is a bit awkward. When one of the NPCs spoke to me for the first time, it was as human as a voice could possibly get. The bear looked big, tough, and … ursine warrior-y… but then sounded not so ursine warrior-y. I hope they’ll improve the voice acting.

The combat I experienced was basic, click to swing and right click to block kind of stuff. I’m eager to try out the magic and totem abilities/systems.

Witanlore Episode 1

Witanlore has the potential to be a solid rpg. It’s conventional in the sense that it reminds me of Elder Scrolls. Pick things up in the world, active combat, text trees, and story-driven open-worldliness. 

I believe they’re still a ways off from a completed and polished game, but the foundation appears to be there. I’m looking forward to playing Witanlore when it comes out on Steam (also GoG – great place too). Episode 1 is only $6.99 which seems like a great price, as long as the content is there.

Civilization 6 Review

I want to start off this review by saying I’m not an expert at Civilization 6. In fact, quite the opposite. I haven’t “won” a game yet, and I’m still learning how to play Civ 6 having not played a Civ game since Civ 4. However, I can talk about whether or not I’m having fun or like the game.

Civilization 6 is a turn-based 4x strategy game – “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate.” (Some people have different X’s, but you get the idea). The goal is to take your civilization from an early civilization up through a thriving world power. To win, you have to achieve one of the conditions centralized around military, culture, religion, science, or score based if no other victory conditions are met.

There’s a lot I could say about “how” one plays Civ, but for that I’ll leave you to read the in-depth guides or the videos. Suffice it to say, the game has subtle complexities that I have come to only learn by experiencing the game myself.

What I like most has to be that no two games of Civ 6 have been alike. I can play a game like Warcraft or Starcraft, and they generally all go the same way — I make the same units, use the same strategies, and generally play the same way on every map. In Civ 6 — albeit a completely different kind of strategy game — I’m rarely going to play the exact same way. The main reason for the diversity and dynamic play has to be the resources and tech tree.

Something I’m still trying to learn to be better at is planning my civilization around what I can access. For example, I thought I’d be super cool and tech fast to munitions only to find out that I had zero niter anywhere near me. Scouting better and actually thinking about requirements for making units would have made this a much easier mistake to avoid.

Civ 6 brings a lot of new features, but the main one for me so far has been the unstacking of cities into districts. Instead of all upgrades going onto jut your main home tile, you now can place districts within your city’s influence. Placing districts on certain tiles yields better results based on that districts requirements — something I’m still trying to be better at. Districts are continually upgraded throughout the game as you unlock more technology and discover new things.

Adapting to random circumstances has also proven challenging. For example, I started my last game next to FOUR barbarian outposts. For the entire first 100 turns I was living by a thread as I was continually assaulted from all sides and surrounded by barbarians. I couldn’t even make a builder because they were captured instantaneously.

Gandhi using missionaries to convert my civilization

Different world leaders also present some fun. Just when you think you caught a break by being neighbors with the peaceful Gandhi… he suddenly starts converting your people to his religion with dozens upon dozens of missionaries. And while you try and deal with stopping him without starting a holy war, Greece offers to send a peaceful “gift” and “delegation” to your capital — YEAH RIGHT.

Military gameplay has also been different. Units do not stack until much later, and even then stack less than normal. This has required a lot more thought into how I move my units across a map, and managing the units has become a lot more challenging. Military gameplay in general is something I’m also working on — especially when it comes to sieging cities with walls in the mid-late game.

Playing for a military victory feels really, really cumbersome and even a bit annoying. Perhaps it’s mean to mimic the complexities of supporting and maneuvering large forces, but it teeters on being obnoxious at times waiting for units to unintelligently move to open hexes if another becomes inadvertently filled.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer gameplay is pretty neat. Graev and I have a game going right now where we enabled simultaneous turns. The only real downside to multiplayer is that you may end up waiting a while before that player finishes their turn, and you both can start a new turn. I feel like it has almost doubled the length of the game, even with simultaneous turns enabled.

Teaming up together to strategically choke an enemy civilization or manipulate the map’s resources makes things a whole lot of fun… as long as you can trust your real life allies…

Conclusion

Overall, Civ 6 is a lot of fun, but you can’t go into this expecting a super high-velocity city conquering game. Civ 6, like its predecessors before it, is a methodical strategy game. You’ll need to plan ahead, take your time, and realize what type of victory is within your reach — and do it pretty early. On more than one occasion, I’ve realized (1-2 hours into a game) that I really can’t win. While that’s not a fun realization, I still had fun getting to to that loss.

Conglomoblog Update: Civ, Gears, WoW, Business

I’m sorry for the record slowdown around here. This past week was crazy with a few game launches and RL stuff.

Civilization VI

Graev and I both picked up Civ 6. I’ll be the very first to admit that I’m not as familiar with Civ as I thought I was from playing Civ 4. I get the general idea of how to play, how to take a turn, the general ideas, etc. What I don’t have down at all are the strategies or “best practices” of how to play.

My games are always SO DANG LONG. Is that normal? Right now I chalk it up to not having a strategy, therefore spending hours going in multiple directions when I should be focusing on one solid victory.

Gears of War 4

I think Graev and I are making good progress in Gear 4. We’ve come across a few major reveals in the story, and I can tell they’ve definitely set themselves up for a new trilogy.

This is one I still plan to more formally write my thoughts on, but for now I’m happy to say it’s fun and I recommend it for fans of the previous games.

WoW

KGC is still progressing in raids. We’ve moved into Heroics now, and plan to pick up the pace now that 7.1 is coming out tomorrow. I’m actually going to write another post on 7.1 here this morning.